Kavanaugh, Frances (1915–2009)

By: Carrie Lammers

Type: Biography

Published: July 5, 2022

Updated: July 5, 2022

Frances Kavanaugh, writer of B-Western movies, daughter of Jewell Walton Simpson and Robbie Summeral (Booth) Simpson, was born Francheska L. Simpson in Dallas, Texas, on February 5, 1915. As a young girl she grew up in Houston around ranching and cowboys and rode horses. In an interview in 2002, she said that these experiences “gave [her] the feeling of westerns.” Frances and her sister Jane changed their surname to Kavanaugh following their mother’s marriage to Claude Kavanaugh in 1934. Frances Kavanaugh graduated from San Jacinto High School in Houston and studied accounting at the University of Texas at Austin. She and her family moved to Los Angeles in 1940.

In Los Angeles, Kavanaugh attended a drama workshop run by Max Reinhardt and began writing two-person dialogues for her fellow acting students. These writings caught the attention of B-Western filmmaker Robert Tansey. Tansey hired Kavanaugh as a script doctor for Monogram Pictures. She was soon promoted to screenwriter after impressing Tansey with a script that she wrote to replace one assigned to her that she considered unsalvageable. She was unaware at the time that the script that she convinced Tansey to reject in favor of her own was written by Tansey himself. Kavanaugh received thirty-three writing credits for B-Westerns from 1941 to 1951. Her work earned her the nickname the “Cowgirl of the Typewriter.” Titles such as Lone Star Law Men (1941) and Stars Over Texas (1946) show the influence of her Texas roots on her career. She was also a writer on all eight entries in the Trail Blazers series of films (1943–44) for Monogram Pictures. In addition to Monogram, Frances worked for PRC, United Artists, and Eagle Lion Studio.

In 1951 Frances Kavanaugh married freelance writer Robert L. Hecker and collaborated with him on television scripts for several years before she retired to focus on raising their two children, Robbie-Jane and Robert. The couple later adopted a third child, Rosario (Rose) Saldona. After her children left home to attend college, she attended California State University, Northridge, and earned an associate degree in photojournalism, a bachelor’s degree in art, and a master’s degree in psychology. For several years she worked in art therapy with child patients. In 1997 Frances Kavanaugh was honored by the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum with the Western Pioneer Motion Pictures Award. That year the museum also created an exhibit showcasing items that she had donated to the museum. She also received the Western Film Fair’s Lifetime Achievement Award in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1998 and the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. Frances Kavanaugh Hecker died on January 23, 2009, from lymphoma in Encino, California. She was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles County. In 2014 she was posthumously inducted into the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.

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“The ‘Cowgirl of the Typewriter’ Defied Stereotypes and Took the Reins,” Autry Museum of the American West, April 3, 2020 (https://theautry.org/research/blog/%E2%80%9Ccowgirl-typewriter%E2%80%9D-defied-stereotypes-and-took-reins), accessed June 12, 2022. “Frances Kavanaugh-Hecker Clippings and Scrapbook,” Autry Library, Autry National Center, Los Angeles. Internet Movie Database: Frances Kavanaugh (https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0442599/), accessed June 12, 2022. Los Angeles Times, February 4, 2009. National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame: Frances Kavanaugh (https://www.cowgirl.net/portfolios/frances-kavanaugh/), accessed June 12, 2022. Pasadena Star-News, February 1, 2009.

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Carrie Lammers, “Kavanaugh, Frances,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/kavanaugh-frances.

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July 5, 2022
July 5, 2022

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