KAVANAUGH-HECKER 93, Cowgirl of the Typewriter In a man's world, Frances (Francheska) Kavanaugh wrote more scripts for western movies than any woman in Hollywood, and more than only a handful of men. Dubbed by her colleagues the "Cowgirl of the Typewriter," the blonde, blue-eyed Texan, a well-known writer during the 1940s at Monogram, PRC, Unit ed Artists and Eagle Lion Studio, passed away January 23, 2009, at her home in Encino, California, after a long battle with Lymphoma cancer. Born February, 1915, in Dallas, Texas and raised in Houston, Frances grew up surrounded by ranchers and cowboys. Her mother, Robbie, known for her beauty, was a well known horsewoman. "My mother loved horses, and we rode a lot. That gave me the feeling for westerns. On Saturdays my little sister, Jane, and I attended movie matinees which almost always showed weste rn double features and a western serial. So I was also raised with western movies." In Houston, Frances graduated from San Jacinto High School and matriculated at the University of Texas, majoring in accounting. When the family moved to California, settling in Los Angeles, Frances and Jane enrolled in Max Reinhardt's workshop, a prestigious drama school where many movie stars had received training. To enhance the acting classes, Frances began writing sketches for herself and other classmates. "I was al ways good in English, and I loved to write poetry, so writing the monologues and sketches seemed very natural. Some of them were westerns. The actors loved them because they were tailored for each one." Occasionally, Hollywood producers or directors came to watch the workshop productions, including Bob Tansey, a well-known producer and director of westerns. After watching an original dramatic scene, he asked to meet the writer. He was surprised to learn it had been written by a female, a lovely blonde from Texas. Nevertheless, he offered her a job with his production company at Monogram. As Frances tells it, "In the beginning, I just polished scripts and worked on dialogue. One day I was working on a script for a western, typing away. But the script was so bad I couldn't do anything with it. When I stopped typing, Bob Tansey wanted to know why. I told him, 'This script is terrible. It's the worst thing I've ever read. I can't fix it.' He stared at me, and I thought he was going to fire me. Instead he said, 'W ell, my criteria is that whoever criticizes a script has to be able to do it better, according to five people. So, let's see you do better.' I was glad for the chance. I took the script home, happy as a lark. I just knew I could do better. I worked on it all night, swinging like I was on the end of a lariat. The next morning Bob Tansey was astonished when I gave him almost 100 typed pages. He took the script to his office and read it while I waited on needles and pins. When at last he came back, he said, 'I 'm not going to show this to five judges,' and my heart sank. I was sure he hated it. The he added, 'This is why better than mine.' 'Yours?' I said. 'That's right,' he said, 'I wrote the other one. But from now on, you're my writer.'" During the next few years, Frances wrote more than 30 westerns, tailoring her scripts to feature many western stars such as Tim McCoy, Johnny Carpenter, Tom Keene, Jimmy Wakely, Duncan Renaldo (The Cisco Kid), Eddie Dean, and Chief Thunder Cloud. She created the legendary Trail Blazers with Ken Maynard, Hoot Gibson and Bob Steele. It was Frances Kavanaugh who first put a whip in the hand of Lash LaRue. "I developed a writing technique. I tailored each script to fit the location, the cast - especially the stars - and the budget. I wrote for certain stars, certain times and, above all, a certain audience: people who loved what were known as B-Westerns." In addition to writing, she also co-produced many productions. An experienced accountant, she assisted in the picture's acco unting, as well as preparing shooting schedules. She was paid by the script, basically as a free lance writer. "Between writing for Monogram, primarily for Bob Tansey, I wrote for other studios. I wrote an outline for Columbia called "Reward" that brought me five times the money I made for writing Monogram scripts." In addition to westerns, she also scripted such feature films as Enchanted Valley and Outpost in Morocco, starring George Raft. "Sam Bischoff of Columbia Pictures called me when they were ready to leave for shooting and still didn't have an acceptable shooting script. He asked me to see what I could do with the script. In less than a week I rewrote the script, and that's what they used for shooting. I got well paid for my work, but never received screen credit." In 1950, in a short story writing class at Hollywood High's night school, she met Lt. Col. Robert L. Hecker, a WWII veteran of the Army Air Corps, who was then employed by the Mutual Broadcasting System and also writing televisi on and radio scripts free lance. The following year Robert and Frances were married. Some people at the wedding looked at the vivacious Frances and the dashing Air Corp veteran and said it would never last. 58 years later they were still married. During the early years of their marriage, they collaborated in writing television scripts for productions by the Disney Studio, Four Star Productions, Goldwyn Studios, and KABC television. After their first child, a daughter, Robbie Jane, was born, then a son, Robert Kavanaugh, Frances put aside writing to concentrate on raising her family. By then her husband, Robert, had left Mutual Broadcasting to write free lance full time, writing novels as well as for television and documentary films. France's interest in helping disadvantaged children led her and her husband, Robert, to become foster parents to Rosario, a 13 year old girl from Mexico, the same age as their daughter Robbie-Jane. Over the years Rose became a citizen and part of the family, eventually a ttending universities with Robbie-Jane, Robert K. and, yes, Frances. When her children began their college careers, Frances - who had always been active in education - enrolled at California State University, Northridge, where she achieved an A.A. in Photojournalism. She had also become an accomplished artist, and during the next few years received a B.A. in Art. She then turned her agile mind to psychology, and after receiving a Masters Degree in Psychology, she worked for several years in art therapy for dysfunctional children. In 1997 the Gene Autry Museum of Western Heritage in Los Angeles, honored Frances' pioneering work in western motion pictures with a gala reception. Today a unique display at the museum features some of the western clothes she wore while working at Monogram, a selection of her scripts and press material, and her old L.S. Smith typewriter. In 1998, Frances and Robert were invited to the Western Film Fair in Charlotte, where Frances was honored with a lifetime achievemen t award. A year later Frances was honored at a Reel Cowboys' Awards banquet with a unique granite plaque etched with her likeness by the famous western artist, Katie West. And the following year, she was presented with a special Lifetime Achievement Award by the Southern California Motion Picture Council in recognition of her volume of historical work as a writer of western motion pictures seen around the world. Frances is survived by her husband, Robert L. Hecker; her daughter, Robbie-Jane Wedeen , and ESL teacher at Van Nuys High School; her son, Robert K. Persson-Hecker, President of the Borrmann Metal Center in Burbank; Rose Saldona-Newberry, an R.N. in Florida; four grandchildren; as well as her sister, Jane Borrmann, CEO of the Borrmann Metal Center. Private services are to be held at Forest Lawn.
Published in Los Angeles Daily News on Feb. 1, 2009.