Authors: Zoë Akins

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American playwright and screenwriter

Author Works

Drama:

The Magical City, pr. 1915

Papa, pr. 1919

Déclassée, pr. 1919

Footloose, pr. 1919

Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting, pr. 1921

The Varying Shore, pr. 1921

The Texas Nightingale, pr. 1922

A Royal Fandango, pr. 1923

The Moon-Flower, pr. 1924

Such a Charming Young Man, pb. 1924

First Love, pr. 1926

The Crown Prince, pr. 1927

The Furies, pr. 1928

The Love Duel, pr. 1929

The Greeks Had a Word For It, pr. 1930

The Old Maid, pr. 1935 (adaptation of Edith Wharton’s novella)

O Evening Star!, pr. 1936

The Little Miracle, pb. 1936

Mrs. January and Mr. Ex, pb. 1948

The Swallow’s Nest, pb. 1950

Screenplays:

Sarah and Son, 1930

Anybody’s Woman, 1930 (with Doris Anderson)

The Right to Love, 1930

Women Love Once, 1931 (adaptation of her play Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting)

Once a Lady, 1931 (with Samuel Hoffenstein)

Working Girls, 1931

Christopher Strong, 1933 (adaptation of Gilbert Frankau’s novel)

Morning Glory, 1933 (adaptation of Michael Arlen’s novel The Green Hat)

Outcast Lady, 1934

Camille, 1936 (with Frances Marion and James Hilton; adaptation of the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils)

Accused, 1936 (dialogue)

Lady of Secrets, 1936

The Toy Wife, 1938

Zaza, 1938

The Old Maid, 1939 (adaptation of her play)

Desire Me, 1947 (with Marguerite Roberts)

Long Fiction:

Cake upon the Waters, 1919

Forever Young, 1941

Poetry:

Interpretations: A Book of First Poems, 1912

The Hills Grow Smaller, 1937

Nonfiction:

In the Shadow of Parnassus: Zoë Akins’s Essays on American Poetry, 1994

Biography

Zoë Akins (AY-kihns) was an award-winning playwright and screenwriter. Her best work treated the challenges and limitations that confronted women, rooted in the social conventions and gender expectations of their day. Akins was the daughter of Thomas Jaspard Akins and Sarah Elizabeth Green. Her family moved to St. Louis, when Akins was twelve, where her father served as the city’s postmaster and as a member of the Republican National Committee. Akins demonstrated an early interest in literature, writing poems, plays, and essays while still in school.{$I[A]Akins, Zoë}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Akins, Zoë}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Akins, Zoë}{$I[tim]1886;Akins, Zoë}

The early promise of Akins’s work was recognized by William Marion Reedy, editor of the St. Louis Mirror. He published some of Akins’s work in his magazine and became her mentor. Determined to pursue a career as an author, Akins moved to New York in 1909. There, she began submitting poetry to various magazines, including McClure’s, at which novelist Willa Cather served as editor. Cather was not impressed by Akins’s verse but encouraged her to write for the theater. Some of Akins’s early plays, such as her comedy Papa, were produced in New York but failed to attract sustained attention. While in New York, Akins suffered a bout with tuberculosis that had lasting effects on her health. She persisted in her efforts as a playwright, however, choosing to write society dramas that focused on strongly developed woman characters. Her first play in this vein, Déclassée, starring Ethel Barrymore, became a hit, running successfully at the Empire Theatre.

Following upon the success of Déclassée, Akins wrote Daddy’s Gone a-Hunting, another successful venture. Her work through the remainder of the 1920’s was uneven, some plays faring well with audiences and critics, others, especially her more serious dramas, falling flat. In 1930 her fortunes turned with the popularity of The Greeks Had a Word for It, a comedy that followed the experiences of three former “Ziegfeld girls.” This play was later adapted for the screen by Sidney Howard as The Greeks Had a Word for Them (1932) and formed the basis, along with Loco by Dale Eunson and Katharine Albert, for the popular film How to Marry a Millionaire (1952).

Akins believed that California provided a climate conducive to her health, and intrigued by the possibilities of writing for the cinema, she moved to Hollywood in 1928. By 1930 she had signed a contract with Paramount Pictures. At Paramount she wrote a series of successful screenplays for films that starred Ruth Chatterton, including Sarah and Son, in 1930. While in Hollywood, Akins also met Hugh Cecil Levinge Rumbold, a British set designer and stage director. They were married in March, 1932. Shortly after their marriage Rumbold died suddenly, following minor surgery. Akins continued to direct her energies into her work and was well paid for her efforts. She purchased an estate in Pasadena, which she named Green Fountains, choosing to separate herself socially from the Hollywood set.

For Akins the 1930’s proved to be a productive decade in which she wrote or contributed to sixteen screenplays. In 1933 she adapted Gilbert Frankau’s novel Christopher Strong, at the request of Dorothy Arzner, who had directed Sarah and Son. The film’s female lead was played by Katherine Hepburn, who won her first Academy Award for her performance in Morning Glory, based on another work by Akins. In 1934 Akins moved to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and worked on the film adaptation of Camille. The film, directed by George Cukor and starring Greta Garbo and Robert Taylor, achieved popular and critical success.

In 1935 Akins returned to the world of upper-class New York when she adapted Edith Wharton’s novella The Old Maid for the stage. She won a Pulitzer Prize in 1936 for her adaptation, but admiration for her work was not universal among New York theater critics. Akins later wrote the screenplay for the film The Old Maid, a feature that earned high praise for the performance of its actresses Miriam Hopkins and Bette Davis.

With the onset of World War II, Akins’s opportunities for work declined. She continued to write, turning her attention to projects other than those for stage and screen, but never resumed the level of activity she had enjoyed in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Her plays and screenplays were at times criticized for their high level of melodrama and stilted dialogue, but in her best work she developed strong women characters whose passion for life energized the works in which they appeared.

BibliographyBradley, Jennifer. “Zoë Akins and the Age of Excess: Broadway Melodrama in the 1920’s.” In Modern American Drama, edited by June Schlueter. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990. A critique of Akins’s work in New York.Slide, Anthony. “Zoë Akins.” In American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Stephen O. Lesser, and Randall Clark. Vol. 26 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1984. A survey and critique of Akins’s career.Youngee, Particia Lee. “Zoë Akins.” In American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, edited by Lisa Mainiero. New York: Ungar, 1979. An overview of Akins’s career.
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