Hailed by Kevin Brownlow in "The Parade's Gone By..." as "one of the great motion picture editors," Margaret Booth was an important and pioneering figure in the motion picture industry. In a career that spanned some nine decades, she went from being a film joiner in silents to an acclaimed editor to a production executive. Adopting a very low profile and rarely speaking with the press or historians, Booth remained (according to Brownlow, to whom she granted a rare interview in 1965), "reticent about her work and modest about her achievements."
Soon after completing her schooling, the Los Angeles native joined the D W Griffith Company in one of the areas open to women, as a film joiner. While her tenure with Griffith lasted only a few months, Booth acquired a working knowledge of how to cut a negative by eye. An even shorter stint at Paramount's laboratory assembling sections of film for release prints followed before being hired by Louis B Mayer where she worked as an assistant to director John M Stahl. Stahl was actively involved in the assemblage of his films and closely worked with the editors and, although a taskmaster, he proved a willing mentor. As Booth told Brownlow: "... he taught me the dramatic values of cutting. he taught me about tempo--in fact he taught me how to edit."
When Mayer merged his company with Metro and Goldwyn (to form MGM), Booth went along where she cut Stahl's "The Gay Deceiver" (1926) and "In Old Kentucky" (1927) among others. When the director opted to leave the studio, he invited Booth to join him, but she demurred, preferring to remain at MGM, partly due to Irving Thalberg. Although she was nervous about the advent of sound and the resulting technological challenges, she tamed them easily forging what has come to be known as "classical" Hollywood editing, seamless and unobtrusive. Over the next decade, she edited more than 20 motion pictures. Booth frequently worked with the top studio directors (i.e., Fred Niblo, Victor Fleming, Robert Z Leonard, Sidney Franklin, George Cukor) and counts among her credits films like "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (1929), "Susan Lenox, Her Rise and Fall" (1931), "Dancing Lady" (1933), "The Barretts of Wimpole Street" (1934) and "Camille" (1937). Her only Academy Award nomination came for her sterling work on the 1935 version of "Mutiny on the Bounty," helmed by Frank Lloyd.
At the age of 40, Booth traded the cutting room for a studio office when she was appointed as MGM's supervising film editor, a post she held for almost 30 years. Under her tenure, she offered her comments and critiques to filmmakers (like pointing out to George Cukor that Ingrid Bergman was underacting in the early stages of filming 1944's "Gaslight") and made sure that the studio's output maintained a high standard as well as adapting to the latest changes in technology and style. Unlike the other studio department heads, most notably Douglas Shearer and Cedric Gibbons, she eschewed taking credit for her contributions.
At a time when others might consider retirement, Booth resumed "hands-on" work working as editor on John Huston's boxing drama "Fat City" (1973) and Sydney Pollack's old-fashioned love story "The Way We Were" (1974). She joined Rastar Productions in the mid-70s, where she consulted or edited several film comedies written by Neil Simon which were highly dependent on her adept use of tempo, perhaps reaching a high point with "The Goodbye Girl" (1977). That same year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences corrected its oversight by awarded Booth an honorary Oscar for her contributions to the craft of film editing. While her final film as editor was the overblown musical "Annie" (1982), helmed by John Huston, she was hardly to blame for its dismal failure. She continued to work into her 80s as a producer, earning her penultimate screen credit as executive producer of "The Slugger's Wife" (1985) at the age of 87 before formally retiring the following year. In January 1998, on the occasion of her 100th birthday, she was honored by the Motion Picture Editors Guild with a lifetime achievement award.
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Began career as "film joiner" for D.W. Griffith
Moved to Mayer Studios; first films--mostly mostly directed by John M Stahl--as assitant editor
Debut as co-editor, "Why Men Leave Home", directed by Stahl
First film as solo editor, "Memory Lane", also directed by Stahl
Initial sound film as editor, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey" (opening and end sequences)
Edited Frank Borgaze's "Mutiny on the Bounty"; earned an Oscar nomination
Was editor of "Camille", directed by George Cukor
Served as supervising film editor at MGM
Was a production advisor on "The V.I.P.s"
Supervised the editing of "The Owl and the Pussycat"
Cut John Huston's boxing drama "Fat City"
Was editor of Sydney Pollack's "The Way We Were"
Initial collaboration on a Neil Simon film, supervised the editing of "The Sunshine Boys"
Was editor of "The Goodbye Girl"; scripted by Simon and directed by Herbert Ross
First film as associate producer, "The Cheap Detective"
Final film credit, as executive producer of the Neil Simon-scripted "The Slugger's Wife"