Elinor Glyn scandalized Edwardian Britain in the early 1900s as both a notorious jezebel and a trailblazer of erotic literature before becoming an engine of overwrought romance in silent-era Hollywood. Descended from British aristocracy, Glyn sought escape from a boilerplate, passionless marriage by engaging in a series of torrid affairs and penning romance novels about similarly afflicted heroines. In 1907, she achieved real notoriety upon the publication of Three Weeks, a novel whose fictionalization of one of her own dalliances anticipated the moralist shock over D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover two decades earlier. In 1920, she made the move to Hollywood where her work gave rise to a run of silent films, most famously the Gloria Swanson/Rudolph Valentino melodrama "Beyond the Rocks" (1924) and the Clara Bow-starring "happy-flapper" romp "It," which redefined that word as a term for cultural bellwether. Glyn fell in with the "It" crowd of her times, including the retinue of William Randolph Hearst, whose newspapers she wrote for. When her Hollywood days ended, she directed two U.K. adaptations of her stories, which made her one of the first women to helm a film - albeit unsuccessfully. A pioneer in women's fiction and a major catalyst in defining the romance template of early Hollywood, Glyn's unflinching sojourns into illicit romance made her, in her time, a pop-cultural synonym for ribaldry.
Glyn was born Elinor Sutherland on Oct. 16, 1864, in Saint Helier, Isle of Jersey, in the U.K.'s Channel Islands, to Elinor and Douglas Sutherland. Her father, a civil engineer descended from Scots aristocracy, died of typhus two months later and her Canadian-born mother took her two daughters to live with her family in Guelph, Ontario, where she was indoctrinated in the pomp of aristocratic strictures. After their mother remarried, the family returned to Jersey, where a governess schooled Elinor and her older sister Lucy. The latter sibling later began a business as a dressmaker, and her shop, Maison Lucile, in London's West End would make her, as Lucile, one of the first internationally renowned designers (as well as a famed survivor of the Titanic). In 1892, Elinor married Clayton Glyn, a high-born landowner. The union produced two children, but Elinor and Clayton shared little passion and she found herself unfulfilled. She began a series of extramarital dalliances in British high society circles and earned a reputation as a notorious scarlet woman. She also began writing romance novels, starting with The Visits of Elizabeth in 1900. Though her early works did not meet with much success, all that changed when she began combining flights of romantic fancy with elements of her own risqué experiences to create stories typically centered on fitful, aristocratic young women seeking to renew themselves in oft-illicit amorous undertakings.
Ushering in the "bodice-ripper" genre, works like 1906's Beyond the Rocks and 1907's Three Weeks began making her name synonymous with scandal even beyond her social circles. The latter, loosely based on one of her more notorious affairs with a younger aristocrat, became a forbidden pleasure condemned by moral watchdogs but purchased voluminously. She worked at a fantastic pace to crank out nearly a novel a year through the next two decades, even though critics largely trashed her works. Clayton suffered a premature death in 1915. With the advent of motion pictures, fledgling filmmakers, foreign and domestic, found that Glyn's name on a project gave them a sexy lure and began adapting her books, starting with "Three Weeks" in 1914. In 1920, Jesse Lasky, honcho at Famous Players-Lasky Corp., lured Glyn to Los Angeles to work in its burgeoning film colony. She contributed her first screen story for Lasky's melodrama "The Great Moment," which starred Gloria Swanson, and her novels soon became a rich mine for Hollywood silents. Lasky gave "Beyond the Rocks" the superstar treatment with Swanson and heartthrob Rudolph Valentino as its leads, while Goldwyn Pictures Corp. commissioned a remake of "Three Weeks" in 1924, working off her screenplay. She would garner 12 more screen credits through the end of the decade, including adaptations of her books Six Days, His Hour, Man and Maid, The Reason Why, The Vicissitudes of Evangeline and The Man and the Moment.
Most prominent among them would be 1927's "It," a merely figurative adaptation of the eponymous tale of one of her short story collections, which re-introduced the word as a term of fashionable magnetism. Clara Bow, who starred as a sparkling social-climbing department store clerk in the film, became - for all time - the definitive "It girl" and the term entered the lexicon as a euphemism for showbiz belles-du-jour. Glyn naturally fell in with Hollywood's own royal clique surrounding magnate William Randolph Hearst and contributed women's how-to pieces to his newspapers. With the arrival of sound pictures, Glyn returned to the U.K., where she incorporated an eponymous production company and, securing distribution through United Artists, directed adaptations of her stories. The first was "Knowing Men" (1930), the story of yet another wealthy debutante, with this one masquerading as a commoner to size up her lover. In spite of the pioneering effort, Glyn's first outing as a director met with universal jeers, and UA shelved her second film, "The Price of Things." Having sunk her own money into the projects, fruitlessly, she bowed out of film work and compensated with a prolific run of five new books over the next few years. As the years encroached, she published a final novel, The Third Eye, in 1940 and passed away in London on Sept. 23, 1943.
By Matthew Grimm