Navigation Menu+

Why is nobody talking about Marian Ainslee and Ruth Cummings?

Posted on Jan 30, 2013 by in film, Frances Marion, Scenario writers |

Marian Ainslee by George Landy, 1920s

Marian Ainslee by George Landy, 1920s

Marian Ainslee and Ruth Cumming co-wrote the intertitles for some of MGMs biggest 1920s blockbusters. Titles include Love (1927) an adaptation of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, and Mysterious Lady (1928), both starring Greta Garbo. They are most often credited together, something silent film historian and collector, Kevin Brownlow finds surprising – you wouldn’t expect MGM to be paying two salaries for one job. Are they MGM’s intertitle dream-team? They worked with Frances Marion on Love and The Masks of the Devil (1928) so why aren’t they mentioned as her collaborators, along with the host of other female screenwriters in Cari Beauchamp’s Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (LA, 1997)? They’re not in Frances Marion or Lenore Coffee’s autobiographies either, despite working with both of them. All accounts of the group of female screenwriters at MGM in the 20s (all working in more favourable circumstances than usual under the supportive eye of Irving Thalberg), sound rather merry. Were Ainslee and Cummings not particularly sociable?

All I know about Marian Ainslee is this biography by Hans J. Wollstein on

One of the silent era’s great practitioners of that soon-to-be redundant specialty, title writing, Marian Ainslee, like so many screenwriters, came from the field of journalism. A reportorial staff writer in both Kansas City and St. Louis, MO, Ainslee began writing titles for independent producer Louis B. Mayer, remaining with Mayer through his mergers with Metro and Goldwyn. Working closely with maverick director Erich Von Stroheim, she later provided titles for Foolish Wives (1922), The Merry Widow (1925), and Queen Kelly (1929). The latter fell victim to the sound revolution and was summarily scrapped by its producer/star Gloria Swanson. Ainslee, however, remained with MGM for at least another decade, functioning as a script consultant on such major releases as The Good Earth (1937) and Carefree (1938).

And all I know about Ruth Cummings is what Kevin Brownlow has told me. She was Jack Cummings sister and Louis B. Mayer’s niece. ‘Ruth would therefore be in a very privileged position.’ Was she on staff for nepotistic reasons with Marian Ainslee to watch her back? Actually, I rather hope not and it’s just that there was this highly competent intertitle duo working away, who have somehow been over looked!

Marian Ainslee also worked alone on these big ‘uns: Foolish Wives (1922), Flesh and the Devil (1927) and the first part-talkie Hallelujah (1929). Incidentally, I have just acquired this photo (featured) of Marian Ainslee by George Landy. Oh how I lust after the £50 issues of Photoplay Magazine on ebay… Am I going to turn into a collector too?

Please let me know if you have any information about Marian Ainslee or Ruth Cummings!