Frederica Sagor Maas, whose tell-all memoir of her experiences in early Hollywood made her a celebrity at nearly 100, died Jan. 5 at 111, the second-oldest Californian and the world’s 44th oldest.
Maas’s memoir, "The Shocking Miss Pilgrim," told wild tales of rampant sex, corporate shenanigans, and theft of her creative efforts. She wrote about seeing “It Girl” Clara Bow dancing naked on a table at a party at a time when sex among Hollywood insiders was as “humdrum as washing your face or cleansing your teeth.”
The New York Times said Maas’s life was like the plot of an old-fashioned movie.” She was a copy assistant for a New York newspaper and then became an assistant story editor at Universal Pictures, where she trolled for movie script ideas on Broadway. She studied journalism at Columbia University but never graduated, because her passion for early films took her into the fledgling industry.
She moved to Los Angeles four years later and turned down offers to act. Ben Schulberg of early studio Preferred Pictures, said he could turn her into “another Theda Bara,” but Maas turned him down. “I might be good looking but that doesn’t make me an actress,” she said she told the producer. “And besides, I have sort of contempt for this motion picture type of acting.”
Her screenwriting credits included, “The Waning Sex,” a 1926 comedy with Norma Shearer), and the classic, “Flesh and the Devil” with Greta Garbo) and the 1947 musical comedy, “The Shocking Miss Pilgrim,” which starred Betty Grable and featured songs by Ira and George Gershwin.
Maas was one of the last living persons with a direct link to movies’ silent era, and, as a result, was able to get the last word in: “I can get my payback now. I’m alive and thriving and, well, you S.O.B.’s are all below,” she said in 1999.
Frederica Sagor was born to immigrants from Russia in New York City who had shortened their name from Zagosky. She and her husband, screenwriter Ernest Maas struggled after they lost money in the 1929 stock market crash. By 1950, after many years of rejections, she and Maas planned a joint suicide but they stopped at the last minute. Their lives also were dogged in the 1950s’ Red Scare era for having subscribed to Communist magazines. She left Hollywood and spent years as an insurance adjusted before her 1999 memoir and later her extreme age put her back in the spotlight.
The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at email@example.com.