How did British authors engage with the ‘new media’ of the 1920s and 1930s?

  • – Radio was in its infancy;
  • – Movies needed new and better

British film producers sought to adapt successful plays and novels for the movies.

Hollywood studios invited British authors to America to write scenarios for the film industry.

But there was resistance...
...copyright was ill defined
...theatres didn’t want competition
...authors weren’t sure of the benefits of cross-media co-operation

This is direct evidence that audiences in 1930 crossed between media to read, listen to or watch novel adaptations.



Terms of the 1919 Contract between Hearst’s American International magazine Company and the British author Elinor Glyn:

The author agrees that she will within three years from this date deliver to the publisher the manuscript of three new & original novels, together with the exclusive serial rights of publication.

The term novel shall mean a fiction story of approx. 80,000 words a novelette a story of substantially less than 80,000 and a short story not exceeding 10,000 words.

The author agrees to submit not more than one novel a year. The publisher agrees to pay the following sums:

  • a) 15 cents a word for all short
    stories & novelettes;
  • b) $12,000 for each novel;
  • c) $2,000 for the motion picture
    rights for any short story;

Such options to be exercised within 3 months after the delivery.



Wealth at death

When Elinor Glyn died in 1943 she left £6,588 but her company had invested in an annuity which protected her from the consequences of the recession.

  • – In America the average wage
    was $2000 pa and in Britain
    craftsman averaged £1a day,
    a labourer £3 a week.

  • Hugh Walpole left an
    equivalent £51,637.

  • AEW Mason left an equivalent
  • Edgar Wallace left an
    equivalent £33,921.
  • Baroness Orczy left an
    equivalent £30,107.
  • Hall Caine left an equivalent –
    a spectacular - £370,023. is very interesting but most exasperating, as you have to write every scene over and over again, and at the fifth time it is no better than the first...

Hugh Walpole, British writer in Hollywood, 1934

Money is being spent like water by magazine publishing houses and photoplay companies. Big sums of money. And names do not count – until they have done something good.

Elinor Glyn, British author in Hollywood, 1922

For during the teens, 1920s, and early 1930s, almost one quarter of the screenwriters in Hollywood women. ... Half of all the films copyrighted between 1911 and 1925 were written by women.

Cari Beauchamp, Without Lying down: Francis Marion and the Powerful Women or Early Hollywood 1997.

...where the publisher has helped to create an additional market for the motion-picture and dramatization the author should consider giving the publisher a portion of the moneys...

Philip Wittenberg, American lawyer advice to authors, 1937.

-- I like it -- journalism -- I like it!

Arnold Bennett, British writer on his commercial success, 1929, claiming he had first 12 pence a word, then 18 pence, then 24 pence, and now 30 pence!

...I have signed a contract for six months at a fabulously high salary ... no less than £250 per week!

Hugh Walpole, British writer in Hollywood, 1934





University of Bedfordshire Logo