Tuesday, December 13, 2011

English 79: Writing for the Motion Pictures

In 1936 prominent and successful movie producer Walter Wanger '15 suggested to Dartmouth President Ernest Hopkins that Dartmouth could become a leader in the film industry by producing a new generation of writers. Hollywood's biggest problem was a dearth of quality screenplays, and Wanger theorized that an institution like Dartmouth was poised to improve the industry by teaching screen writing skills to English majors.

The English Department was game to take on the initiative, but only if they would be able to secure a large collection of screenplays for the students to critique. Wanger used his influence in Hollywood to convince each of the major studios to deposit copies of their scripts at Dartmouth. The scripts came right out of the Producers' Association notorious "Hays Office," the official censors for the film industry.

The English Department began offering a separate screen writing class in 1938. We do not have a record of how many people who took the class went on to pursue a career in the movies, but Dartmouth has maintained a long and close connection with the entertainment industry.

You can see a handful of the scripts from the collection in our current exhibition, "Literary Gentlemen and a Girl Like I," a look at screenwriter Anita Loos's 1925 best-selling novel Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. The exhibit also features the Motion Picture Code as issued by the Hays Office. The exhibit will be up through February 2012 in the Class of 1965 Galleries here in Rauner.

A list of the plays can be obtained from the catalog by performing this curious keyword search: "branch:branchwscr".

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