Lois Weber in Jazz Age Hollywood
Most accounts of Lois Weber's career chronicle nothing but loss and failure in the 1920s following her great success in Hollywood a decade earlier. Rehearsed in so many iterations, both scholarly and popular, the story goes something like this: "Weber's marriage broke up, she lost her company and she had a nervous break down."1 Thereafter "she seemed to lose her focus and energy, and her career as a filmmaker essentially ended."2 "Her life completely fell apart,"3 her "career went to pieces,"4 and she was "never able to regain her career momentum."5 Some sources will admit that Weber "returned to directing briefly in the late 20s,"6 releasing "one or two minor program features,"7 but, as Anthony Slide put it, "without the strong masculine presence of [husband] Phillips Smalley at her side, she could not continue directing."8 Remarkably consisten across multiple recitations, this wretched narrative suggests, first of all, a synchronicity between personal tragedy and professional failure so profound as to erase all other effects of the monumental changes that rocked Hays-era Hollywood, changes that had a disproportionate effect on women and independents; and, second, a complete erasure of the work that WEber did, in fact, produce during this period and the leadership roles she continued to assume as a highly visible woman in the industry.
Given this sorry chronicle of events, it is no wonder that Weber's late career has remained virtually unexamined in what little scholarship exists on the filmmaker's work.9 Without downplaying the very real consequences wrought by Hollywood's transition during this period, it is possible to suggest a more nuanced reading of Weber's position in the evolving industry, one that allows for the prospect of resisting Hollywood's forward march toward, on the one hand, "respectability" as it was being recast during the Hays era; and, on the other hand, “glamour” as it was being increasingly employed to relegate women to the status of decorative objects. By reexamining this period, we can see that Weber was not only active in Hollywood during the 1920s, but that she actively resisted what was happening to women such as herself who had pioneered creative and leadership roles in the industry throughout the previous decade—now more apt to be exploited as tokens of respectability behind the scenes— and to a newer generation of female performers—often reduced to decorative accessories onscreen. Looking again at Weber’s late career also allows us to see that her accomplishments were neither “lost” nor “forgotten,” to use the terms employed by Anthony Slide and Richard Koszarski, the two historians most responsible for reviving Weber’s reputation.10 Far from being “lost,” Weber’s achievements were recast during the latter phase of her career in a manner consistent with the Hays era’s evolving narrative about its own history and women’s place in the industry. Lois Weber was effectively written out of history at the same moment that she was written in.
Figure 1. Lois Weber on the set of The Angel of Broadway (1927) with cinematographer Arthur Miller. Courtesy British Film Institute.
A New Production Climate
To begin, then, it is important to assert that Weber did, in fact, maintain a relatively active filmmaking career in the 1920s not only in relation to her exhusband and former collaborator Phillips Smalley (who never again worked in any position of creative control following the couple’s divorce in 1922), but also in relation to many of the other filmmakers with whom she rose to prominence in the 1910s—figures like D. W. Griffith, Rex Ingram, and Marshall Neilan. She did so in a climate of increased vertical integration and studio conglomeration, renewed moral scrutiny on films and filmmakers, and what Karen Ward Mahar describes as the industry’s “re-masculinization,” a period when many filmmaking tasks were isolated and associated with single-sex practitioners. Directing, Mahar argues, was almost exclusively gendered masculine after the early 1920s.11 Weber not only defied the “masculinization” of directing, she resisted, as best she could, the new strictures of corporate control, working largely outside the major studios and continuing her critique of censorship as it existed both within the industry and beyond.
When her independent company, Lois Weber Productions, collapsed in 1921, Weber sailed for Europe, ultimately traveling for some nine months through Egypt, China, and India as well.12 Returning in May 1922, Weber found what Marcia Landy describes as an “industry in transition,” evident in the fact that Erich von Stroheim was out of favor, D. W. Griffith was gradually more marginalized, and Rex Ingram, like von Stroheim, could not adapt to production changes demanded by the consolidated studios. A newer generation of directors, like Allan Dwan and Sam Wood, was emerging, men who accommodated themselves to the new studio environment and who would continue to work in the industry for decades as a result.13 In an age of studio conglomeration and vertical integration, few independents could survive, a reality that hit women particularly hard: both Alice Guy Blaché and Nell Shipman closed their production companies during this period as well. Will Hays, newly installed at the MPPDA, was also beginning to assert greater control over studio releases.
Weber initially returned to Universal, her old studio home, signing a contract to write and direct a remake of one her early features, 1915’s Jewel, in November 1922, released the following year as A Chapter in Her Life.14 Yet the climate to which Weber returned at Universal was greatly altered. Without a chain of theaters under its control, like emerging studio giants MGM and Paramount, Universal now occupied a significantly different market position than it had during the height of Weber’s career there in the mid- 1910s. With the bulk of urban, first-run theaters closed to Universal, the studio now relied on independent theaters mainly located in small towns and rural areas.15 Nor was the studio home to the female directing talent it had once been—Weber was now on her own.16 Based on Clara Louise Burnham’s best-selling 1903 novel, A Chapter in Her Life was part of a slate of literary adaptations Universal released that year, headlined by Lon Chaney’s appearance in The Hunchback of Notre Dame and marketed under the tag line “Great Pictures made from Great Books with Great Exploitation Tieups.”17 Universal’s trade ads made a clear pitch to small-town exhibitors, offering them “quality” pictures at reasonable prices, providing access to first-run pictures many studios reserved for their large urban venues.18 Working on familiar ground, adapting a respected novel with serious themes, Weber was praised for her direction, but critics felt the film’s subject matter—a young girl whose love and faith transform the troubled adults in her life—was ultimately out of step with the times. Film Daily dubbed the material “old fashioned,” with other critics objecting to the film’s “Pollyanna” themes.19
Weber subsequently left Universal, vowing not to produce any films for a while, writing plays and a novel instead. She traveled to Europe again and spent time at the Colorado summer home of her friend, novelist Margaretta Tuttle, saying she would remain on vacation until the censors “came to their senses.”20 “I have received many offers, but in each case I’m hampered with too many conditions,” she claimed. Clearly troubled by the new industry landscape, Weber objected to the strictures governing Hays-era Hollywood, the control increasingly executed by consolidated studios, as well as the ever more strenuous censorship exerted both within the industry and without. “The producers select the stories, select the cast, tell you how much you can pay for a picture and how long you can have to make it in,” Weber complained. “All this could be borne. But when they tell you that they also will cut your picture, that is too much.”21 Pondering Weber’s absence, the trade journal Film Mercury declared that “it would be interesting to know why she has made no films in the past year or so,” noting that “it is almost a crime for such wonderful director material to be lying idle while third-raters flood the screen with junk.”22
In the first month of 1925, Weber returned once again to Universal, hired by Carl Laemmle to take charge of all story development for a new $5 million production initiative based around the adaptation of popular novels.23 The success of The Hunchback of Notre Dame had encouraged the studio to release more quality features. “Exhibitors want bigger pictures and will pay to get them,” announced Al Lichtman, the studio’s new sales manager.24 Noting that Weber “had been in retirement recently,” one news item suggested that Laemmle and the studio’s general manager, Julius Bernheim, “consider themselves fortunate in urging her return to screen work.”25 As such, “announcements of important developments in stories are expected soon from Lois Weber,” trumpeted the Los Angeles Times.26
Weber’s tenure in the story department was evidently successful, for early in 1926 she signed a directing contract with the studio, making her one of the highest-paid women in the business.27 The two pictures she subsequently wrote and directed, The Marriage Clause (1926) and Sensation Seekers (1927), were very well received and helped to establish Billie Dove as a star and to revive the careers of older leading men like Francis X. Bushman and Warner Oland. Critics at the time noted Weber’s reemergence as a director, with one arguing that The Marriage Clause “demonstrates that her art has broadened during her absence.”28 Moving Picture World heralded Weber’s “triumphal return” to the screen.29 Universal gave The Marriage Clause a big push as one of its lead-off pictures for the 1926–27 season, released under the banner of its “Greater Movie List.”30 Weber received similar praise for her direction of Sensation Seekers, with Variety commending the “splendid job” she had done and the New York Times suggesting “many other directors would do well to study Miss Weber’s style.”31
Following the excellent notices Weber garnered for The Marriage Clause and Sensation Seekers, Hollywood Vagabond wondered openly “why United Artists, Famous Players, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, DeMille or one of the other giant companies . . . have failed to avail themselves of the intelligence and experience of Lois Weber.”32 Indeed, shortly after completing Sensation Seekers in the fall of 1926, Weber was signed by United Artists’ Joseph M. Schenck to write and direct an adaptation of Topsy and Eva, a popular vaudeville interpretation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin featuring legendary performers Vivian and Rosetta Duncan.33 Schenck had been brought in to United Artists in late 1924 with the authority to reorganize the corporation and improve its fortunes after some poor showings.34
Evidently fascinated by the Harriet Beecher Stowe original, Weber declared, “It has been the dream of my life to make this picture.”35 In fact, Topsy and Eva marked Weber’s second attempt to bring Stowe’s novel to the screen in less than six months. Prior to starting production on Sensation Seekers that summer, Weber had been briefly assigned to direct Universal’s “Super-Jewel” $2 million adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Carl Laemmle handed Weber the project, Universal’s biggest film of the year and one of its most expensive productions to date, when the studio’s top director, Harry Pollard, took ill during an early phase of production. Press reports suggested that Weber threw herself into the assignment, putting aside Sensation Seekers, even interrupting her honeymoon with second husband Harry Gantz, intending to make the production “completely her own.” But within a month Pollard’s health had improved and he was reassigned to direct; Weber then resumed production on Sensation Seekers.36 When given the opportunity to adapt Topsy and Eva just a few months later, she likely jumped at the chance, taking a leave from Universal to work with Schenck at United Artists.
However, adapting the Duncans’ stage act to the screen proved difficult, and it appears there was a growing tension between Schenck’s conception of the project and Weber’s own. If Weber’s interest lay primarily in reworking the Stowe material, Schenck apparently wanted to preserve the comic elements of the stage production, presumably to capitalize on the Duncan sisters’ popularity while at the same time distinguishing his own production from Universal’s competing big-budget adaptation. Weber ultimately left the project, claiming it had veered too far in the direction of physical comedy. “To save my soul I couldn’t help its developing into a farce with a great deal of slapstick in it,” she said. “That wasn’t the original plan, which was to make the story a comedy-drama. . . . I don’t feel that I am the one to direct a farce, or a slap-stick comedy.”37 Anthony Slide speculates that the bald racism of the material might also have offended Weber.38 Del Lord, veteran director of Keystone shorts, was called in to replace her.
Five months after she left Topsy and Eva, Weber signed with DeMille Pictures, a relatively new independent studio, to direct The Angel of Broadway, a vehicle for DeMille star Leatrice Joy penned by screenwriter Lenore Coffee. 39 While a trade piece suggested that Weber had “yielded to an offer” from DeMille Pictures after having formally “retired from motion picture direction,” 40 it is more likely that she sought out the work herself, as was her pattern. Headquartered in the old Ince Studio in Culver City, DeMille Pictures
Figure 2. Weber with Cecil B. DeMille and Jeanie Macpherson outside the DeMille studio in 1927. Courtesy Cecil B. DeMille Papers, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University.
had just announced a deal with Pathé to produce a series of big-budget “super features” for the 1927–28 season, following the successful release of forty-one pictures the previous year, including DeMille’s own The King of Kings (1927). British film journalist Alice Williamson, reporting from Hollywood in 1927, noted that Weber had been “welcomed as if she were a queen” at DeMille.41 Indeed, the studio appears to have provided a beneficial environment for her talents. Reviewers praised The Angel of Broadway, with one citing Weber’s “easy, effortless, but shrewd direction” and Variety insisting that she had “done exceptionally well.”42 Special commendation was reserved for Weber’s direction of Joy, with several critics noting that the film marked her “best performance since Manslaughter” in 1922.43 “Never has Leatrice Joy distinguished her performance by a more sincere faculty for acting,” declared the Los Angeles Times. “It is to be hoped that Miss Weber will again direct Miss Joy, for the combination of their talents is an admirable one.”44
Following Weber’s success with The Angel of Broadway there were reports that she would direct additional pictures for DeMille, but these opportunities did not materialize. When sound technology swept Hollywood later that year, the production landscape changed dramatically once again. Asked in 1928 when she might direct again, Weber replied, “When I find a producer who thinks I have intelligence enough to be let alone and go ahead with my own unit.”45 It would be a long wait. Weber helped draft adaptations of several works in subsequent years, including Cynara (1932) and Edna Ferber’s Glamour (1934). Though there was discussion of her directing these scripts, the projects were ultimately assigned to others—King Vidor and William Wyler, respectively. In the early 1930s she worked at Universal screen-testing young actresses, then, five years before her death, she made one final sound feature, 1934’s White Heat, an interracial love story filmed on Kauai. All in all, Weber had a far more active career in the 1920s than she is generally given credit for, proving herself adaptable to the evolving industry by producing well-received pictures for several studios following the breakup of her own production company in 1921. Despite her evident misgivings about an industry now given over to studio consolidation, greater regulation, and the loss of most independent outfits, Weber experimented with the varied filmmaking models possible in this new climate: first returning to her old studio, Universal, still under the tutelage of aging patriarch (and great Weber supporter) Carl Laemmle, but now relegated to the status of a minor studio because of Laemmle’s resistance to vertical integration. Weber then signed with two new quasi-independent studios— United Artists and DeMille Pictures—both operating under the signature of figures powerful in Hollywood a decade earlier. In doing so, Weber managed to stage a comeback of sorts, garnering largely positive critical response while generally working outside the conglomerates that now dominated the industry.
“Exit Flapper, Enter Woman”
Even as she struggled to find a place in Hollywood’s changing production landscape, Weber mounted a vocal critique of the narrowing roles offered to women onscreen. Returning from Europe in 1922 to resume filmmaking, Weber announced her interest in creating a new feminine “screen type” to counter the flappers and vamps who clouded Hollywood’s imagination, calling them “cute little dolls dressed up in clothes that they do not know how to wear.”46 In contrast, Weber proposed a new type—the “womanly woman” who possessed “brains and character,” was “neither wild nor prudish,” and was, above all, “able to act.” She had been inspired, she said, by actresses she had seen in Europe, women whose primary attributes were not beauty and glamour, but depth of personality and range of dramatic talent. “Exit Flapper, Enter Woman,” declared the article’s headline. Weber thus took seriously cinema’s role in creating and circulating feminine ideals she considered limiting (possibly even damaging), but she clearly also believed that forwardthinking filmmakers had the potential to reject these hollow portraits in favor of character types that might help reshape expectations about gendered identity.
Indeed, at the end of the profile Weber herself emerged as an embodiment of the new feminine type she imagined, the “sort of woman she would like to see supplant the flapper and the overdressed Christmas tree on screen.”47 As evidence of her efforts, consider the trio of films Weber made in 1926 and 1927—The Marriage Clause, Sensation Seekers, and The Angel of Broadway. Not only did these films reaffirm her artistic reputation, as I have demonstrated, they showcased leading female roles designed to challenge Hollywood types in stories that offer three remarkably reflexive meditations on the performance of femininity in Hollywood’s glamour culture and the simultaneous loss of a progressive, socially engaged ethos with which Weber had been so associated early in her career.48
The first of these films, The Marriage Clause, presents an object lesson on the fate of talented actresses in a commercialized celebrity culture through its portrait of the Broadway theater world. Hollywood, though absent, is clearly evoked in the story of stage actress Sylvia Jordan (Billie Dove), forced to forgo marriage in order to pursue her career with near disastrous results. Renowned theater director Barry Townsend (Francis X. Bushman) initially recognizes Sylvia’s potential and helps her perfect her talent. The two fall in love and plan to marry, but when producer Max Ravenal (Warner Oland) offers Sylvia a lucrative three-year contract, he inserts a clause forbidding her to marry. Hoping to win Sylvia for himself, the scheming Ravenal simultaneously refuses to renew Barry’s directing contract. Sylvia tries to intercede on her lover’s behalf, but a jealous Barry sees her alone with Ravenal and assumes the worst, fleeing to Chicago where he pursues a path of alcoholic self-destruction. The two are reconciled in the end after Sylvia collapses on stage opening night, having tried to perform while seriously ill in the hopes Barry would see her. Secretly present in the audience, Barry is able to rush to Sylvia’s bedside in time to help her recover.49 Genuine human relationships, they both discover, are more physically and emotionally sustaining than the false intimacies created between star and audience.
If the plot at first appears to proffer “the old familiar complication of the marriage versus the career,”50 as one critic put it, in fact Marriage Clause rejects this accustomed storyline. Rather than showing a woman unable to juggle competing demands of work and family, the film demonstrates that Sylvia’s bond with Barry sustains them both, professionally and personally. Ravenal’s attempts to sever the bond artificially, by firing Townsend and preventing the couple’s marriage, only produces catastrophe—Sylvia’s near-fatal illness and Townsend’s descent into alcoholism. Rather than warning women against combining careers and marriage, the film, in fact, endorses such arrangements as mutually beneficial for women and men. Even Billie Dove’s celebrity profiles stressed how she herself was able to combine family life and a professional career—married to a director, no less.51
Figure 3. Sylvia (Billie Dove) discovers the offending clause in her contract backstage with Barry (Francis X. Bushman) in The Marriage Clause (1926). Courtesy Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.
Barry and Ravenal, who discover Sylvia together in the film’s opening scene, each attempt to control and shape her, but in very different ways. Barry does so as a director interested in nurturing her talent—a relationship that expresses itself in love. Ravenal is interested primarily in Sylvia’s beauty and seeks to market her as a star—a relationship that expresses itself principally in lust. Max’s lascivious appetite for Sylvia, symbolized as he ostentatiously gnaws and sucks on greasy chicken bones in the opening scene, manifests itself in a desire to possess her sexually, to remove her from emotionally sustaining personal and professional ties, and to commodify and commercialize her image for profit. Cloaked in the ornate costumes he selects, Sylvia loses the original, “genuine” self that attracted Townsend in the first place—Ravenal has constructed an empty star in its place, so hollow that Sylvia herself becomes ill. The triangular configuration between Sylvia and the two men thus foregrounds the film’s critique of the construction of female stars and stardom, a process clearly referenced in the film’s original title, “Star Maker,” as well as a later incarnation, “The Show World,” both of which make the film’s allegorical portrait of Hollywood’s star factory especially clear.52
Weber’s next project, Sensation Seekers, about a high-living socialite who renounces her hedonistic lifestyle for a more ethical path, is less clearly an allegory for Hollywood. The story’s heroine, Egypt Hagen (Billie Dove), is not an actress like the heroines of the two other films; yet, as a well-known member of the “jet set,” she lives her life on a kind of media “stage,” where her every move is watched and reported upon—written up in newspapers’ society columns, then gossiped about by her friends and neighbors. In this context, then, Sensation Seekers offers a clear meditation on female celebrity. Egypt “smokes, drinks and goes bad with six times the diligence of any possible society girl, determined to go to hell as fast as she can get there,” according to Time’s reviewer.53 When she meets Reverend Lodge (Raymond Bloomer) at the outset of the film, Egypt and the clergyman seem to have little in common. But after she is arrested in a nightclub raid, Lodge appears with her in court at her mother’s behest. In her embarrassment, Egypt is inspired by his simple act of charity and becomes eager to learn from his example. When her fiancé, Ray Sturgis (Huntly Gordon), mocks her predicament by showing up at a costume party dressed as “Scandal” bedecked in newspaper headlines about her arrest, Egypt further distances herself from his set and begins spending more time with Lodge. The clergyman, sympathetic to her desire to lead a more principled life, begins advising her, but parishioners spread malicious gossip about the two, and Lodge’s reputation is nearly ruined. As an intertitle proclaims, “Egypt was making the best of her opportunities. Gossip was making the worst of them.” Seeking to avoid further controversy, Egypt agrees to marry Sturgis after all and leaves with him on his yacht. But Sturgis dies when their boat is wrecked in a storm, and Lodge comes to Egypt’s rescue. Lodge’s sympathetic Bishop allows the couple to marry in the end.54
While the film risks being lumped together with the rash of late 1920s indictments of flapper culture, it is worth remembering that the “sensation seekers” evoked in the film’s title are just as much Egypt’s neighbors and fellow churchgoers (eager for a scandal between their pastor and a handsome young woman) as they are Egypt’s own “ultra-jazzy wealthy set.”55
Intercutting equates risqué social gatherings—at the Black and Tan speakeasy, at the Huntington Bay Country Club, and at an impromptu ukulele and gin party in the woods—with the ruthless sensation-seeking behavior of Egypt’s neighbors, gathered on a veranda across from the country club to watch the “sinful” goings-on inside, gossiping mercilessly in church, and crowding around to read newspaper coverage of Egypt’s arrest. There is little difference, the film asserts, between those who seek sensation through alcohol or sex and those who seek it through scandal and gossip mongering. Egypt’s desire to leave this claustrophobic and limited world demonstrates her desire to transcend the usual narrative about society girls. Hoping to escape both her insular “jazzy” set and the ever-present scrutiny of neighbors, parishioners, and journalists, she is receptive to the alternative that Reverend Lodge represents, but is just not sure how to achieve it. Weber,
Figure 4. Egypt (Billie Dove) is arrested with Ray (Huntly Gordon) at the “Black and Tan” speakeasy in Sensation Seekers (1927). Courtesy British Film Institute.
explaining the character she intended to create, said, “I think the young women of this country today want to be individuals, and have freedom of thought and action. They have brains and character. That is the kind of girl I am going to show in my story.”56
Combining an interest in theatricality and performance from The Marriage Clause with the theme of Christian charity explored in Sensation Seekers, The Angel of Broadway features jaded nightclub star Babe Scott (Leatrice Joy), who mocks the Salvation Army in her stage show only to embrace its philosophy in the end. Babe meets truck driver Jerry Wilson (Victor Varconi) while visiting a Salvation Army mission to gather material for her routine. The two fall in love, but when Jerry finds out about Babe’s nightclub act, he rejects her and seeks out his old friend Gertie, a prostitute near death after attempting suicide. Gertie dispatches a neighbor to find someone who can pray with her and the neighbor stumbles upon Babe, still in her Salvation Army costume. Mistaking her for a real church worker, the neighbor brings her to Gertie’s bedside. Babe finds herself moved by the dying woman and prays with her in earnest, her own faith restored. Witnessing this episode, Jerry forgives Babe and asks her to marry him in the film’s final scene.57 Electing a life of service and charity in the end, Babe explicitly rejects the sphere of performance and artifice she had inhabited at the Alla Ba Ba nightclub, a New York speakeasy presided over by Big Bertha (May Robson), a character reviewers compared with real-life contemporary Texas Guinan.58 If critics like the New York Times’ Mordaunt Hall complained that the nightclub scenes were “not in good taste,” objecting “it was hardly necessary to present girls in exaggerated costumes,” 59 these scenes clearly demonstrate the sexual commodification of women that Babe ultimately refuses. The staging of these performances, which show audiences surrounding and encasing scantily and identically clad female dancers, clearly reinforces the idea. If anything, Hall’s objection makes it clear that watching these performances onscreen, rather than live in a speakeasy, only enhanced the effect. As in The Marriage Clause, Hollywood itself is never directly evoked, but the Alla Ba Ba is a thinly veiled stand-in for the contemporary film industry.
Each film’s plot, then, offers an explicit critique of Hollywood glamour culture, presenting a heroine who rejects stardom and artifice in favor of a more genuine engagement with life. Domesticity and spirituality triumph over a life in the public eye, and charitable good works win out over a selfabsorbed quest for fame. Weber’s critique was not always well received. While the films garnered praise for her direction, reviewers frequently complained about what they perceived to be the film’s outmoded or overly sentimental plots. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, felt the “regeneration” plot in The Angel of Broadway was “tired,” and Variety’s reviewer objected that the film was “weepy with religion” and appeared aimed directly “at the tear ducts of the great sentimental American public.”60 Others complained that “gobs of sentiment” marred The Marriage Clause or that Sensation Seekers was “a bit too preachy.”61 This “stuff the hoi polloi likes” might play well in the “hinterland,” Variety suggested, but for New York audiences it would be “a dud.”62 As Lea Jacobs demonstrates, there was a pronounced decline in American tastes for sentiment during the 1920s, and esteemed directors of the previous decade, like Weber and Griffith, were now often called on the carpet for playing to the emotions of their audiences.63
One certainly cannot argue that these films are wholly feminist or progressive by today’s standards—each story manifests an impulse to redomesticate its heroine in the end, to remove her from the work force and place her out of the public eye, and to contain female sexuality in a marital and familial sphere. Yet it remains essential to recognize Weber’s efforts to devise alternative roles for women onscreen in the 1920s and to do so in plots that openly explore how women might reject a culture of sensation and commodification in favor of a more genuine, ethical (even Christian) engagement with the world. Even as this trio of films focuses on female celebrities and performers, showing how a superficial culture of stardom and glamour separates the women from what is truly meaningful in their lives, the films might also be read as figurations of another female artist—the filmmaker—struggling to
Figure 5. Audiences surround and encase scantily and identically clad female dancers in The Angel of Broadway (1927). Author’s collection.
maintain a socially engaged practice in the face of Hollywood’s ever-increasing commercialization. How might a filmmaker who has sworn off the “heavy dinners” she made earlier in her career, who is fearful of the control increasingly exerted by profit-minded studio heads and moralistic censors, maintain her interest in bringing thoughtful, topical work to the screen? In other words, the life of a filmmaker creating socially engaged cinema might function as another model of the “woman” Weber imagined entering as the “flapper” exited the public stage. Her ideal is not wholly “Victorian,” as Thomas Slater would have it, but remains invested in challenging contemporary culture, particularly, in these cases, any suggestion that the commercialization of sexually objectified women was in any way “modern” or “new.”64 Instead, Weber proposed an alternate conception of modern womanhood, based in an intelligent, humanistic engagement with the world—perhaps best exemplified in the role of female filmmaker seeking to address the era’s mores on screen and working behind the scenes to affect change in Hollywood.
With these films Weber also succeeded in refashioning the persona of actress Billie Dove, star of both The Marriage Clause and Sensation Seekers. Picture Play writer Myrtle Gebhart observed the new tenor of Dove’s roles in these pictures—what she called “interesting, womanly characters.”65 In the Los Angeles Times Katherine Lipke noted that Dove’s parts allowed her “to break the mold of the sweet young heroines” she had played in the past, allowing her to “show what Billie Dove can do.”66 Whereas other directors “never let her do anything else but look lovely,” Weber “saw the vast emotional possibilities in Billie and took her out of everlasting westerns,” Alma Whitaker suggested.67 Another reviewer noted that it had taken “a woman to bring out in celluloid the full talent of an actress who heretofore has been more or less purely decorative.” Under Weber’s direction Dove had become “virtually overnight an actress of the first rank.”68 After The Marriage Clause was released, Dove remembered that she received offers from “every studio in the business.” In fact, before filming on Sensation Seekers was complete, she had signed a five-year contract with First National to appear in a series of star vehicles. By the end of the decade she would be voted the most popular actress in Hollywood, alongside Clara Bow.69 Remarking on the “confidence” Weber brought to her players, Dove claimed she would be happy to work with Weber “any time, all the time.”70 In fact, later in life she remembered Weber as “the best director I ever had. . . . If I’d had anything to say about it, I would have had her direct all my pictures. I had a lot of men directors that I liked too, but she understood women.”71
In the end, however, Weber’s efforts to refashion roles for women onscreen were countered by her legendary reputation as a “star maker,” a moniker so prevalent that by the time she died, she was remembered chiefly as someone who made other, younger women famous—a rewriting of her career that almost completely obscured her accomplishments as a screenwriter and a director, not to mention the labor and talent of performers like Dove.72 Weber made a considerable effort to counteract limited opportunities for women onscreen, writing more complex female roles and making films pointedly critical of the Hollywood star factory. Reconfiguring Weber’s interest in actresses and female stardom as merely a talent for “star making” thus reappropriated Weber’s critique of Hollywood in terms more consistent with the mainstream industry.
“Woman’s Influence in the Photoplay World”
As Weber mapped out a place for herself and her ideas in Hollywood’s evolving production landscape, she continued to foster significant ties with women both inside and outside the industry. These included clubwomen, journalists, and educators who held considerable stakes in cinema’s future; influential female peers working within Hollywood; and aspiring screenwriters and would-be starlets eager for a chance at movie work. Through these alliances Weber not only maintained ties with other women during a period of industry “re-masculinization,” but she forcefully asserted a place for women at all levels of film culture.
In 1921, as the star scandals began to erupt, Weber spearheaded a campaign to secure the cooperation of women’s clubs, female newspaper editors, and businesswomen in helping to correct the impression that young women emigrating to Los Angeles in search of motion picture work placed themselves in grave danger. “Certain yellow journalists,” Weber complained, “would have the rest of the country believe that Hollywood looks like one of Dore’s illustrations in Dante’s Inferno and that the streets of Los Angeles’s suburbs are populated by under-world characters.”73 Fears about Hollywood’s sexual economy had long circulated but escalated sharply when Fatty Arbuckle was implicated in the death of would-be starlet Virginia Rappe, then again when several well-known actresses were drawn into the mystery surrounding William Desmond Taylor’s murder. In seeking to counter these narratives, Weber not only mobilized her own considerable renown, but also summoned traditional voices of feminine propriety installed in positions of leadership in clubs, businesses, and media outlets across the country.
That same year Weber embarked on a national speaking tour, addressing women’s clubs around the country on the topic of “Woman’s Influence in the Photoplay World,” a talk heard by clubwomen in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Newark, New Jersey.74 Weber’s efforts to exemplify feminine propriety within Hollywood were evidently successful, for Mrs. Edward S. Bailey, vice-president of the influential Illinois Federation of Women’s Clubs and editor of The Edict, the group’s official publication, professed her belief that opposition to motion pictures among clubwomen had “arisen from a lack of understanding of just such producers as Lois Weber, her objects and ideals.”75 Alternating with her talks on “woman’s influence,” Weber also spoke about more controversial topics like “Moving Picture Censorship” and “The Sunday Blue Laws” to women’s clubs in Denver, Salt Lake City, Topeka, and Indianapolis. A staunch opponent of censorship, Weber addressed clubwomen at a time when they were stepping up calls for greater regulation of motion pictures. Following their successful campaigns for women’s suffrage and prohibition, both ratified in 1920, women’s groups were considered extremely influential and effective advocates for social change. Aligned with Protestant and Catholic clergy, clubwomen took on the task of “cleaning up” motion pictures in the 1920s, a project that escalated after the star scandals. MPPDA head Will Hays courted women’s groups aggressively throughout this period, hoping to prevent an escalation of federal motion picture regulation by co-opting the better films movement and enlisting clubwomen to serve in the Hays office. His efforts were not always successful, as many clubwomen became increasingly disillusioned with efforts at industry self-regulation.76 Weber entered this debate hoping to sway clubwomen with the idea that the “influence” of women such as herself behind the scenes might be the best solution to the censorship question. As someone associated with both feminine propriety and controversial film subjects, Weber was uniquely poised to address this topic.
In another testament to the strong ties Weber maintained with women’s groups outside Hollywood and the way she used those ties to embody a strong female presence within the industry, she was a guest of honor at the annual banquet of the Southern California Woman’s Press Club in 1927. A professional organization for over 200 newspaper and magazine journalists, the club included politically active figures like Clara Shortridge Foltz, publisher of New American Woman, and Harriet Barry, editor of Woman’s Bulletin, a publication of the Woman’s Progressive League of California.77 Seeking to advance women in journalism, the Press Club provided a professional network for female journalists, editors, and publishers, while furnishing opportunities for members to educate themselves on a range of topics including women’s suffrage, international peace efforts, and new technologies such as radio. The club’s educational mandate “often dovetailed with its members’ interests in reform,” according to historian Nan Towle Yamane.78 In this case, then, Weber was not simply allying herself with a group of influential women, but a group that recognized, as she did, the interconnectedness of media and progressive reform. In 1929 Weber addressed a luncheon meeting of the Women’s University Club of Los Angeles, part of a panel of women speaking about women’s work in the industry. Other speakers included actress Anita Page and women who worked as publicists, theater managers, script readers, and researchers. An affiliate of the American Association of University Women, the Los Angeles chapter had over 500 members, all college-educated.79
Throughout this period Weber also tried hard to initiate a national program of visual instruction for school children, proclaiming that “ideas can be absorbed with more facility from motion picture screens than from books and lectures.”80 With backing from Carl Laemmle she devised a complete curriculum, believing motion pictures suitable for many subjects. “Their adaptation to history, for instance, is easily seen,” she said. “But what about astronomy, geology, physiology, botany, economics, geography, art, music, natural history, and all the other subjects that somehow lose their great essential interest when hedged about by small printed words on a cold, uninspired page?”81 Promoting visual education in schools, Weber aligned herself with female librarians, classroom teachers, and distributors who were leading the cause of visual education, mounting a significant challenge to Hollywood’s domination of commercial circuits of exhibition.82
Weber’s efforts to enlist clubwomen’s support for Hollywood in general, and women’s participation there in particular, were augmented by the concrete assistance she provided to young women eager for work in the industry. Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s Weber maintained her association with the Girls’ Studio Club, a residence for young women working in Hollywood run by the YWCA and with which she had been associated since its founding in 1916. Residents were provided with social and educational opportunities that included visits with industry notables like Weber and opera star Geraldine Farrar.83 Yet what began for Weber and the “Y” as a means of supporting the thousands of young, single women emigrating to Los Angeles eventually became a vehicle for the industry to assert its regulatory gaze over this transient, independent, and ultimately threatening female population, according to Heidi Kenaga, who documents how the MPPDA became increasingly involved in the Studio Club during the 1920s.84 In addition to her work with the Studio Club, Weber also served on the Advisory Council for the Palmer Photoplay Corporation, the largest and most respected correspondence school for aspiring screenwriters. As Anne Morey notes, Palmer literature reached out to female pupils “with a particularly welcoming tone.”85 Board members included women prominent in the industry, like Weber and screenwriter Jeanie Macpherson; students studied scripts and manuals authored by these and other women; and successful female graduates, who purportedly outsold their male rivals, were touted in Palmer promotions.
During a moment of shifting leadership in Hollywood, Weber continued to align herself with powerful, longstanding forces of feminist leadership outside the industry, while at the same time providing support for younger women interested in the business, whether would-be actresses residing at the Girls’ Studio Club or aspiring screenwriters studying the Palmer Photoplay method at home.
Weber also maintained strong social and professional ties with women already prominent in the industry, fostering a network of associations even as moviemaking became more “masculinized” in the studio era. Weber hosted a luncheon for Elinor Glyn, for instance, dined with Jeanie Macpherson at the Ambassador Hotel, and attended a host of other engagements where she socialized with figures like Alla Nazimova, Dorothy Davenport Reid, Elsie Janis, and Ruth Roland.86 Weber also likely attended regular Friday-night soirées hosted by her close friend Frances Marion, where stars mingled with female screenwriters, producers, and directors alongside the wives of influential male filmmakers and studio executives. Dubbed “hen parties” by the press, Marion’s gatherings were, in fact, signature elements of women’s culture in early Hollywood, events that fostered social and professional connections among women. A photo of one such gathering shows well-known stars like the Talmadge sisters and Colleen Moore together with Adela Rogers St. Johns, Davenport Reid, and Marion herself.87 In her working relationships, Weber also continued to collaborate with women. Doris Schroeder, a wellestablished screenwriter at Universal, wrote the adaptation of Clara Louise Burnham’s novel for A Chapter in Her Life. For The Angel of Broadway Weber directed a script penned by Lenore Coffee, the third Coffee had written for star Leatrice Joy. One reporter quipped that the collaboration between Weber, Coffee, and Joy, along with editor Margaret Darrow, lent The Angel of Broadway “alarming feministic tendencies.”88
For all the effort Weber put into maintaining ties with clubwomen, Hollywood peers, and women eager to enter the movie business, there were constant reminders that Hays-era Hollywood was becoming a bastion of male power. Weber, for instance, remained one of only two female members of the Motion Picture Directors’ Association—a membership granted to her in 1916 as an exception to club policy.89 When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was formed in 1927, Weber was one of the few women involved and the only female director.90 As Pierre Sands stresses, the Academy was, from the outset, “an exclusive, invitational, honorary organization” separate from the industry as a whole, designed to streamline functions within various sectors of the business, and to improve the industry’s reputation overall.91 As the Academy’s only female director, Weber served a prominent role as secretary to the Executive Committee for the Directors’ Branch from its inception in the spring of 1927. Fellow committee members included Reginald Barker, Sidney Olcott, Rowland V. Lee, and J. Stuart Blackton, who chaired the committee. 92 The Directors’ Branch was one of five original, semi-autonomous arms of the Academy representing actors, writers, producers, and technicians, in addition to directors. The branch’s Executive Committee took on tasks such as drafting a standard contract for freelance directors.93 Weber also participated in a conference sponsored by the Academy in July 1927 to discuss possible cost-cutting measures within the industry; she was the only woman present at a meeting that included twenty top directors, as well as leading producers and studio heads.94 In the late 1920s, then, Weber continued to exert influence and command respect among her peers, exercising her authority in an increasingly male field.
During a period of shifting leadership in Hollywood—an era of studio conglomeration, corporate control, and a “re-masculinization” of business practices—Weber not only asserted her own rightful place in the industry, serving as the only woman on the Academy’s first director’s committee; she also continued to provide opportunities for other women to enter the business, to foster social and professional connections with women already powerful in the industry, to nurture connections with feminist organizations outside the industry, and to promote the cause of film education, supporting a network of mainly female teachers, librarians, and social workers operating in nontheatrical settings outside the purview of the commercial industry. Thus within Hollywood’s newfound corporate and masculine world, Weber helped to maintain a sphere of feminine influence, building mutually supportive connections with women at all levels, both inside and outside Hollywood.
“Forgotten with a Vengeance”
Weber’s resistance to dominant trends in Hays-era Hollywood is also evident in the various attempts she made to ensure her legacy at a time when the industry was beginning to show interest in chronicling its own past. Reading Weber’s attempts to correct the historical record against a narrative of Hollywood history already emerging in the Hays era, we can see that Weber’s achievements were not “lost” by a later generation of historians, but that she was written into history in a very particular and limited fashion right from the outset.
Figure 6. Weber’s early involvement with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences marked her continuing influence in Hollywood, as well as her increasingly isolated status as a female director. Courtesy Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
chnology refigured moviemaking in 1928, for instance, Weber was eager to establish her role in the early days of synch-sound recording. She took out a full-page ad in the Hollywood-based trade journal Film Mercury touting her work directing sound films at American Gaumont two decades earlier—“Lois Weber in Talking Pictures,” the headline proclaimed.95 That same year her husband, Harry Gantz, wrote a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Examiner promoting Weber’s experience with synch sound.96 Responding to an article on Dorothy Arzner which mentioned that the younger director had not yet approached the quality of Weber’s work, speculating that Weber’s films were superior because she had not had to contend with sound technology, Gantz pointed out that Weber had, in fact, directed some of the very first sound films ever made. In a more substantial and conventional act of historiography, Weber wrote a memoir, The End of the Circle, which was to have been published shortly before her death in 1939 but for unknown reasons never appeared in print.97
Weber was not alone in her efforts to chronicle her early experiences; in the late 1920s and early 1930s many other female pioneers went to great—and considerably varied—lengths to insert themselves into the evolving chronicle of Hollywood’s history. Linda Arvidson Griffith published When the Movies Were Young in 1925; that same year Nell Shipman published an account of her experiences filming under extreme winter conditions in northern Idaho, serialized in the Atlantic Monthly.98 Taking another tact, Mary Pickford purchased a good portion of her Biograph titles in the 1920s in order to preserve their safety—and her legacy.99 In 1928 Colleen Moore constructed a bejeweled dollhouse that soon toured the country—an act that, Amelie Hastie argues, might also be considered a form of authorship designed to narrate a particular history of Hollywood, one in which women controlled their own destinies. 100 Taken together, these women’s efforts mark a struggle against a historical narrative that was already emerging. Books like Terry Ramsaye’s A Million and One Nights (first published in 1926) and Benjamin Hampton’s A History of the American Film Industry (published in 1931) say virtually nothing about women’s contributions to early Hollywood and film culture more generally, save for mention of the most prominent female stars.101
By the late 1920s the industry was also beginning to mark a series of anniversaries and milestones, the discourse surrounding which crafted a particular story about Hollywood’s past in which an older generation of Hollywood denizens was distanced from a new, modern generation. Weber, for instance, was among a group of filmmaking “pioneers” who attended Carl Laemmle’s sixtieth birthday party in 1927, complete with screenings of “old” films.102 When Universal City celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1935, Weber joined a host of other personalities associated with the studio’s early days, including Grace Cunard, Francis Ford, Mary Fuller, and Florence Turner.103 “Remember these names?” the Los Angeles Times quipped.104 This earlier generation was associated with a “prehistoric” period characterized by all manner of “hi-jinks,” including, apparently, the novel idea that women might write and direct.105 When Laemmle died in 1939, less than two months before Weber herself passed away, Hedda Hopper reported that Weber, whom she described as “now almost forgotten,” was “one of the saddest” at the funeral, a characterization that veritably entombed Weber in a long-dead past.106
Casting Weber as a “prehistoric,” “forgotten” “pioneer” had the particular effect of reframing her accomplishments as a female director. At this point in her career she was continually characterized as the only woman directing in Hollywood—virtually every news item, profile, or review mentioned this “fact” from 1922 onward. On the one hand, it was partly true: Weber was one of very few women directing in Hollywood in the twenties; but on the other hand, this repeated characterization marked the female director as oddly anachronistic. In 1927 Moving Picture World went one step further, describing Weber as “the only woman ever to achieve success as a motion picture director,” an astonishing erasure of the historical record.107 By 1933 Weber was paired with Dorothy Arzner as “the only women anyone can remember as having directed.”108 In 1937 Weber became the “lone woman movie-maker of silent days.”109 And by 1939, the Los Angeles Times set Weber’s success in “the good old days,” effectively sealing her career in another time.110 So while Weber’s accomplishments were acknowledged, even celebrated, in these early histories, they were almost immediately cast as singular exceptions possible only in a distant, soon-to-be-forgotten past, noted for such experimental “hi-jinks” as having female directors.
Perhaps the best example of how this evolving narrative simultaneously wrote Weber into Hollywood history while writing her out is a 1927 photo essay published in the Los Angeles Times. “Now They Do the Bossing” profiled several former actors currently working as directors.111 Weber was featured alongside Rupert Julian, most famous at the time for having directed The Phantom of the Opera (1925), in a still from one of the hundreds of Rex shorts she wrote and directed some fifteen years earlier. “And here we have two who forsook acting for directing,” the caption reads. “Lois Weber and Rupert Julian appeared opposite each other in many early films—and now both are with de Mille” [sic]. The piece accomplishes several feats simultaneously.
First, by casting Weber’s directing—or “bossing”—as something new, the profile effectively erases not only her work directing at Rex, but also the more than forty features she had written and directed since then. Moreover, Julian is presented as Weber’s equal and co-star—two former actors now trying their hand at directing—instead of an actor who began his career working under her direction.112 While Julian was relatively well known as an actor before he began directing, Weber’s fame had always circulated around her writing and directing career, not the roles she played onscreen. The film still, showing Julian’s character strangling a passive and immobilized Weber, goes even further—reversing the power dynamic between director and star to that of male aggressor and female victim. Their relationship is complicated even further by rumors that Weber was called in to re-cut The Phantom of the Opera after disastrous initial test screenings while she was head of the story department at Universal.113 Finally, by announcing that Weber and Julian were now “with” DeMille, the caption renders DeMille in a fatherly relation to Weber, deemphasizing their role as industry peers a decade earlier. “Now They Do the Bossing,” like so many other profiles at the time, linked Jazz Age Hollywood to its earlier incarnation, drawing attention to the long-standing participation of many individuals, like Weber, Julian, and DeMille, and to the opportunities for advancement the early industry provided. Yet, in doing so, it supplied an astounding rewriting of history in which Weber became, remarkably, another aging actor trying her hand at directing with help from the master, DeMille, when ten years earlier she had been considered, alongside Griffith, DeMille’s only equal.114
In closing, it becomes clear that the process of forgetting Weber “with a vengeance,” as Richard Koszarski puts it, began while she was still writing and directing films in the late 1920s. This “forgetting” took place during a moment when Hays-era Hollywood was engaged in a rewriting of its own past in a manner that sanitized past revelry as “hi-jinks”; cast the period before big-studio consolidation as one of “play” and “infancy,” rather than artistic experimentation and freedom, or social and political engagement; undercut the achievements of women in order to employ femininity in the service of the industry’s new drive for respectability; and, as Mahar argues,
Figure 7. Weber’s contributions to early Hollywood were being rewritten by the late 1920s. Author’s collection.
demanded a “remasculinization” of business practices that excluded the idea of female filmmakers.
Even as she aligned herself with men like Carl Laemmle, Joseph Schenck, and Cecil B. DeMille, still powerful in the new Hollywood, Weber resisted this move, criticizing the greater control exercised by corporate conglomerates and censors alike, while working largely outside the major studios. Her resistance took several other forms as well: a relentless critique on- and offscreen of a Hollywood glamour culture centered around the use of young women as decorative, eroticized objects; a deepening alliance with women’s groups outside Hollywood, in an appeal toward older models of feministoriented civic leadership; a generous support for women working at all levels of the film industry; a continued participation in leadership roles within the industry, most notably her early and prominent association with the Academy; and, finally, a sustained and conscious effort to ensure that her own narrative was written into Hollywood’s history. Unfortunately for us all, Weber failed so spectacularly at the latter project that an introductory film history text published just last year informs readers that there was “a brief vogue” for female filmmakers in early Hollywood, a trend the author dubs “the feminine mystique.”115 The story that Hays-era Hollywood told itself—that female filmmakers were an anomaly, that progressive-era Hollywood was a period of “hi-jinks” and infancy, and that female glamour defines Hollywood—has evidently been internalized by many film historians—both popular and scholarly— and risks being internalized by another generation of film students.
Shelley Stamp is the author of Movie-Struck Girls: Women and Motion Picture Culture after the Nickelodeon and co-editor of two collections: American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices (with Charlie Keil) and a special issue of Film History on “Women and the Silent Screen” (with Amelie Hastie). She is Professor of Film & Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz.Notes
My thanks to Eric Hoyt, Sirida Srisombati, Logan Walker, and Dave Gurney for their research expertise, and to Barbara Hall and Jane Gaines for their generous assistance.
1. Barbara Koenig Quart, Women Directors: The Emergence of a New Cinema (New York: Praeger, 1988), 20.
2. Carey Ostergard and Kim Worley, “Lois Weber.” www.tecomm.com/MMTC% 2DWeber.html. Accessed February 15, 2010.
4. “Lois Weber,” in The St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia: Women on the Other Side of the Camera, ed. Amy L. Unterburder (Farmington Hills, MI: Visible Ink Press, 1999), 446.
5. Hal Erickson, “Lois Weber,” All Movie Guide. www.allmovie.com/artist/loisweber- 116181. Accessed May 5, 2010.
6. Ally Acker, Reel Women: Pioneers of the Cinema, 1896 to the Present (New York: Continuum, 1991), 15.
7. “Lois Weber,” St. James Women Filmmakers Encyclopedia, 446.
8. Anthony Slide, Lois Weber: The Director Who Lost Her Way in History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996), 131.
9. Anthony Slide is one of the few scholars to examine Weber’s output and career after 1921 in any detail in his chapter “A Decade of Uncertainty.” See ibid., 127–44.
10. Weber had been “forgotten with a vengeance,” Richard Koszarski declared in “The Years Have Not Been Kind to Lois Weber,” Village Voice, November 10, 1975, 40, reprinted in Women and the Cinema: A Critical Anthology, ed. Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1977), 147. Slide’s 1996 book would dub Weber “the director who lost her way in history.”
11. Karen Ward Mahar, Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008), 179–203.
12. “Lois Weber Has Sailed for Long Tour of the World,” Moving Picture World, October 1, 1921, 535; and Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: Lois Weber Home,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1922, 2:11.
13. Marcia Landy, “1923: Movies and the Changing Body,” in American Cinema of the 1920s: Themes and Variations, ed. Lucy Fischer (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), 97.
14. “Lois Weber with Universal,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1922, 3:3.
15. Clive Hirschhorn, The Universal Story (New York: Crown, 1983), 14–15; and Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment: The Age of the Silent Feature Picture, 1915–28 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 86–89.
16. See Anthony Slide, “The Universal Women,” in The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996), 41–60; and Mark Garrett Cooper, Universal Women: Filmmaking and Institutional Change in Early Hollywood (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010).
17. “Twelve Universal Features to be Displayed,” Motion Picture News, October 27, 1923, 2024; and advertisement, Motion Picture News, October 27, 1923, 2025.
18. Advertisement, Motion Picture News, October 13, 1923, 1708–09.
19. “‘A Chapter in Her Life,’” Film Daily, September 9, 1923, 10; “A Chapter in Her Life,” Variety, September 27, 1923, 24; and “And a Little Child Shall Lead Them . . . ,” Los Angeles Times, September 12, 1923, WF10.
20. Grace Kingsley, “Flashes: She Rebels. Lois Weber Says Too Many Film Restrictions,” Los Angeles Times, July 7, 1923, I7; Motion Picture Classic (October 1923): n.p., author’s collection; and Isabel Stuyvesant, “Society of Cinemaland,” Los Angeles Times, March 7, 1926, 38. I have found no evidence that plays written by Weber were ever staged or that she ever published a novel; no manuscripts of such writing survive.
21. Kingsley, “She Rebels,” I7.
22. Film Mercury (October 2, 1925): n.p., quoted in Slide, Lois Weber, 132–33. Weber’s whereabouts in 1924 are difficult to track and there was speculation at the time that she might have suffered from depression or a more serious mental collapse, rumors I have not been able to substantiate. See “Lois Weber Is Again at Work,” Los Angeles Times, April 4, 1926, C16; and Alice Williamson, Alice in Movieland (New York: D. Appleton, 1928), 139–41.
23. “Lois Weber Engaged,” Moving Picture World, January 31, 1925, 487; “Universal Program Running High,” Los Angeles Times, January 23, 1925, A9; and unidentified clipping, January 7, 1925, n.p., Lois Weber File, Photoplay Collection, Film Study Center, Museum of Modern Art, New York (hereafter MoMA).
24. Quoted in Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment, 89.
25. Unidentified clipping, January 1, 1925, n.p., Lois Weber File, Photoplay Collection, MoMA.
26. “Universal Program Running High,” A9.
27. “The Screen’s First Woman Director,” Motion Picture Director ( January 1926): 60.
28. “The Marriage Clause,” unidentified clipping, Audrey Chamberlin Scrapbook Collection, 8:118, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (hereafter AMPAS).
29. “‘The Marriage Clause’—Universal,” Moving Picture World, July 3, 1926, 39.
30. “‘The Marriage Clause’ Premiere in West,” Moving Picture World, September 4, 1926, 36.
31. “Sensation Seekers,” Variety, March 16, 1927, 17; and “The Minister’s Romance,” New York Times, March 16, 1927, 2.
32. “Lois Weber: An Asset,” Hollywood Vagabond 1, no. 13 (May 5, 1927): 7, quoted in Slide, Lois Weber, 139.
33. Grace Kingsley, “Duncan Sisters Director,” Los Angeles Times, November 6, 1926, A6.
34. Tino Balio, United Artists: The Company Built by the Stars (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1976), 51–72. Balio reports that Schenck’s efforts were so successful that by the end of 1928 the company boasted a $1.6 million surplus.
35. Kingsley, “Duncan Sisters Director,” A6.
36. Grace Kingsley, “Lois Weber for ‘Uncle Tom,’” Los Angeles Times, June 24, 1926, A8; “Cupid Beaten by Picture Demand,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1926, A2; Grace Kingsley, “Lois Weber’s Own Uncle Tom,” Los Angeles Times, July 2, 1926, A8; “‘Uncle Tom’ and the Jinx,” New York Times, July 24, 1927, 5; and “Universal Starts Feature Productions,” Los Angeles Times, July 26, 1926, A9. For a detailed account of the production see David Pierce, “‘Carl Laemmle’s Outstanding Achievement’: Harry Pollard and the Struggle to Film Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” Film History 10, no. 4 (1998): 459–76.
37. Grace Kingsley, “Lois Weber Not to Direct,” Los Angeles Times, February 12, 1927, A6; and Kingsley, “Del Lord with Duncans,” Los Angeles Times, February 16, 1927, A8. None other than D. W. Griffith was called in to work on the project after Weber left. See Richard Schickel, D. W. Griffith: An American Life (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984); and Scott Simmon, The Films of D. W. Griffith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993): 127–28.
38. Slide, Lois Weber, 12.
39. “Lois Weber Signed by DeMille to Direct ‘Angel of Broadway,’” Moving Picture World, July 9, 1927, 98. See also Lenore Coffee, Storyline: Recollections of a Hollywood Screenwriter (London: Cassell, 1973), 138–39.
40. “Lois Weber Signed by DeMille,” 98.
41. Williamson, Alice in Movieland, 243. Williamson visited Weber on the set of The Angel of Broadway at DeMille and profiled the filmmaker in her chapter, “Dynamic Directors—Women,” alongside Elinor Glyn and Dorothy Arzner.
42. Unidentified review of The Angel of Broadway, Audrey Chamberlin Scrapbook Collection, 23:49; and “Angel of Broadway,” Variety, November 2, 1927.
43. Unidentified review of The Angel of Broadway, AMPAS.
44. Whitney Williams, “Tears and Laughter Blended in ‘The Angel of Broadway,’” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1927, 17.
45. Grace Kingsley, “Night—with Day Trimmings,” Los Angeles Times, April 1, 1928, I8.
46. William Foster Elliot, “Exit Flapper, Enter Woman: Lois Weber Describes Next Screen Type,” Los Angeles Times, August 6, 1922, 3:25. Weber’s comments occur at a pivotal juncture, just as the cycle of flapper films begins and just as European stars like Pola Negri are beginning to make a splash in Hollywood. See Sara Ross, “1922: Movies and the Perilous Future,” in American Cinema of the 1920s, 70–94; and Diane Negra, “Immigrant Stardom in Imperial America: Pola Negri and the Problem of Typology,” Camera Obscura 48 (2001): 159–95.
47. Elliot, “Exit Flapper,” 25.
48. Another facet of Weber’s efforts to resist the flapper “type” might be seen in her continuing interest in increasingly outmoded characterizations of child-like innocence, embodied in both Jewel (A Chapter in Her Life) and Little Eva (Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Topsy and Eva), a topic I do not have space to explore here.
49. The Library of Congress holds a very incomplete and evidently reordered 16 mm print of The Marriage Clause. My analysis thus also relies on information available in reviews, including National Board of Review Magazine 1, no. 3 ( July 1926): 7–8; “‘Marriage Clause’ Theater Life Romance,” Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1926, I4; Mordaunt Hall, “The Rocky Road of Love,” New York Times, September 28, 1926, 20; and “New Pictures,” Time Magazine, October 11, 1926, n.p. Accessed January 25, 2010.
50. “‘Marriage Clause’ Theater Life Romance,” I4. The story’s “marriage clause” element was added by Weber and played no part in the original short story. There Barry and Sylvia are married throughout, and the action focuses on Barry’s struggle when Sylvia’s fame eclipses his own, an element largely absent from Weber’s adaptation. See Dana Burnet, “Technic,” Saturday Evening Post, May 16, 1925, 14–15, 80, 85, 87.
51. Katherine Lipke, “Marriage First with Her,” Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1926, C19–20.
52. Early items on the production mention these alternate titles. See Grace Kingsley, “Flashes,” Los Angeles Times, February 22, 1926, A7; and “Lois Weber’s Next Production,” Moving Picture World, June 5, 1926, 459.
53. “New Pictures,” Time Magazine, March 28, 1927, n.p. www.time.com/time/magazine/ article/0,9171,730268,00.html. Accessed February 10, 2010.
54. A restored print of Sensation Seekers is housed at the UCLA Film and Television Archive. Although the Jazz Age context is new in Sensation Seekers, Weber’s condemnation of gossip mongering appears in earlier films such as Hypocrites (1915) and Scandal (1916).
55. “‘Sensation Seekers,’” Moving Picture World, January 29, 1927, 370.
56. Grace Kingsley, “Will Rogers in Picture,” Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1926, A10.
57. No print of The Angel of Broadway is known to survive. My summary and analysis are based on material available in original reviews, as well as production stills in my collection. James Robert Parish also provides a very detailed plot summary in Prostitution in Hollywood Films: Plots, Critiques, Casts and Credits for 389 Theatrical and Made-for-Television Releases ( Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1992), 17. I consulted the following reviews: Whitney Williams, “Tears and Laughter Blended in ‘The Angel of Broadway,’” Los Angeles Times, October 2, 1927, 17; “Regeneration Theme of Film,” Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1927, A7; Mordaunt Hall, “The Screen,” New York Times, November 1, 1927, 21; “Angel of Broadway,” Variety, November 2, 1927; “The Angel of Broadway,” Photoplay (November 1927): 55; and an unidentified review, Audrey Chamberlin Scrapbook Collection, 23:49, AMPAS.
58. Texas Guinan’s club became a favored haunt for Hollywood stars visiting New York. Well-known guests included Gloria Swanson, Clara Bow, Pola Negri, Rudolph Valentino, John Gilbert, and even, apparently, Leatrice Joy herself. See Louise Berliner, Texas Guinan, Queen of the Night Clubs (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993), 74.
59. Hall, “The Screen,” 21.
60. “Regeneration Theme of Film,” A7; and “Angel of Broadway,” Variety.
61. Moulton, “‘The Marriage Clause’”; and “Sensation Seekers,” unidentified clipping, Audrey Chamberlin Scrapbook Collection, 5:139, AMPAS.
62. “Angel of Broadway,” Variety. See also “The Marriage Clause,” Variety, September 29, 1926, 14.
63. Lea Jacobs, The Decline of Sentiment: American Film in the 1920s (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 84–85.
64. Thomas Slater, “Transcending Boundaries: Lois Weber and the Discourse over Women’s Roles in the Teens and Twenties,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 18, no. 3 (2001): 257–71.
65. Myrtle Gebhart, “A Pot of Gold for Billie Dove,” Picture Play (April 1927): 71, quoted in William M. Drew, At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties (New York: Vestal Press, 1999), 11.
66. Katherine Lipke, “Marriage First with Her,” Los Angeles Times, August 15, 1926, C19.
67. Alma Whitaker, “Billie Dove Is Grateful for Big Chance at Success,” Los Angeles Times, February 20, 1927, C17.
68. Herbert Moulton, “‘The Marriage Clause,’” unidentified clipping, Audrey Chamberlin Scrapbook Collection, 8:116, AMPAS.
69. Drew, At the Center of the Frame, 11, 33–34.
70. Quoted in Lipke, “Marriage First with Her,” C19.
71. Quoted in Drew, At the Center of the Frame, 32.
72. I develop this argument further in my article “Lois Weber, Star Maker,” in Reclaiming the Archive: Feminism and Film History, ed. Vicki Callahan (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2010), 131–53.
73. “Stars Defend Hollywood,” unidentified clipping, vol. 2, Claire Windsor Scrapbook Collection, Cinema-Television Library, University of Southern California.
74. “Nationally Known Club Woman Endorses Lois Weber’s Photoplays,” Hollywood Informer, March 18, 1921, 19.
75. Quoted in “Nationally Known Club Woman,” 19.
76. See Alison M. Parker, Purifying America: Women’s Cultural Reform and Pro-Censorship, 1873–1933 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 213–16; and Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood, 1873–1935 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 79–83.
77. Myra Nye, “What Women Are Doing,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1927, A7; and Nan Towle Yamane, “Southern California Women’s Press Club (1893– 1939),” in Women’s Press Organizations, 1881–1999, ed. Elizabeth V. Burt (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000), 199–206. Other film industry guests present at the banquet included Lulu Warrenton, Hobart Bosworth, and Sidney Olcott, one of the featured speakers. The following year Louella Parsons founded the Hollywood Women’s Press Club, an organization for the many women who wrote regularly on cinema for newspapers, fan magazines, and other monthlies. See Samantha Barbas, The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 124–25.
78. Yamane, “South California Women’s Press Club,” 202.
79. Myra Nye, “Of Interest to Women,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1929, A7; and “The Women’s University Club,” in Who’s Who Among the Women of California, ed. Louis S. Lyons and Josephine Wilson (Los Angeles: Security Publishing, 1922), 37.
80. Frank J. Wilstach, “Hollywood Rhetoric in Title,” New York Times, October 2, 1927, X7. See also “The Screen’s First Woman Director,” Motion Picture Director 2, no. 6 ( January 1926): 61.
81. Motion Picture (March 1934), quoted in Slide, Lois Weber, 146.
82. See Jennifer Horne, “A History Long Overdue: The Public Library and Motion Pictures,” in Useful Cinema, ed. Charles R. Acland and Haidee Wasson (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, forthcoming).
83. Tip Poff, “That Certain Party,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1935, A1; Heidi Kenaga, “Making the ‘Studio Girl’: The Hollywood Studio Club and Industry Regulation of Female Labour,” Film History 18, no. 2 (2006): 129–39; and Shelley Stamp, “‘It’s a Long Way to Filmland’: Starlets, Screen Hopefuls and Extras in Early Hollywood,” in American Cinema’s Transitional Era: Audiences, Institutions, Practices, ed. Charlie Keil and Shelley Stamp (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 345.
84. Kenaga, “Making the ‘Studio Girl.’”
85. Anne Morey, Hollywood Outsiders: The Adaptation of the Film Industry, 1913–34 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 106. See also Morey, “‘Have You the Power?’ The Palmer Photoplay Corporation and the Film Viewer/ Author in the 1920s,” Film History 9, no. 3 (1997): 300–319.
86. Alma Whitaker, “Sugar and Spice,” Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1927, C13; Mildred Spain, “Movie News from Hollywood,” Chicago Tribune, March 25, 1923, D13; Spain, “Mary Receives Kind Offer of Introduction to Doug,” Chicago Tribune, November 18, 1923, E1; Isabel Stuyvesant, “Society of Cinemaland,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 1926, C11; Myra Nye, “Society of Cinemaland,” Los Angeles Times, January 2, 1927, C16; Kingsley, “And Joy,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 1930, I4; and Nye, “Society of Cinemaland,” Los Angeles Times, December 21, 1930, B20.
87. Reproduced in Cari Beauchamp, Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 231.
88. Rosalind Shaffer, “News of Films and Players,” Chicago Tribune, July 17, 1927, F3. I have been unable to find any information on an editor or film cutter named Margaret Darrow. Harold McLernon, who had just completed The King of Kings, is the editor officially credited on The Angel of Broadway.
89. Mahar, Women Filmmakers, 181. Ida May Park was made an honorary member in 1923, joining Weber as the group’s other female member.
90. Three women were among the thirty-six original founders of the Academy in 1927: Mary Pickford, Jeanie Macpherson, and Bess Meredyth.
91. Pierre Norman Sands, A Historical Study of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1927–1947) (New York: Arno Press, 1973), 30.
92. Academy Bulletin 2 ( June 2, 1927): 1, AMPAS; and “Film Academy Keeps Officers,” Los Angeles Times, October 21, 1927, A5. Weber resigned from the Executive Committee of the Directors’ Branch in March 1928, along with Sidney Olcott; William K. Howard and Donald Crisp filled their vacancies. See Academy Bulletin 8 (March 1, 1928): 2, AMPAS.
93. “Free Lance Contract for Directors,” Academy Bulletin 5 (November 25, 1927): 2, AMPAS. See also Sands, A Historical Study, 82–83.
94. “Film Heads in Conference,” Los Angeles Times, July 15, 1927, A1, A8; “Producers Holding Series of Meetings to Reduce Overhead,” Film Daily, July 17, 1927, 1; and “Producers and Directors Confer on Economy Measures in Film Industry,” Los Angeles Examiner, July 15, 1927, 1: 20, AMPAS General Clippings, 1927, AMPAS.
95. The Film Mercury ( July 6, 1928), quoted in Slide, Lois Weber, 142. On Weber’s early sound work at Gaumont see Alison McMahan, Alice Guy Blaché: Lost Visionary of the Cinema (New York: Continuum, 2002), 71.
96. Capt. Harry Gantz, “Letter to the Editor,” Los Angeles Examiner, December 26, 1928, n.p. Los Angeles Examiner Clipping Files, Special Collections, University of Southern California.
97. Edwin Schallert, “Movieland Jottings and Castings,” Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1939, 13. Anthony Slide reports that Weber’s sister, Ethel Howland, tried for decades to have the manuscript published (without success) until it was stolen sometime in the 1970s. See Slide, Lois Weber, 151.
98. Linda Arvidson Griffith, When the Movies Were Young (1925; reprint, New York: Arno, 1977). Shipman’s article, “The Movie That Couldn’t Be Screened,” was serialized in the Atlantic Monthly in March, April, and May of 1925. It became the basis for her later book The Silent Screen and My Talking Heart: An Autobiography (Boise: Boise State University, 1987).
99. Christel Schmidt, “Preserving Pickford: The Mary Pickford Collection and the Library of Congress,” Moving Image 3, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 64.
100. Amelie Hastie, Cupboards of Curiosity: Women, Recollection, and Film History (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007), 39–71.
101. Terry Ramsaye, A Million and One Nights: A History of the Motion Picture through 1925 (1926; reprint, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986); and Benjamin Hampton, A History of the American Film from Its Beginnings to 1931 (1931; reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1970).
102. “Employees to Fete Producer,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1926, I9; and “‘Pioneers’ Will Honor Carl Laemmle,” Los Angeles Times, December 5, 1926, I9.
103. Lee Shippey, “The Lee Side o’ L.A.,” Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1935, A4.
104. Read Kendall, “Around and About in Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1935, I7.
105. Grace Kingsley, “Prehistoric Hi-Jinks in Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 1934, H3, H6.
106. “Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood,” Los Angeles Times, September 30, 1939, A7.
107. “Lois Weber Signed by DeMille,” 98, emphasis added.
108. “Third Woman Invades Realm of Pictures,” Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1933, A3, emphasis added.
109. “Woman Makes Bow as Producer,” Los Angeles Times, May 16, 1937, C1.
110. Edwin Schallert, “Movieland Jottings and Castings,” Los Angeles Times, August 22, 1939, I3.
111. “Now They Do the Bossing!” Los Angeles Times, December 18, 1927, H4.
112. Julian appeared in over twenty shorts written and directed by Weber and five of her features, including The Merchant of Venice (1914) and The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916). Many other prominent directors and screenwriters also began their careers working under Weber, including Cleo Madison, Dorothy Davenport Reid, Frances Marion, Jeanie Macpherson, and Lulu Warrenton. John Ford and Henry Hathaway both worked for Weber as young men. See Anthony Slide, The Silent Feminists: America’s First Women Directors (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1996), 38.
113. Robert S. Birchard, Early Universal City (Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2009), 111.
114. See A. H. Giebler, “The Power behind the Picture,” St. Louis Daily Globe- Democrat, August 5, 1917, n.p. Author’s collection. Griffith, DeMille, and Weber are profiled in the half-page story as “directors of brains and vision.”
115. Louis D. Giannetti and Scott Eyman, Flashback: A Brief Film History, 6th ed. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2009), 45.