“By the time women won the right to vote in 1920 (though women had been voting in California since 1910), women were directing and writing half of all the films produced in Hollywood between 1911 and 1925,” author and film historian Cari Beauchamp told the Buzz. “Hollywood actually welcomed women because no one took the business seriously. It wasn’t a particularly respectable job so other people didn’t want to do it.”
Beauchamp will speak on the extensive role women played as writers, directors and producers – as well as actors in – the early days of Hollywood. She’s the featured speaker at the annual meeting and barbecue of the Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society which will be held this Sunday at the historic Gilmore Adobe, tucked inside the grounds of the Original Farmers Market.
Beauchamp is the author of numerous books on the role of women in Hollywood. Her most notable book, “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and The Powerful Women of Early Hollywood,” was also turned into a documentary that she wrote and co-produced for Turner Classic Movies.
The movies were a huge part of the life in Los Angeles. In 1914, “the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce proudly announced that over 15,000 locals were supported by the industry that brought over $15 million to the area. Hotels were booming, restaurants were packed, and new neighborhoods were propping up where only sagebrush had thrived before,” wrote Beauchamp in “Without Lying Down.”
Women were welcomed into the film business, which needed a steady supply of stories and writers. At the time, women’s novels were best-sellers. Short stories by women filled the pages of popular magazines, so there were many women writers, though the exact number is hard to say because women often sent their stories directly to film studios, which would send back a $10 or $20 dollar check with a receipt and a release form. The writers were rarely given a screen credit, explained Beauchamp.
“Women had always found sanctuary in writing; it was accomplished in private and provided a creative vent when little was expected or accepted of a woman other than to be a good wife and mother. For Francis [Marion] and her friends, a virtue was derived from oppression; with so little expected of them they were free to accomplish much,” wrote Beauchamp in her book.
Beauchamp believes that women are naturally suited to filmmaking because they are great collaborators, and great problem solvers who enjoy getting everyone working together for a common purpose. As an example, Beauchamp shared the story of how Dorothy Arzner, one of Hollywood’s most successful directors and one of the only women directing films in the 1930s, invented the “boom mike” which completely changed the way sound was recorded for movies.
Looking for a better way to record the audio that would allow actors to move freely, “Arzner asked a member of the crew (a man, they were all men by then) if they fished, when they said yes, she instructed them to bring a fishing rod to the set the next day. Then she attached a microphone so it could follow the actors around without being seen,” explained Beauchamp.
“It was so practical and so simple!” said Beauchamp.
Thanks to Beauchamp, these stories are not completely lost to history. At the time, because the women didn’t think they were that interesting , they often didn’t save their papers, unlike their male counterparts, explained Beauchamp. Despite Frances Marion winning two Oscars and being the highest paid screenwriter in Hollywood at the time, credited with more than 300 scripts, her secretary had to rescue many of her papers from the dumpster.
Beauchamp has encyclopedic knowledge of the early films and brings those days back to life with interesting facts. For example, did you know the term “shooting the lot” referred to actual empty lots where they early movies were filmed? And there are fascinating but lesser known stories like the highly profitable four years Joseph P. Kennedy spent in the film industry, laying the foundation for the family’s great wealth…which she tells in her book, “Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years.”
We thoroughly enjoyed our interview with Beauchamp, whose impressive depth and breadth of history of Hollywood is sure to entertain Historical Society guests. Historical Society President Richard Battaglia told the Buzz that the organization has already sold 130 tickets to the event.
“We have room for more, but we are not selling tickets at the door, so we hope anyone who is interested will purchase tickets by Saturday from our website.”
The Annual Meeting and Barbecue is Sunday, July 31 at the Gilmore Adobe, from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Click here for tickets. Parking will be validated and either parking lot is fine, The Grove or Farmer’s Market.
About Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the co-editor and publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.
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