Levien, Sonya, 1888?-1960

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Sonya Levien was born in Russia, most likely around 1888, although her "official" birthdate is usually given as December 25, 1898. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was eight years old, settling on the East Side of New York City. She worked her way through New York University Law School and was admitted to the Bar in 1909. Temperamentally unsuited to the practice of the law, she secured a position on the Woman's Journal. She joined the staff of Metropolitan magazine and married the magazine's editor, Carl Hovey, in 1917; they had two children, and remained married until his death in 1956. The Fox Film Corporation signed her to a contract in 1929, and she remained there until 1940; in 1941, she went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. During her career, Levien either wrote or collaborated on seventy films and in 1955, she and William Ludwig won the Academy Award for story and screenplay for the film, "Interrupted Melody." Sonya Levien died of cancer on March 19, 1960.

From the description of Papers of Sonya Levien, 1908-1960. (Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens). WorldCat record id: 680513047

Biographical Note

Sonya Levien was born in Russia, most likely around 1888, although her "official" birth date is usually given as 25 December 1898. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was eight years old, settling on the East Side of New York City. She worked her way through New York University Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1909. Finding that, temperamentally, she was unfit for the practice of law, she secured a position on the Woman's Journal, a magazine owned by Alice Stone Blackwell, primarily devoted to woman's suffrage. She joined the staff of Metropolitan magazine, eventually becoming an assistant editor. She married the magazine's editor, Carl Hovey, in 1917; they had two children, and remained married until his death in 1956. Her short stories attracted the attention of Jesse L. Lasky, head of Famous Players-Lasky, who invited her to Hollywood in 1921. Hew first scenario, Cheated Love (1921), was adapted by Levien from one of her short stories. A long-term contract was offered, but not wanting to leave her family in New York City, she declined. Not long after, however, Carl Hovey accepted a position as story editor for Cecil B. DeMille, and Levien returned to California. The Fox Film Corporation signed her to a contract in 1929, where she remained until 1940. At Fox, she was entrusted with writing the screenplays of vehicles for the studio's most popular stars, Janet Gaynor (six films) and Will Rogers (five films). Among her most noteworthy screenplays of this period were Daddy Long Legs (1931), Cavalcade (1933), State Fair (1933), The Country Doctor (1936), In Old Chicago (1938), Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), and The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). In 1941, she went to work for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where her versatility was proven with such prestigious films as The Valley of Decision (1945), The Green Years (1946), Quo Vadis (1951), The Great Caruso (1951), Oklahoma! (1955), Interrupted Melody (1955), for which she and William Ludwig won the Academy Award for story and screenplay, and Bhowani Junction (1956). Undeniably one of the most beloved and prolific of screenwriters, she was credited with 70 screenplays and was the sole screenwriter for 32 films. Sonya Levien died of cancer on 19 March 1960.

(This biography was compiled by Carolyn Powell, November 1994)

From the guide to the Sonya Levien Papers, 1908-1960, (The Huntington Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Levien, Sonya, 1888?-1960. Scripts, 1939-1954. University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center
creatorOf Trotti, Lamar, 1900-1952. Chicago : typescript, 1937 May 13. UC Berkeley Libraries
creatorOf Mahin, John Lee, 1902-1984. Quo vadis : screenplay, 1951 Oct. 23. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf De Camp, Charles B. Correspondence with Theodore Dreiser, 1898-1923. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Trotti, Lamar, 1900-1952. Drums along the Mohawk : screenplay / by Lamar Trotti and Sonya Levien. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign
creatorOf Behrman, S. N. (Samuel Nathaniel), 1893-1973. S. N. Behrman papers, 1912-1987. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Day, Clarence, 1874-1935. Clarence Day papers, 1796-1993, (bulk dates 1890-1935). New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Sonya Levien Papers, 1908-1960 The Huntington Library
referencedIn Clarence Day papers, 1796-1993, 1890-1953 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Austin, Mary Hunter, 1868-1934. Papers of Mary Hunter Austin, 1845-1950 (bulk 1920-1934). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Trotti, Lamar. Drums along the Mohawk : three mimeographed typescripts, 1938 May 30 ; 1939 Apr. 24 ; and 1939 May 18. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn S. N. Behrman papers, 1912-1987 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Brett, Dorothy, 1883-1977. Dorothy Brett Collection, 1898-1968. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Rodgers, Richard, 1902-1979. Oklahoma! : adapted from Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical comedy for wide-screen production / by Sonya Levien and William Ludwig ; April 27, 1953. HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
creatorOf Ryan, Frank. The amazing Mrs. Holiday / screen play [by] Frank Ryan and John Jacoby ; adaptation [by] Boris Ingster and Leo Townsend from an original story by Sonya Levien. California State University, Northridge
creatorOf Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989. MGM and Twentieth Century-Fox screenplays, 1931-1963 (bulk 1937-1955). Brown University, Brown University Library
creatorOf Levien, Sonya, 1898-1960. Papers of Sonya Levien, 1908-1960. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
creatorOf Reeves, Jerome W. Collection of V-mail letters sent to Pfc Jerome W. Reeves, 1943 Jan. 7-1944 May 13. University of North Texas Library, UNT
creatorOf Ludwig, William, 1912-1999. The student prince, 1954 June 25. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Akins, Zoë, 1886-1958. Papers of Zoë Akins, 1907-1951. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
associatedWith Akins, Zoe, 1886-1958. person
associatedWith Austin, Mary Hunter, 1868-1934. person
associatedWith Balderston, John L. (John Lloyd), 1889-1954. person
associatedWith Behrman, S. N. (Samuel Nathaniel), 1893-1973. person
associatedWith Blackwell, Alice Stone, 1857-1950. person
associatedWith Brett, Dorothy, 1883-1977. person
associatedWith Collier, John, 1884-1968. person
associatedWith Copeland, Charles Townsend, 1860-1952. person
associatedWith Davis, Richard Harding, 1864-1916. person
associatedWith Day, Clarence, 1874-1935. person
associatedWith Ellis, Havelock, 1859-1939. person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott), 1896-1940. person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, Zelda, 1900-1948. person
associatedWith Gershwin, George, 1898-1937. person
associatedWith Gershwin, Ira, 1896-1983. person
associatedWith Goldman, Emma, 1869-1940. person
associatedWith Hagedorn, Hermann, 1882-1964. person
associatedWith Harwood, Harold Marsh, 1874-1959. person
associatedWith Hovey, Carl, b. 1875. person
associatedWith Hurst, Fannie, 1889-1968. person
associatedWith Jesse, F. Tennyson (Fryniwyd Tennyson), 1888-1958. person
associatedWith Levant, Oscar, 1906-1972. person
associatedWith Ludwig, William, 1912-1999. person
associatedWith Luhan, Mabel Dodge, 1879-1962. person
associatedWith Mahin, John Lee, 1902-1984. person
associatedWith O'Hara, John, 1905-1970. person
associatedWith Pankhurst, E. Sylvia (Estelle Sylvia), 1882-1960. person
associatedWith Perkins, Frances, 1880-1965. person
associatedWith Reed, John, 1887-1920. person
associatedWith Reeves, Jerome W. person
associatedWith Rogers, Will, 1879-1935. person
associatedWith Roosevelt, Theodore, 1858-1919. person
associatedWith Schary, Dore. person
associatedWith Stokes, Rose Pastor, 1879-1933. person
associatedWith Stokowski, Leopold, 1882-1977. person
associatedWith Tarkington, Booth, 1869-1946. person
associatedWith Trotti, Lamar, 1900-1952. person
associatedWith Zanuck, Darryl Francis, 1902-1979. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
Soviet Union
Great Britian
Spain
Subject
Suffragists
Antisemitism
Race relations
Motion picture authorship
World War, 1939-1945
Motion pictures
International relief
Occupation
Screenwriters
Function

Person

Birth 1888-12-25

Death 1960-03-19

Americans

English

Information

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