LEVIEN, SONYA (1888–1960), U.S. screenwriter. Born Sara Opeskin near Moscow, daughter of Fanny and Julius Ope-skin, Levien immigrated to New York City with her mother and brothers in 1896. Her father, who had preceded his family to the United States, changed the family name to Levien. Known as Sonya, Levien earned a law degree from New York University and practiced law briefly. In 1917, she married writer Carl Hovey.
Levien began her prolific film scriptwriting career as a magazine writer and editor, working for Women's Journal and the Metropolitan, a liberal literary journal. Levien sold her first story to a motion picture studio in 1918. Her first screen credit was for the 1919 film Who Will Marry Me? Between 1929 and 1941, Levien was a writer for 20th Century Fox and MGM; from 1941 to 1956 she worked for George Sidney Productions. Levien wrote or co-wrote the screenplays of more than 70 motion pictures, including some of the most acclaimed films of her era. In her script for The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), based on an adaptation by Bruno Frank, Levien made the story relevant to contemporary audiences by drawing a parallel between the persecuted gypsies of Paris and the treatment of Jews in pre-World War II Germany.
Levien created strong women characters who were intelligent, noble, and independent. She was responsible for a number of the most important early depictions of Jewish characters in Hollywood films, in her scripts for Cheated Love (1921), Sa-lome of the Tenements (1925), The Younger Generation (1928), and Rhapsody in Blue (1943).
Levien earned many accolades during her long and highly successful screenwriting career, including an Academy Award in 1955 for Interrupted Melody. The Screen Writers Guild (now known as the Writers Guild of America) bestowed their most distinguished award on Levien in 1953, as the first recipient of the Laurel Award of Achievement, given to that member of the Guild "who has made outstanding contributions to the profession of the screenwriter."
L. Ceplair, A Great Lady: A Life of the Screen-writer Sonya Levien (1996); S. Levy-Reiner, "Levien, Sonya," in: P.E. Hyman and D.D. Moore (eds.), Jewish Women in America, vol. 1 (1998), 831–32.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.