FRANKEN, ROSE DOROTHY LEWIN (1895–1988), U.S. playwright, director, fiction writer, and screenwriter. Franken was born in Gainesville, Texas, but grew up in New York City. The 450 performances of her play, Another Language, set a record for a first play. Burns Mantle, editor of the authoritative Best Plays yearbook, selected Another Language as one of the ten best of the 1931–32 season. Three more of Franken's plays subsequently won that distinction: Claudia (1940–41), Outrageous Fortune (1943–44), and Soldier's Wife (1944–45).
Franken was best known for the Claudia stories. Launched in 1939 as a series in Redbook Magazine, Claudia became the subject of seven novels, a radio series, two films, and a play. Directed by the author, it had a run of 722 performances in 1941–43. Claudia is a naïve young woman who only after marriage begins to recognize her ability to cope with adult responsibilities and adversities. Claudia's subtitle, "The Story of a Marriage," points to Franken's predominant concerns. Her work captures the rapidly shifting mores of American society in the World War II years, seen through the eyes of women looking anew at their capabilities and desire for independence.
Another Language is the story of a rebellious woman in a family dominated by an authoritarian mother who keeps her sons and all but one of her obedient daughters-in-law on a short leash. Although the ethnicity of the Hallam family is unspecified, their ethnocentricity, gender roles, male professions, women's pastimes, and the materfamilias' attitudes about eating strongly suggest that they are middle-class Jews. Fran-ken is more specific in Outrageous Fortune. This work, daring for its time, protests antisemitism and homophobia and deals forthrightly with the discontent spawned within middle-class Jewish clannishness. In the aptly titled Soldier's Wife, the eponym quite unintentionally becomes a successful writer during her husband's absence. Upon his return from military service, she chooses to give up her new career in deference to the domestic lifestyle of a conventional marriage, while acknowledging that "there's going to be a lot of money and success and independence in women that there's never been before."
Franken's work reflects her personal struggle with traditional gender roles and her ambivalence about balancing domestic and career commitments. Although her heroine in Doctors Disagree (1943) overcomes both her male colleagues' anti-feminism and other women's anti-professionalism, Franken confided in her autobiography a preference for "a traditional physician of the masculine sex." She often denied harboring any interests more urgent or fulfilling than home, husband, and her three sons, and claimed she wrote only for something to do while the children napped and a cake baked. She relinquished an opportunity for a Barnard College education in 1913 to marry Dr. Sigmund Franken, a dentist, who actively encouraged her writing. After his death in 1932, she pursued her writing career in Hollywood. In 1947, she married William Brown Meloney, a writer who produced her plays and collaborated with her on several serialized stories in popular magazines.
Not all of Franken's nine plays were produced. In addition to her eight novels and film scripts for Twentieth Century Fox and Samuel Goldwyn, she wrote her autobiography, When All Is Said and Done (1963).
Sources:Notable Women in the American Theatre (1989).
[Ellen Schiff (2nd ed.)]
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.