Borden Chase

Active - 1935 - 1969  |   Born - Jan 11, 1900   |   Died - Mar 8, 1971   |   Genres - Western, Adventure, Action, Drama

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Screenwriter Borden Chase led a life that sounded more like something out of a novel. Born in Chicago in 1900 with the name Frank Fowler, he came of age just in time to become a driver for Frankie Yale, a gangster who made the mistake of trying to muscle in on territory controlled by Al Capone. Following Yale's sudden demise, Fowler was left without a job and ended up in New York working as a sandhog on the building of the Holland Tunnel. After leaving that job, he began driving a taxi, and it was while driving a cab that he also started writing. The result, in 1934, was his first novel, Sandhog, which was subsequently made into a movie by 20th Century Fox, entitled Under Pressure (1935). That production brought the author to Hollywood, where one of the first things he did was change his name; Frank Fowler became Borden Chase, the first name taken from the milk company and the last name from the bank.

Chase later sold the stories Midnight Taxi and Blue White and Perfect; Dr. Broadway and Devil's Party were also filmed, and by the mid-'40s, Chase had begun writing screenplays, starting with The Fighting Seabees, a John Wayne vehicle for Republic Pictures. Chase showed a penchant for scripts involving unusually complex motivations (by Hollywood standards) and complex interrelationships. The Fighting Seabees was among a group of scripts for Wayne in which he played characters whose flaws made them almost into antiheroes. In the film, Wayne plays a top construction engineer recruited into service with the United States Navy whose inability to follow orders results in the deaths of many members of his crew, and who redeems himself in the end by sacrificing his life to halt a Japanese advance. Chase subsequently wrote the screenplay for I've Always Loved You, a story steeped in art and male/female jealousy that keeps a couple apart for years and thwarts a woman's music career for most of her life.

Although his work carried over into many genres, Chase's output from the mid-'40s until the mid-'60s was weighted very heavily toward Westerns and stories of life on the frontier. The first flourish of greatness in his work was Red River, based on his novel Guns on the Chisholm Trail, which became the second great Western (after Stagecoach) in Wayne's career. In it, Wayne plays a frontiersman who becomes one of the biggest cattlemen in post-Civil War Texas, but whose forcefulness includes a single-minded stubbornness that costs him the woman he might have married and nearly kills the younger man he might have treated as a son. Perhaps not surprisingly, the script got Chase his first Academy Award nomination, and the resulting movie offered one of the finest dramatic performances of Wayne's entire career. Chase followed this with a pair of scripts for James Stewart, Winchester '73 and Bend of the River, which, in the hands of director Anthony Mann, introduced a tougher, edgier screen persona for the star. Chase's Lone Star was a similar vehicle for Clark Gable and Broderick Crawford, one of the most violent films of Gable's career and one of the most interesting (if fanciful) movies ever made about the founding of the State of Texas. Chase's scripts for Night Passage and Vera Cruz had similar impact with the public, and he was recognized by the second half of the 1950s as one of the top writers of Westerns in Hollywood.

Chase also authored many novels, several of which served as the sources for his screenplays, and he once admitted to a colleague that he'd rewritten the same Western story dozens of times. In addition to his writing activities in Hollywood, he was an active member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an innocuous enough sounding name for an anti-Communist group that was active in Hollywood during the years of the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist. This membership slotted in very neatly with his screenplays for Wayne and Stewart during the 1940s and '50s. As the production of Westerns declined in the late '50s, Chase turned to television and wrote episodes of The Virginian -- one of the small screen's rare 90-minute Western series -- and other top-rated series, as well as authoring the pilot episodes for Laredo and Daniel Boone. His work slackened off in the mid-'60s as the production of Westerns slowed to a trickle, and his last screenplay was for the 1969 Universal oater A Man Called Gannon. In late 1970, Chase suffered a stroke, and he passed away in March of the following year. His personal life was nearly as colorful as his early adult life -- he was married three times, the third time to the daughter (from another marriage) of his first wife. His own daughter is Barrie Chase, the actress/dancer who first achieved fame dancing with Fred Astaire in his television specials, and his son is the actor/screenwriter Frank Chase.

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