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Screenwriter Clara Beranger - From Silents to Talkies to Teaching

Script contributor Dr. Rosanne Welch celebrates the female screenwriters who came before us with this month's spotlight on prolific screenwriter and teacher Clara Beranger.

As with several silent film screenwriters, earlier careers in journalism and playwriting during the 1910s brought Clara Beranger to Hollywood. She would amass 85 credits between 1913 and 1934, bridging the worlds of silent and sound films.

Born Clara Strouse in Baltimore, Maryland on January 14, 1886 to a department store dynasty, she graduated in 1907 as a Phi Beta Kappa at Goucher College. She gained her professional surname when she married Albert Berwanger and kept it (except for the ‘w’) after their divorce. They had one child, a daughter named Frances, in 1909.

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Beranger’s college education came in handy as she began dabbling in screenplays while in New York. Adaptations became her specialty, which means that she was one of the first to translate many literary classics to this new medium of moving pictures. In her earliest works she adapted a Booth Tarkington play and a novel by Grace Miller White before being offered Anna Karenina by the Fox Film Corporation in 1915. She made over 40 more films in New York including Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde (1920), starring John Barrymore.

Then in 1921 the Famous Players-Lasky Company commissioned Beranger to move to Hollywood to adapt Miss Lulu Bett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Zona Gale. The director placed on the project was company co-founder William de Mille. Miss Lulu Bett was Beranger’s first screenplay collaboration with de Mille. Much like the novel, the film was a huge success. De Mille told interviewers later in life that in directing a film written by Beranger he followed her script scene for scene which was not something he could do with less capable writers.

Miss Lulu Bett, Paramount Pictures

Miss Lulu Bett, Paramount Pictures

Beranger stuck with the company and with de Mille for the rest of her personal and professional life. They married in 1928, after de Mille obtained a divorce from his first wife. She wrote or contributed to the stories for more than 24 productions at the company and even moved into producing several of her own films, as the Famous Players-Lasky Company evolved in Paramount Pictures.

Her husband lost most of his savings in the Great Depression and they lived on her script writing fees until the newly-minted Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences joined with University of Southern California to create a School of Cinematic Arts in 1929. De Mille became its first Director, thanks to a large endowment from his brother, director Cecil B. de Mille.

Beranger joined that original faculty, teaching courses on screenwriting, writing articles about the industry, and publishing Writing for the Screen (1950). She died of a heart attack at the age of 70 on September 10, 1956.

Clara Beranger,

Clara Beranger,

For silent film fans living in Los Angeles have the chance to see Beranger’s most famous film – Miss Lulu Bett (1921) presented in person by the Retroformat Silent Film at the Woman's Club of Hollywood, with live musical accompaniment by Musical Director Cliff Retallick, on Saturday, April 23, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. For ticket and event information, click here.

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If you’d like to learn more about the women highlighted in this column, and about the art of screenwriting while earning your MFA, our low residency Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting is currently accepting applications.

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