Saturday, October 4, 2014

10 Woman Film Producers of the 1910s

10 Female Film Producers of the 1910s

Mary Pickford
"Naturally there are many advantages for the star who heads her own company. You can put sincere study into your work and know that it is not going to be ruined because the almighty director cannot see things your way. In fact there is no end to the advantages but these are the ones that appeal to me most strongly."
-- Clara Kimball Young, Picture Play magazine 1917

There are so many smart and creative women whose work we can learn from. Here are just a few of the women who were producing films, feature length and shorts in at the turn of the century. It's hard to say who was first.  Though Miss Swanson wasn't the very first, she speaks to what many of the women felt.

"Of her role as the first woman producer of movies [Gloria Swanson] said, 'I always had an insatiable curiosity. I would look into the camera; I wanted to know how it worked, I would look at the rushes. I would ask why, why, why? I was surrounded by writers and directors. I wasn't just interested in acting, I was interested in everything which had to do with the movie. It seemed natural to become a producer.'" 

Swanson was producing films in the 1920s and 30s, when she was only in her 20s. Women have wanted perform many jobs in the motion picture business for years. -- quote from The Toledo Blade, December 27, 1970

1) The Eminent Authors Pictures was organized by Rex Beach and Samuel Goldwyn in 1918. Two of the authors included were Gertrude Atherton and Mary Roberts Rinehart.

"The plans of the new company are unique. The author will have the final power of direction and supervision over his picture. .... Out of their experience has grown the conviction that the only method whereby an author can be represented authentically in the motion picture is through a direct authority over the details of making the picture." ... 

"The growing importance of the  the story in motion pictures makes it possible to star the story instead of the actor says Mr. Beach. "The progress of the picture industry parallels the development of the stage in this that the play is recognized as the the thing and the actor is to be selected to fit the play rather than that the play should be distorted to fit the peculiarities of the actor."

Samuel Goldwyn announced that Dangerous Days would be the first production for Eminent Authors from the novels of Mary Roberts Rinehart. ... 

"Dangerous Days is a vivid picture of American society during the most deeply aroused period of our history and the men and women are caught up in the great tide of an unsuspected current of life. It is a brilliant, penetrating study of married life beginning with Mrs. Haverford's question: 'What do men want, anyway?'"
-- Moving Picture World 1919

Adapted plays, biographies and novels had been a ready source of inspiration for early motion pictures. In 1914 Colonial Motion Picture Corporation announced that they would present in "elaborate photo-play form some of the best known book successes of recent years - novels of vital interest to many millions of readers."  They would include The Iron Woman a drama of the steel mills by author, Margaret Deland. This movie was released in 1916.

"Norma Talmadge laying down the law to
Director Edward Jose"

2) Norma Talmadge 
In the 1910s and 20s Norma Talmadge produced and co-produced more than 20 films, shorts and features. Many of them were movies in which she also appeared. 

"The idea occurred to someone to make a star distinctive by organizing a company for her exclusivity. By marketing the pictures independently of the programs, the real value of the star would be thus obtained. The Clara Kimball Young film corporation was the first followed in rapid succession by Mary Pickford, Robert Warwick, Norma Talmadge, George M. Cohan, Douglas Fairbanks and perhaps still more."
-- Picture Play magazine article on stars who pay and boss themselves 1917

3) Mary Pickford was an actress, producer and writer. She produced films for The Pickford Film Corporation and Mary Pickford Company. In 1919, Pickford along with Douglas Fairbanks, D. W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin broke away from the big studios and founded United Artists. Their intent was to gain control of the actors' interests. The last film she produced was the 1949 Marx Brothers movie, Love Happy.

4) Clara Kimball Young
In 1917 Clara Kimball Young took out an announcement, advertisement in trade magazines.

"Clara Kimball Young's greatest ambition the dream of her life is at last realized. To head own and control her own individual company and to produce only
Clara Kimball Young
Pictures of Quality, pictures superior in every respect. ...

"Pictures that will go down in film history as super-masterpieces of the unspoken art, pictures that will make you proud to have the name of Clara Kimball Young emblazoned in front of your theater, pictures that will make her proud to have it there." 

In 1918-1919 Clara Kimball Young faced multiple legal entanglements with her business partners. One of them caused her to lose the rights to the company named for her. In 1919 she would self produce and star in The Better Wife.

5) Cathrine Curtis staged a luncheon for representatives to local and trade press celebrate her being a producer of motion pictures. The Cathrine Curtis Corporation was launched in 1919. During the luncheon, said a trade publication, Rex Beach "hopped on censors like a duck on a June bug." Beach was seen talking with Rupert Hughes offering some suggestions about censorship, a very hot topic in the 'teens.

6) Mandarin Film Company based in Oakland, California. Its president was
Marion E. Wong
Mandarin Film Co.
Marion E. Wong, who was also an actress. is composed entirely of Chinese all officers of the company as well as the actors and actresses. Miss Marion E Wong is president of the concern which has recently completed its first production, entitled The Curse of Quon Gwon. 

 Miss Wong is now in New York city in the interests of her company and its first production. The principal female parts are played by Miss Wong and her sister who are American born and are well known in Oakland and the vicinity. ... 

The Mandarin Film company expects to continue the production of films dealing with Chinese subjects and needless to say all the details and settings will be correct from the Chinese viewpoint. The company has its own studio in Oakland constructed and designed entirely according to Chinese ideas and equipped with a large stock of Chinese costumes and properties. It is the only Chinese producing concern in the country.
-- Moving Picture World Magazine 1917

NYFF Forum: Women Produce Well Developed Films. What a great video panel discussion by the Producers Guild of America East. A panel of female producers and film academics including Jane Startz, Amy Robinson, Jane Gaines, and moderator Julie Buck. 2011.

7) Grace Cunard
Another multi-talented woman, an actress, writer, director and producer. A
Grace Cunard
Trading Card
1917 Picture Play magazine had an article about Cunard.

"While Francis Ford was cutting and assembling the film, I found time to write and produce several one-reel comedies. I am doing this again in a different way in The Broken Coin and am in my element but I could not do it if I did not enjoy it or if I was not heart and soul in my work. ... 

"I have often been asked whether I think women make good directors. I think that some women are eminently suited to be producers especially those who are blessed with imagination. As a rule such women are sticklers for the details which are so important in screen plays. 

"There are several good women directors and there might be more but for popular prejudice against them and the objections that some of the actors raise who have to work under a woman. To make a good director, man or woman, he should know every angle of the business, and that is why I am competent to run a camera, know the work in the dark room is right and am able to cut and assemble my own films. If there is a mistake, I know why and where it occurred." 

8) Lucille McVey (Mrs. Sidney Drew)
Lucille McVey had been part of a comedy team with her husband Sidney Drew. After his death she went on to produce primarily short comedy features for Vitagraph. She did produce at least one feature-length film, Cousin Kate in 1921. She worked under both her maiden name and the name, Mrs. Sidney Drew. Mr. and Mrs. Drew were the great uncle and aunt of actress Drew Barrymore.

9) Actress Helen Gardner started the Cleopatra Film Company in 1918. In 1912 Gardner starred in the silent film, Cleopatra. It was re-released in 1918. Miss Gardner also produced, edited and worked on costumes for the movie. 

Helen Gardner clip from Cleopatra with information on the star / early film producer. Be sure to check out the other videos on the Helen Gardner Channel

10) Helen Keller
Helen Keller to make a novel picture: Famous American woman will produce humanitarian subject carrying message to the whole world
-- Headline for 1918 Moving Picture World Magazine snippet

Helen Keller with Miss Annie Sullivan
 "Miss Keller is accompanied by her friend and teacher Mrs. Annie Sullivan Macy, by the author of her forthcoming play, Dr. Francis Trevelyan Miller, historian and scientific writer, by George Foster Platt who produced the stage version of Maeterlinck's Blue Bird and will direct Miss Keller in her picture and by a number of business and professional associates. ... 

"She has been tested for the screen and it has been found that her personality and appeal, dominant features of her personal appearance reflects well from the film."

The biographical movie was called Deliverance. It received very good reviews and stands to show that a film can be made by and featuring persons with disabilities. Dr. Ansellm Goetzel wrote a musical score. It opened in 1919. The Helen Keller Film Corporation was established.

Miss Hisa Numa
In 1914 The Japanese American Film Company was "owned controlled and operated by Japanese. ... They are the latest in the Los Angeles film colony. For over two years they have been producing commercial, educational and industrial features which had a large circulation in Japan." Miss Hisa Numa, a leading woman of 20 years old, was one of the prominent members of the company.  The president was K. Numamoto. Miss Kohano Akashi played character leads. 
-- Moving Picture World October 1914

In 1916, The American Woman Film Company was being formed. One trade publication feature said, "Here is a new film company. It is a picture company run by women. The American Woman Film Company is its name and it is financially backed almost entirely by wealthy literary society women of the highest moral and artistic tone." 

Unfortunately, as happened with many ventures something happened to halt the company before even one film was produced. In this case, there was an accident involving a car carrying more than one of the key players of this company. I don't believe there were any fatalities, but there were no films created by them.

Movie Trivia Quiz questions Hollywood 1920s-30s era  Test your film history knowledge, First Women Writers, Directors; Silent Movies, pt 1 of 2

10 Stunt Women from the 1910s

Related Books of interest:

Early Universal City (Images of America)

Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood (Studies in Industry and Society)

** Updated 10/09/2014

** This is part of a series. Links to new entries will be added. Any significant changes/updates will be noted with dates. Please watch for announcements on Twitter.

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