Friday, June 11, 2010

Edna Ferber's So Big (1953)

"Always to her, red and green cabbages, were to be jade and burgundy, chrysoprase and porphyry. Life has no weapons against a woman like that."~Edna Ferber in the novel, So Big

Please note: Some plot points of various movies are discussed in detail below

Hollywood has made over twenty films from Edna Ferber's stories, novels and plays. When TCM aired the third feature film version of Ferber's Pulitzer Prize winning 1924 novel, So Big (1953-Robert Wise) last month on Mother's Day, I wondered if anyone read this author's works anymore. Once upon a time, Ferber, was a 5' 2" titan of publishing, with novels, short stories, and plays pouring from her pen and selling like today's iPhones. The world seems to have passed her work by, without the respect accorded the work of other female American novelists, such as Kate Chopin, Edith Wharton, and Willa Cather, while her contemporaries, Faulkner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, are still read and appreciated, thanks to the universality of their themes and their incisive voice.

By contrast, Ferber's prose, once likened by one of today's more droll critics, John Lahr, to that of "a teenager on diet pills," may have dated a bit, but her engaging stories, often dealing with thorny issues such as feminism, economic hardship and individual, racially diverse characters, gave classic movies the raw material for several memorable films. Though Ferber later dismissed her earlier efforts, I suspect that many people, even the gifted Mr. Lahr, might enjoy some of Ferber's lively short stories, some of which are online here). Along with the critically neglected Fannie Hurst and Zane Grey, a pair of other writers whose mass market appeal and lack of literary pedigrees never seem to garner them much respect, Ferber's snapshots of a time and place in American life may have been among the most ubiquitously adapted tales during the studio era...more on the Movie Morlocks at TCM


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