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 Metropolitanmagazine, 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.
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