Vera Caspary was one of the most prominent woman authors and playwrights of her generation, and one of the most forward-looking, in terms of her vision of the role of women, ever to succeed in Hollywood. Born in Chicago in 1899, Caspary started out writing advertising copy after leaving high school at age 17, but quit that job out of boredom to begin writing stories, and supported herself for a time by working as an editor of The Dance magazine. Early on, Caspary showed a penchant for serious stories -- her first novel, The White Girl (1929), told about a black woman from the South who tries to pass for white when she moves north, while her second,
Thicker Than Water, told of life in a Jewish family from Chicago. In 1931, her play Blind Mice was adapted into the movie Working Girls, but Caspary's real break into the cinema came in 1932, when she wrote The Night of June 13th, which was adapted into a movie of the same name by Paramount, starring Clive Brook and Lila Lee. In many of her books, especially those from the late '30s, Caspary's heroines were often career women, or women attempting to juggle romance and independence, very similar to her own situation. Her output during the 1930s included the stories that became the movies Such Women Are Dangerous, Private Scandal, I'll Love You Always, Easy Living, and Scandal Street.
In 1943, Caspary entered a new phase of her career when she wrote the novel Laura, which was licensed by 20th Century Fox and turned into a movie by producer Otto Preminger. The book had several elements that seemed to come from Caspary's life. The heroine, Laura Hunt, works as a secretary at an advertising agency, but has some daring and ambition; with some unexpected help from columnist Waldo Lydecker, she becomes a top executive at the agency and in the business. At the same time, Laura is forced to balance her professional and personal life, a situation with potentially lethal consequences. Even Caspary's picture of the police detective hero had an immediacy that made him seem a creation of actual life (an attribute that would repeat itself powerfully with all of the characters in The Blue Gardenia a decade later). The production of Laura started out well but ran into trouble when the original director, Rouben Mamoulian, was fired over creative differences early in the shooting. Additionally, studio production head Darryl F. Zanuck was vehemently opposed to using stage veteran Clifton Webb in the key role of Waldo Lydecker; Preminger managed to keep Webb in the movie and took over directing himself. The result, spearheaded by David Raksin's haunting main title theme and its hit song adaptation (to Johnny Mercer's lyrics), was one of the studio's biggest hits of the 1940s, and marked the arrival of three new stars in Webb, Gene Tierney, and Vincent Price. The movie and the story were so popular that Caspary collaborated with George Sklar on a stage version that was a success on Broadway as well as in London (where Raymond Lovell played Lydecker).
Caspary next adapted the Rose Franken book Claudia and David for the screen and co-authored the screen adaptation of her novel Bedelia, which was filmed by John Corfield and Isadore Goldsmith, an Austrian-born producer who became Caspary's husband. In 1948, she wrote the screenplay for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's movie A Letter to Three Wives, which was another huge hit for the studio. Caspary later claimed to have gotten the idea for her own, similar story, entitled Three Husbands, independently, and she and her husband produced the movie adaptation of that story. Over the ensuing years, she was responsible for the screenplays for such popular and unusual films as I Can Get It for You Wholesale, The Blue Gardenia (one of the most charmingly mean-spirited mysteries of the 1950s, and also a story of career women), Les Girls, and Bachelor in Paradise (1961). She retired from the movie business that year and published her autobiography, The Secrets of Grown-Ups, in 1979. Throughout the decades, Caspary saw many of her movies endure in popularity across generations, and her books, especially Laura, get reprinted. Perhaps most significant of all, however, was her vision of an independent career woman achieving acceptance and even dominance. When she died in 1987, Caspary's obituaries commanded as much space as many current best-selling authors. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi