Scots woman who was Hollywood’s highest-paid female screenwriter

Lorna Moon's short stories were banned from the library of her home village of Strichen
Lorna Moon's short stories were banned from the library of her home village of Strichen
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She left behind the sleepy Aberdeenshire village of her birth to become the highest-paid female screenwriter in 1920s Hollywood.

Lorna Moon got her big break after writing to the legendary director Cecil B DeMille with a withering critique of his latest release

Greata Garbo And John Gilbert In A Scene From 'Love', The Silent Film Version Of 'Anna Karenina. Picture: Granger/REX/Shutterstock

Greata Garbo And John Gilbert In A Scene From 'Love', The Silent Film Version Of 'Anna Karenina. Picture: Granger/REX/Shutterstock

But her sparkling career has not always received the attention it deserves in Scotland – with some of her writing being banned from the shelves of the village library in Strichen for 50 years.

Now her work is to be celebrated with a touring production of her short stories Doorways in Drumorty, which were based on her early life in Scotland.

Playwright Mike Gibb became interested in Moon, whose writing credits include Love starring Greta Garbo and Mr Wu starring Gloria Swanson, after reading Doorways in Drumorty and her hugely successful first novel Dark Star, which was published in 1929. Both were written as she took time away from Holywood due to poor health caused by tuberculosis.

Mr Gibb said: “She got into Holywood after writing to DeMille, probably the most famous of the silent-era directors, to tell him that his last film was rubbish. He wrote back and said ‘if you think you do better, come and try your luck’. And she did – and became the highest paid female scriptwriter in Holywood.

“I found it fascinating that she left this sweet, sleepy little village of Strichen to rub shoulders with people like Greta Garbo and Gloria Swanson. I also loved her writing. If she hadn’t died so young, at the age of 44, I am sure she would have got the profile of writers such as JM Barrie, who she adored, and Lewis Grassic Gibbon.”

Moon was born Nora Low in 1886 to Charles, a plasterer, and Margaret Benzies, who ran the Temperance Hotel in the village. The writer never returned to Strichen after leaving, first for Canada, aged 21. She had two children with two men but abandoned them both. After going to work with DeMille at Paramount Film Corporation she had an affair with the director’s brother and another child, Richard, was born.

Mr Gibb said: “The family were worried about scandal and the baby was put in an orphanage. Cecil adopted him six months on. For 30 odd years, the boy didn’t know his father was actually his uncle and he never knew who his mother was.”

After discovering the family secret, Richard DeMille went on to write a book, My Secret Mother, Lorna Moon.

Moon’s experiences of village life in Strichen continued to inform her work.

Following publication of Doorways in Drumorty in 1925, locals were horrified to recognise themselves in the stories.

Mr Gibb said: “I don’t think she was that harsh, to be fair. There was perhaps a wee bit of that North-east attitude where it was felt she was too full of herself and that she had to be brought down a peg or two.”
Despite the rift, the writer requested that she be laid to rest there following her death.

Her boyfriend brought her ashes to Scotland from their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her father scattering them on Mormond Hill.

-Doorways in Drumorty will tour to 18 venues across Scotland between 18 April and 18 May with the support of North East Arts Touring and Aberdeenshire Council.