After a life in early Hollywood as one of the first female screenwriters, you would think it’d be hard to shock Frederica Sagor “Freddie” Maas of La Mesa. But a question from a family member during her birthday party was all it took.
“Do you know how old you are today?” asked Tony Tovar, her guardian and grandnephew.
“Ninety-seven,” came Maas’ immediate reply.
“No, you’re 111,” Tovar said.
“No, I’m not!” she said back.
Later, when reminded once again of her milestone age, Maas gave it some thought.
“One hundred and eleven years old. 111,” she said. “Well, that’s enough.”
The celebration took place midmorning at Country Villa health care center on Lake Murray Boulevard, where a small group of family gathered to sing a festive Happy Birthday, and were joined by fellow residents and staff members. Tovar, who wasn’t expecting Maas to be very responsive today, says she’s much more alert this year than last.
“She’s having an amazing moment of lucidity,” he said. “She’s wanting to say her goodbyes and saying who gets her books and everything. She doesn’t realize that all that stuff is already gone.”
She even had an idea for Charles Cook, the longtime partner of Tony’s mother, Roberta Tovar, who passed away from cancer in 2009.
“She kept suggesting I should marry Phoebe,” said Cook, referring to Maas’ niece visiting from Seattle. “She said, ‘You shouldn’t be alone.’ It’s amazing how her memory has come back.”
Maas, who was born on July 6, 1900, in New York City, is the 67th oldest living person in the world, according to Wikipedia. She lived on her own until she was 96. She moved to San Diego more than 10 years ago to be closer to family, first residing in La Jolla’s Casa de Mañana before moving to La Mesa.
“What’s cool about where she stayed in La Jolla is that it had previously been the hotel where she went on her honeymoon,” said Tovar, who came with his wife, Tabatha, and two daughters.
Maas married husband Ernest, a producer at Fox Studios, in 1927, three years after she quit her job as assistant story editor at Universal Pictures and moved to Hollywood.
Her works include the silent films The Plastic Age (1925) and Dance Madness (1926), both with Clara Bow, and Flesh and the Devil, a 1926 silent drama starring Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947) was perhaps her most famous piece, a musical comedy she co-wrote with her husband and starring Betty Grable and Dick Haymes.
In 1999, Maas wrote an autobiography called The Shocking Frederica Sagor Maas, a tribute to her screenplay and a tell-all memoir of her days in Hollywood.