Catherine Turney; Screenwriter, Author


Catherine Turney, prolific writer who created major 1940s screenplays with strong women characters played by such actresses as Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, has died. She was 92.

Turney, chief architect of the script for “Mildred Pierce,” which earned Crawford an Academy Award, died Wednesday in her sleep at her Sierra Madre home.

Over the decades, Turney wrote for stage, radio, film and television and had most recently spent her days at the Huntington Library working on biographies and historical romance novels.

But she is probably best known for her work in Hollywood. Although the script for the 1945 “Mildred Pierce,” based on James M. Cain’s novel, has often been attributed to Ranald MacDougall, Warner Bros.’ official history and other books by film historians fully credit Turney with writing the first script. MacDougall and several others later worked on it, but the Screenwriters Guild has assured in recent years that Turney is credited as major scriptwriter.


Turney’s own explanation was that the script sat on the shelf for a year after she wrote it, and when Jerry Wald finally got approval to produce the film, he and Crawford wanted her to continue working with them. But Turney by then was writing “Stolen Life” for Bette Davis and was unavailable.

Among Turney’s other scripts were “My Reputation” and “Cry Wolf” starring Stanwyck, “One More Tomorrow” with Ann Sheridan and Alexis Smith, “The Man I Love” with Ida Lupino, and “Winter Meeting” with Davis.

If actresses were commodities in the 1940s, women writers were “mere hirelings for the creation of ‘three-handkerchief pictures,’ ” Turney said years later.

“At Warner Bros., women writers were not particularly highly thought of. We were seen as a necessary evil and were seldom paid as much as the men,” Turney told the Advocate in a rare interview in 1984. “I think the only reason that they put up with women writers, certainly at Warner’s, was that they had big women stars. At one time they had Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino. All of them were under contract and demanded stories slanted toward women.”


In addition to Warner Bros., Turney wrote for MGM, Paramount and Universal.

Getting around Hollywood--and later television--censors was a major problem, Turney said. If the strong women battling big odds in her scripts wanted or had extramarital affairs, she said, censors required that they be punished.

Turney scripted plays at the Pasadena Playhouse before her motion picture years, and later wrote mostly soap operas for the small screen. Among her novels was “Surrender the Season.”

She is survived by a nephew and a niece.