The Novelist, Gertrude Atherton

Gertrude Atherton, born January 14, 1858 in San Francisco, California, published Perch of the Devil in 1914 through A.L. Burt Company, a New York Publishing company and copy written by Frederick A. Stokes Company. She had written over twenty books previously through various publishers. The popular novel was adapted for film in 1927 and was produced by Universal Pictures. The novel was adapted to a screenplay by Mary O’Hara, was directed by King Baggot, and produced by Carl Laemmle. Although Gertrude Atherton tried her hand at writing an original screenplay, Don’t Neglect Your Wife, and the film was well received she was more comfortable and more successful as a novelist. Over her life Atherton worked with several publishers. Her first publication, “The Randolphs of Redwood: A Romance,” was published in the March 1882 edition of The Argonaut, a political journal based in San Francisco, California. In her early writing career, Atherton published under different pseudonyms for fear of her family discovering that she was trying to become an author and their disapproval of her choice. These pseudonyms were Asmodeus and Frank Lin.  She was right to be cautious because when she revealed to her family that she was an author, they ostracized her, causing Atherton to leave for New York in 1888. It did not matter to them that at this time she had already had a novel, and several stories published. Perhaps the move was for the better, as Gertrude Atherton would go on to be a best selling fiction author. In 1889 she traveled to Paris. That year, while in London, she was contacted by the British publishing company G. Routledge and Sons. With them, Gertrude Atherton published her first two books. Her works of fiction received high praises from critics and magazine reviewers. While Perch of the Devil did not win any awards,  the novel and film were very well received by audiences and critics. The novel was even awaited by reviewers as Gertrude Atherton’s “much heralded” American Western story, as stated in The Literary Digest in 1915. The novels unconventional take on wealth and romance mixed with classic western tropes did not leave audiences disappointed. In 1919, Gertrude Atherton along with six other best selling fiction authors were the first authors singed by the Eminent Authors Pictures Corporation, a film organization that owned exclusive picture rights to the works of its signed authors.  In exchange for this deal, the film company claimed that “authors will have authority” in an article found in The Moving Picture World magazine. Each author was given supervision over the motion pictures adapted from their source material. This practice sounds great in theory but in practice that’s not the way it generally worked. The studio’s creative personnel held resentment for the authors. Although Samuel Goldwyn, the founder of Eminent Authors Pictures Corporation, held the authors in high esteem, the staff regarded them as “cultural carpetbaggers.” Author’s found their ideas routinely vetoed by producers and directors. This friction may have been what inspired Gertrude Atherton to try her hand at an original screenplay. In 1921, Atherton wrote and opened her first original screenplay, Don’t Neglect Your Wife, which may have been inspired by personal experience reasoned by her dislike and dismissal of her late husband (1887). She was quoted to calling him the “second rate offspring of the Athertons” after his passing. Eminent Authors Pictures Corporation ended up succumbing to the lack of cooperation between creative personnel which explains why Perch of the Devil was produced by Universal Pictures. By the end of her life, Gertrude Atherton had published over thirty four novels, several of them best selling, and made herself a well known fiction author of the early twentieth century.

 

The Cinema Century – June 7, 1919

 

 

Gertrude Atherton

Atherton, G. (1914). Perch of the devil. 1st ed. New York: A.L. Burt Company.

“Gertrude Atherton.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 7 September 2019, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrude_Atherton

“Review of New Books.” The Literary Digest, January 16, 1915, pg. 106.

 

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