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#121 Marsha Gordon | Discovering the forgotten historical figure & hidden writings of Ursula Parrott

What if I told you that in 1929, a woman in NYC wrote a best seller, made a fortune during the great depression and then went on to write over 20 books, and screenplays – many of which became Hollywood films – only to tell you that no one knows her name?

Today in the Confessional, I’m thrilled to chat with Marsha Gordon, a Professor in Film Studies at North Carolina State University in the USA who stumbled across a forgotten historical figure just by chance and made it her mission to bring this story into the light.

Ursula Parrott was, by any standards, quite an extraordinary woman and thanks to Marsha’s incredible research, she may finally receive the respect she so deserves. Marsha’s latest book Becoming the Ex-Wife: The Unconventional Life and Forgotten Writings of Ursula Parrott (2023) is an incredible expose of a woman who in the 1920s lived her life on her own terms, writing best-selling novels, and being a sought after columnist for high-end magazine publications.

Parrott’s first novel, Ex-Wife, was published anonymously in 1929. A popular sensation, it sold more than 100,000 copies in nine editions. MGM paid $20,000 for the film rights as well. Ex-Wife was subsequently adapted for film as The Divorcee (1930) starring Norma Shearer, who won an Oscar for her role. Shearer also starred in an adaptation of Strangers May Kiss, published in 1930. Her novel Next Time We Live was adapted for film as Next Time We Love in 1936.

As a writer, Parrott was most successful between 1929 and 1940. Her son estimated that she earned around $700,000 ($14.6 million in 2022 dollars) during that period of time. In December 1942, Parrott became the subject of national coverage when she was brought up on federal charges of attempting to help the jazz guitarist Michael Neely Bryan escape from the Miami Beach Army stockade, but was found innocent by the jury at her trial.

Ursula Parrott wrote about many things, including being a single mother and woman in a man’s world. Yet, she was often thought of a romance novelist. She married and divorced several times. She was a genuine player in the world of both literature and Hollywood, and yet somewhere along the way, Ursula became another forgotten woman in these industries. There is no Hollywood star on the Walk of Fame, no plaque to suggest she created so many thought provoking works in her life.

I am thrilled to chat with Marsha, who’s curiosity and passion for Ursula’s story culminated in her incredible book. I for one am so blown away that, until Marsha’s book, I had never heard of Ursula. I really hope Ursula Parrott will now be spoken about often as she paved the way for so many women to follow in her footsteps.

You can follow Marsha Gordon here:


Becoming the Ex-Wife: The Unconventional Life and Forgotten Writings of Ursula Parrott (2023) is available at good book stores:

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Marsha Gordon
Marsha Gordon

Marsha is a Film Studies professor at North Carolina State University who loves researching, writing, and speaking about American film and culture. She regularly introduce movies, moderate panels, make radio and podcast appearances, and lectures on an array of topics. ​ Her latest book, Becoming the Ex-Wife: The Unconventional Life and Forgotten Writings of Ursula Parrott (2023), was supported by National Humanities Center Fellowship (2019-2020) and NEH Public Scholar Fellowship (2020-2021). ​ She is also the author of Film is Like a Battleground: Sam Fuller’s War Movies and Hollywood Ambitions: Celebrity in the Movie Age, and the co-editor of Learning with the Lights Off: A Reader in Educational Film and Screening Race in American Nontheatrical Film. Marsha is the former editor of The Moving Image journal. She has co-directed three short documentaries: Nesting (2020), about a bird’s nest and historical small-town American newspapers; All the Possibilities... (2019), about a single, extraordinary painting by Vernon Pratt; and Rendered Small (2017), about a unique collection of American Folk Art Buildings. ​From December 2013 to November 2020, she did the monthly radio show, “Movies on the Radio,” on NPR affiliate WUNC’s "The State of Things," 91.5 on your FM dial. she also co-founded Home Movie Day Raleigh and the infamous Bastard Film Encounter. She has given talks all over the United States as well as in London, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Prague. Marsha has introduced films at the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives, the Museum of the Moving Image, the Hammer Museum, the Czech National Film Archive, the Austrian Film Museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and many other venues.

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