Jules Furthman

Active - 1917 - 1959  |   Born - Mar 5, 1888   |   Died - Sep 22, 1966   |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Western, Adventure, Crime

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Biography by Hal Erickson

A Northwestern University alumnus, American screenwriter Jules Furthman paid his literary dues as a magazine and newspaper writer. He was 30 years old and an established talent when he entered the upstart film industry in 1915. During World War I, Furthman sidestepped the anti-German sentiments of the era by using the "nom de plume" Jules Grinnell. A brief fling at film directing between 1919 and 1921 did not set box-office fires, but did imbue Furthman with a heightened understanding of directorial pressures and responsibilities. Thus armed, he was able to work harmoniously with contentious "genius" director Josef von Sternberg, contributing screenplays to many of Sternberg's best efforts, including Underworld (1927), The Docks of New York (1928), Shanghai Express (1932) and Blonde Venus (1932). He also produced Sternberg's last American film, the risible Jet Pilot (1957). As an adaptor of literary works, Furthman possessed the newspaperman's knack of boiling down reams of detail to the bare essentials, as witness his contributions to Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and The Big Sleep (1945); conversely, he could take a slight literary piece and successfully build it up to feature length, as he did in collaboration with William Faulkner in the movie version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not (1944). The last three mentioned films were directed by Howard Hawks, with whom Furthman also worked successfully on Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and Rio Bravo (1959). Perhaps Jules Furthman's most delicate assignment (in concert with Von Sternberg, Geza Herczeg and Karl Vollmoeller) was to take the censor-baiting stage play The Shanghai Gesture, change its locale from a brothel to a gambling house, and alter the main character's name from Mother Goddam to Mother Gin Sling--and still retain the smoky, exotic, verboten atmosphere of the original material.

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