The Real Nick and Nora

Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of Stage and Screen Classics by David L. Goodrich

Book review By Anthony Buccino

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Author David Goodrich takes his time developing the cross-relations and early kindnesses that led to life-long friendships with, among others, James Cagney. (Albert Hackett gave the young actor a ride rather than leave him to wait for a bus.)

Quick. Name one Pulitzer Prize winner from Nutley, N.J.

Okay, so maybe Frances Goodrich isn't exactly a household name in town. That doesn't mean that the woman who spent her formative years, and later was married, in the large family home on Nutley Avenue, shouldn't be better known here.

After all, another writer, Richard Stockton who lived here has not only a room at the Nutley Public Library named after him, but a street, too. More on that street, later.

In ''The Real Nick and Nora - Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of Stage and Screen Classics,'' author and Frances' nephew David L. Goodrich puts together a comprehensive and delightful portrait of his aunt and her husband and writing partner Albert Hackett.

The first play Frances and Albert worked on was something she had struggled on for a while and brought him in to finish off. A few years later, that play, ''Up Pops The Devil,'' was the first play produced by the Nutley Little Theatre on Nov. 23, 1934. 

"The Real Nick and Nora" is filled with references to Nutley, and Frances' Nutley Avenue home. One photo in the front of the book shows ''Frances, in her teens, in the Nutley house - as usual, with a book.''

Born in Belleville, the Goodrich family moved Frances to Nutley when she was  two years old. She attended private school while she lived in town, then went Passaic Collegiate School, and then on to Vasser.

After graduating in 1912, Frances went into the theatre. While working in the theater in Northampton, Mass., Frances met actor William Powell - who later turned up in the Thin Man films.

Well, a lot happens to Frances between college graduation and writing screenplays in Hollywood for the Thin Man films, and many others.

Author David Goodrich takes his time developing the cross-relations and early kindnesses that led to life-long friendships with, among others, James Cagney. (Albert Hackett gave the young actor a ride in Hollywood - rather than leave him to wait for a bus.)

Frances met Bob Ames and married him in the Nutley Avenue house in 1917. That lasted six years. She married again, and though the wedding made the social pages, it didn't last.

It was with Albert Hackett, an actor and writer, that Frances' life clicked for the best. The pair wrote plays, got married, and went to the new world of Hollywood to write the words for actors to say in the 'Talkies'.

The Hacketts wrote screenplays and plays for the next 30 years. They are best known for their work on the three Thin Man films starring Myrna Loy and William Powell.

The Hacketts, as Goodrich calls them, were the epitome of Nick and Nora. Frances had the refined taste for the good life and had grown up in Nutley with attending servants. Albert was the wise-cracking uncle every one would hang around at parties.

While writing the screenplays in their Hollywood studio office, passersby would hear the pair screaming and yelling at each other. Then the Hacketts would break for lunch and be as civil and chatty to each other as possible while away from their keyboard. 

At the 'writers' table' at MGM and in Hollywood's Golden  Age, they forged  friendships with Ogden Nash, Dashiell Hammett, Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald and many others.

Nutley Hall of Fame award for Frances GoodrichLater, when the Hacketts were well known, they were instrumental in establishing the Screen Writers Guild - to ensure fair treatment of writers in Hollywood. They stood up to the bigwigs, including Louis B. Mayer.

And the pair worked on Frank Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" but it wasn't a pleasant experience for even the seasoned Hollywood screenwriters.

The Hacketts' crowning achievement, and most-draining writing effort, was their work as playwrights on "The Diary of Anne Frank." For that work they won the Pulitzer Prize.

Frances, who never had any children, thought of Anne as hers. Albert predicted rightly, that whenever Frances was called upon to speak about the play, it would cause her to cry.

The exhaustive 300-plus pages of ''The Real Nick and Nora'' covers a pair of long, full lives, Frances died at 94, and Albert, ten years her junior, lived to be 95.

The Hacketts were such nice people, they often seemed out of place in the wilds of Hollywood in the 30s and 40s. Their kindness was often taken advantage of, but they were such nice people, who wouldn't want to be their friend?

The Hacketts certainly deserve the fine treatment in this comprehensive biography. They would be proud of the fine job their nephew did.

Click here to order from Amazon: The Real Nick & Nora

The following observation is not based on the book.

As for the Goodrich house on Nutley Avenue, it was not far from the home on Walnut Street where Frank Stockton wrote his classic short story ''The Lady or the Tiger.'' However it's unlikely that young Frances would have met Stockton as he moved from Nutley and died when she was 12.

She may have read his stories while at her private school in Nutley, but who can really say?

The two have another connection and it adds to the irony of the two best-known writers to have ever lived in Nutley.

In Nutley, Frances Goodrich and her family lived at 187 Nutley Avenue. When you visit this site in 2005, you will see a stone column - of which there are several around town that once marked the entrance to a grand estate,  such as Nutley Manor.

But on  Nutley Avenue, all you'll find of the Goodrich estate where 187 Nutley Avenue was located is the stone pillar. The corner estate has been replaced by a modern houses on a dead end street that leads to another dead end street. The latter is called Pomander Walk and the former street, perhaps at the former entrance to the Goodrich estate is Stockton Place.

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the REST of the story.

In 2005, Frances Goodrich (December 21, 1890 to January 29, 1984) was inducted into the Nutley Hall of Fame.

Frances Goodrich worked on more than 40 films, from After The Thin Man (1936) to The Diary of Anne Frank, Father of the Bride (1950) and Father of the Bride II (1995).

This review was written by Anthony Buccino and published on this web site in 2005. Edited 2013.

A complimentary copy of "The Real Nick and Nora - Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Writers of Stage and Screen Classics" was submitted for review consideration.

Book published 2001 by Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville

 Anthony Buccino

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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.

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