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Martha Wells

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Women in Early Hollywood

A while back on Facebook we were talking about the TCM documentary Complicated Women, about pre-code movies of the early 30s. I knew the 30s movies were a huge contrast (especially in depictions of women's careers and sex) to 40s and 50s movies, but this documentary had some really good examples. (I'd seen some of the ones featured, like Babyface with Barbara Stanwyck and "Queen Christina" and a lot of the Kay Francis movies, but many of these I'd never heard of before, like an early 30s "Gentlemen's Agreement" about a woman and two men in a menage a trois.)

It reminded me of this book which I wanted to recommend again:

Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood by Cari Beauchamp

From a couple of earlier posts on it:

It uses the life and career of Frances Marion as a framework to tell the story of the women writers, directors, and studio heads of the 10s, 20s, and 30s. It's really fascinating, showing how women started out in influential positions but were eventually edged out of the Hollywood power structure in the 40s. Frances Marion wrote more than 300 scripts and produced over 130 films, and won two Academy Awards for writing. Yet just before she retired in 1946, the only writing job she could get was with a studio who required her and the only other female writer to sign a contract stating that they would not tell anyone that they were working as script writers; if asked, they had to say that their job title was "secretary."

From the prologue:

(Frances Marion) was credited with writing 325 scripts covering every conceivable genre. She also directed and produced half a dozen films, was the first Allied woman to cross the Rhine in World War I, and served as the vice president and only woman on the first board of directors of the Screen Writers Guild. She painted, sculpted, spoke several languages fluently, and played "concert caliber" piano. Yet she claimed writing was "the refuge of the shy" and she shunned publicity; she was uncomfortable as a heroine, but refused to be a victim.

She would have four husbands and dozens of lovers and would tell her best friends that she spent her life "searching for a man she could look up to without lying down." She claimed the two sons she raised on her own were "my proudest accomplishment" -- they came first and then "it's a photofinish between your work and your friends."

Her friendships were as legendary as her stories and some of the best were with her fellow writers for during the teens, 1920s, and early 1930s, almost one third of the screenwriters in Hollywood were women. Half of all the films copyrighted between 1911 and 1925 were written by women.


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"searching for a man she could look up to without lying down."

could easily become my favorite quote of all time.

Thanks for posting this -- I will have to look for that book. I've become interested in women in early Hollywood -- especially during the silent era, although of course a lot of women who started then continued to work through the next few decades as well -- as I've been trying to find out more about the life of my great-grandmother. Having spent most of her life as wife and mother, after three divorces, when she was over 50, Eugenia Tuttle began a completely new career as a film actress. Of course, she could not get away with pretending to be 20 years younger than her real age forever...and ageism was as rife then as now... so it was a short career, and probably mostly uncredited work as an extra. Because it is hard to find out much about her, I'm moving sideways to investigate people she worked with or otherwise came into contact with -- the first film she had a significant part in was written by Julia Crawford Ivers -- who was about her own age, also the mother of a grown son -- and has been referred to by more than one writer as "the mystery woman director" because it was so difficult to find out much of anything about her - no pictures seem to exist, and although she gave interviews, they were always about her work in the film business, nothing else. Besides being a writer and director, Ivers also managed a Hollywood studio.

Re: women in hollywood

I couldn't find Julia Crawford Ivers in the index, but the "I" section seemed a bit truncated and it may not include people who were just mentioned briefly.

I hope you're able to find it; it's a fabulous book, I think you'd enjoy it.

Re: women in hollywood

Go to your nearest academic library and search in the database Film Indexes Online for Ivers. And Eugenia Tuttle shows up in the 1916 movie THE AMERICAN BEAUTY, playing Mrs. Winton.

Re: women in hollywood

Actually, Eugenia Tuttle played the role of Mrs. Winton in a film called "Boy Crazy" -- and despite some misleading listings online, I'm fairly certain no copy of that film survives -- alas! My father ordered a film (video or DVD) of that title & description a few years back but it turned out to be a music video featuring some boy-band. Thus learned you can't trust everything you read...
I updated Eugenia's listing on the imdb to fill in missing facts.

Re: women in hollywood

My bad. It's JC Ivers who was involved in THE AMERICAN BEAUTY, as the screenwriter.

As you may be able to tell, I am just BURSTING to write something at more length on this subject. Or subjects. Many fascinating women in early Hollywood!

The photo I use as my icon here is Eugenia at an earlier stage in her life, roughly 1888-1890, when she was Mrs. Clarke.

I wonder if Barbara Hambly read this before writing BRIDE OF THE RAT GOD? Which I recommend for the early Hollywood scene, plus fantasy and mythology and magic, to boot! It takes place after WWI during the silent film era.

I remember growing up and reading what a big deal Desilu Studios was, and that Lucille Ball was one of the few powerful women in Hollywood. So it turns out she was merely a renaissance -- that as so many times before, men erased real history when it didn't suit them.

I wonder if men and women will bother with each other once we can reproduce in containers, a la Bujold's Vorkosigan world?

This came out a few years after Bride of the Rat God, so she wouldn't have seen it. (It's a great book -- one of my favorite of Barbara Hambly's.)

Those early Hollywood pioneers had a moment of freedom before someone noticed there was power to be had in film. Some of the actresses even had power back then. I'm particularly thinking of Mary Pickford, co-founder of United Artists.

Yep, it was basically when the big investors came in that the women and the other original pioneers were being edged out.

(Deleted comment)
WITHOUT LYING DOWN is also a documentary...

Hah, I had a brainwave and checked the TCM website DVD shop:

Without Lying Down

Someone over on Dreamwidth said their school library had a copy, too.

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