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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Guldner

Hollywood in the 1920s. Women writers ruled the page then things started to change. What Happened?

Updated: Apr 26, 2019

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) written by Anita Loos

August 18, 1920 the 19th amendment has been ratified to allow women the right to vote in America. There is an increase of women starting to infiltrate the work place and movie theaters. Hollywood too is employing women writers. According to Cari Beauchamp's forward in When Women Wrote Hollywood, almost half of the films produced in Hollywood were written by women. How is that possible, and when did all these fabulous writers like Ruth Gordon, Anita Loos, Frances Marion, and so many others mentioned in this great book not only have their careers as writers disappear but their herstory as well? Why are male directors like Cecil B. DeMille mentioned in the echelons of Hollywood history but a faded mention of the women who penned the stories other women would go in droves to see at the local cinema hard to find out about? Writers like Anita Loos created stars out of Douglas Fairbanks and Jean Harlow. Creating their dialogue that catapulted them into Hollywood stardom. Ruth Gordon and her husband and writing partner Garson Kanin created a feminist masterpiece in Adam's Rib (1949). They wrote two characters within a marriage that where equally educated,(both lawyers) and allowed to express their own desires, individuality, and autonomy outside of a typical Hollywood marriage norm. Their screenplay was one of the few that had had few re-writes and stayed true to their vision. Frances Marion was a powerhouse writer for more than 20 years and had written over 300 scripts and was the first women to be elected vice president of the Screen Writers Guild and a top writer for MGM studios. And there were so many women working during the silent era of Hollywood in many different positions such as financial, legalities, business, camera operations, and writing. Hollywood according to Cari Buchamp's essay was were women "welcomed and nurtured" (p.1) and "flocked to Hollywood to share their talents and fuel their financial independence" (p.1) How did Hollywood change and become an industry that currently only has 15% of women writers as of 2018 according to the top 100 grossing films of the year.

As powerful men such as Irving Thalberg, who had championed Frances Marion's work had died, their legacies disappeared and men started to fill the writer positions. Not until recently has female screenwriter's history for the silent era been carefully unearthed through extensive research and loving care by other women film writers and archivists. A great web site as well to find extensive history on women in film is the Women Pioneers Project. According to W.W.W.H. there seemed to be less of an ego struggle with women in early Hollywood than with their male counterparts.Women were not pining for their names in the history books and often encouraged other women in their creative talents by forming partnerships and lasting friendships. Balance between work and family seemed to be more of a priority for these screenwriters. Sexism, power, money, and racism play a part in the rise or fall of women as well. White women did dominate the landscape of hollywood and there had to be another outlet for women of color to write and explore their artistic talents because there was a time when making films was new and unexplored territory. When Hollywood became the industrial complex that it has today that is when the power shift occurred. It became increasingly difficult over time for women to find their scripts taken seriously and made into films. What I learned from reading about these women is the powerful dynamic of creating creative communities backed by financial help such as women running their own production and distribution companies in order for our stories to be made and seen. These women of film deserve to have a light shone on their great work and a return to a time when women ruled Hollywood.

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