Faulkner at MGM: 1932-33

Overview of Faulkner’s time at MGM

The Offer of Work

When he received a formal offer to travel to California and write for the movies, William Faulkner was at home in Oxford, Mississippi working to finish the manuscript of Light in August. It was 1932, and Sam Marx, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s story department, wanted him to come west and write for the studio. (Faulkner was clearly interested in writing in Hollywood before Marx’s offer arrived.)

Despite the fact that it was the early years of the Great Depression and Hollywood writers made money, Faulkner turned the job down.

As he explained to his friend and literary agent, Ben Wasson, he would only he feel free to move west when a final text of his new novel was typed and mailed. He held to the hope, however, that “maybe I can try the movies later on.” (SL 59)

Later arrived almost immediately. Light in August was sent off in March 1932, and by mid-April, Faulkner had accepted a position as a studio writer with MGM. He reported to work on May 7th.

A Rough Start at the Studio

Faulkner’s first stint in Hollywood proved short and generally unpleasant.

He was first assigned (and ultimately refused) to write a wrestling picture. After this, he was left to write treatments in the hopes he would invent something filmable. He didn’t and some studio readers questioned his willingness to abide by the limits established by the emerging Production Code.

Eventually though, the famous director Howard Hawks, an admirer of Faulkner’s story “Turnabout,” hired him to adapt it. Faulkner was enthusiastic but soon learned that the studio had decided he would need to create a role for Joan Crawford. He did so, offering only minor protests, but when his father died suddenly, he left to attend the August funeral and completed the draft revisions in Oxford.

A Quick End

Consciously or not, Faulkner used the occasion to break his ties with MGM, returning to California for only a few weeks in October to complete a third draft of Turn About before going back to Mississippi. Once there, he received intermittent paychecks as he completed several ongoing projects, including War Birds, a screen-adaptation of Flags in the Dust and several of the Sartoris stories based upon that novel.

By May of 1933, Faulkner was no longer employed by the studio. (For a full account of Faulkner’s time at MGM see Kawin, “Introduction,” Faulkner’s MGM Screenplays and Blotner’s William Faulkner pp. .) This was not however the end of his screenwriting career.