Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Women film pioneers early 1900s behind the camera

Women professionals
behind the cameras in early cinema

Lillian Gish directed
sister Dorothy Gish
pictured w/DW Griffith 1922
Women were pioneers in the film industry. In the early 1900s they were bosses, technicians, producers, exhibitors, directors, writers, stunt women and editors. Many of us know that they were actors, costume designers, dressers. Don't forget ballyhoo. Women did even more.

I hesitate to say that someone was the first to do something. People may have been doing things earlier and simultaneously, some not getting credit. 

When it was unusual to see a woman in a certain job, a magazine or newspaper might do a write-up. 

If she was a manager or an owner of a theater, the publication could refer to her as a girl regardless of her age. Girl Manager in Ohio. But she got publicity and got to speak her mind. How about stunt girls and stunt men?

Director Kathryn Bigelow
2009 Seattle Film Festival
Women were directing films in the 1910s if not earlier. We recently celebrated Kathryn Bigelow's winning an Academy Award for Best Director. She was the first female to win in that category. Her film was The Hurt Locker and the year was 2009.

Even if she had talent, an idea or an invention she had to get a foot in the door. In the early days of cinema the first women were often those who had/were:

Finances: They could afford to do and try what they pleased.

Family: Your father, spouse taught you to do it, gave you entry into the field at
Gloria Swanson
Fred Clark, Ernest Anderson
Orig 8x10 photo, 3 for Bedroom C 1952

some level even if it was the ground floor to learn the trade. Sometimes it was planned, sometimes a high level producer died and the wife realized she had absorbed enough knowledge to take over. 

In the case of the wife of Thomas Ince. When the producer died in 1924, his wife, Elinor was prepared to take over the company.

Fixed: You were already in the business. Many women performed overlapping jobs and many worked their way up. It's hard to classify some in a category because they did so many things! Some women performed jobs locally, some did them just a few times.

Forced: How about that for alliteration? :) Talking about the wars, especially. Starting in the mid-1910s, with their male counterparts away fighting, women stepped into jobs not regularly available to them. They were trained to operate and fix equipment such as cameras. They pinned back their hair and donned overalls. Women rose into management. 

Thomas Ince with Mabel Normand 1919
Several actresses such as Gloria Swanson and Mabel Normand did some of their own stunt work. In the teens and twenties in particular, studios were actively looking for talent. Magazines ran contests for actors and writers. There were recurring lessons on 'scenario writing.' They offered reassuring messages: you don't have to be a fancy writer, just a storyteller to make it in the moving pictures. 

Watch for future articles. I'll be highlighting women who were prominent in different jobs in the film industry and in supporting arenas primarily from the 1910s-1930s. 

* This is the beginning of a series. It is part of a larger project. 

Celebrity family members who have Hollywood Walk of Fame stars next to or near one another

Related Books:

Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer (Screen Classics)

Many books have been written about Gloria Swanson. She wrote her autobiography,  Swanson on Swanson. 

 Kathryn Bigelow: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers)

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