The Shocking Miss Pilgrim: A Writer in Early Hollywood is the story of Frederica Sagor Maas’s experiences as a young woman trying to break into a career as a screen writer in silent-movie-era Hollywood. Born in 1900, she began writing scripts for silent movies in New York, went west to California in 1924, and continued in that dog-eat-dog environment with modest success. She wrote this book in the late 1990s, published it in 1999, and died in 2012 (no, your eyes are not deceiving you . . . she was 111 years old!). After becoming thoroughly discouraged with the business, she and her husband changed careers in the 1940s.
Her stories of silent-film days are fascinating: Clara Bow dancing nude on the table at a party; starlets brought in to lavish parties where they were doled out to the men for the evening. She was acquainted with people who are big names today, like Irving Berlin, Joan Crawford, Marian Davies, the Gershwins, Betty Grable, William Hart, Norma Shearer, Daryl Zanuck, and many others. What I found most useful to my writing were the many references to her clothes (“one was a beige woolen dress with a hand-crocheted neckline and jabot in a rose-colored yard, with a full-length coat to match, bordered with a band of handsome badger fur”) and the tidbits that concern scriptwriting (like, one time it took Maas 6 weeks to complete a screenplay), the stores on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1920s, and what the inside of the famous restaurant Musso & Frank’s looked like. These can be sprinkled into my work to give my books period flavor.