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Shedding light on the Strichen-born writer Lorna Moon who illuminated Hollywood

It sounds like the script of a Tinseltown film.

The story of a feisty female from a little Scottish community who wrote to a movie mogul, said she could do better than him, and became a legend in Hollywood.

Yet there is nothing remotely fictional about the life and scandalous times of Strichen-born Lorna Moon, who emigrated to Canada and then the United States with her husband, Bill Hebditch, dumped both him and the couple’s five-year-old son, and subsequently became one of the most illustrious figures in the age of silent films.

The little girl who was christened Helen Nora Wilson Low grew up in an Episcopal school in Aberdeenshire, while her mother ran a temperance hotel in Strichen.

From the outset, however, she had a rebellious streak and aversion to conformity.

As a keen movie-goer, she went to see the latest Cecil B. DeMille offering, “Male and Female”, in 1920. She was so unimpressed with the production that she fired off a letter to the director, telling him in no uncertain terms what she thought about the script and subsequently received a call from the great man.

That marked the start of a remarkable chapter in the Scot’s life, which has been chronicled by Aberdeen writer, Mike Gibb in meticulous fashion.

Mr Gibb, who has created a play “Doorways in Drumorty”, adapted from her popular book of the same name – it was banned in Strichen for 50 years because the locals recognised themselves – has no doubt about the artistic merit of his late compatriot.

He said: “I believe that if she hadn’t died so young – in 1930, aged 44 – she would have gone on to become one of Scotland’s great literary figures and would now be revered like Lewis Grassic Gibbon rather than being largely unknown.

“Cecil B. DeMille responded to her letter and suggested that if she thought she could do better, why didn’t she come to Hollywood?

“So she packed her bag, said goodbye to her common law husband, Walter Moon, and headed off to California.

“During the Twenties, she became one of the highest-paid female scriptwriters in the industry, responsible for the likes of “Mr Wu”, “Women Love Diamonds” and one of early cinema’s biggest hits, “Love”, which starred Greta Garbo.

“She also worked with some of the top stars of the era, including Gloria Swanson, Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer.

“But while her professional life flourished, her personal life was once again in turmoil. She had an affair with William DeMille, a playwright, who was the brother of the famous director and a married man, and she became pregnant.

“Then, fearing a scandal, Cecil quickly sent the baby, a boy named Richard, to an orphanage and it was only after William DeMille died in 1955 that Richard, at the age of 34, was told that the man he had known all his life as Uncle Bill was actually his father.”

Mrs Moon’s creativity was undimmed by these dangerous liaisons. But after penning a series of short stories about the imaginary Scottish village of Drumorty, which was written with strong elements of the Doric dialect from her early days, the works sparked consternation in Strichen.

Sadly, her frenetic lifestyle was abruptly curtailed.

Mr Gibb said: “She contracted tuberculosis and moved to a sanatorium in Albuquerque in New Mexico, in the hope the warm, dry air would help her to recover.

“While she was there, she completed her one and only novel, “Dark Star”, but although it was published in 1929 and became a best-seller, Lorna never saw the ensuing hit film, “Bill and Min”, because she died on May 1, 1930.

“There was a great outpouring of grief, especially in her adopted America, after her death and it is obvious she made a big impression on many people.”

For many years, her fame and notoriety vanished into the ether. But now, the indefatigable Mr Gibb is committed to making sure this Moon shines brightly again.