Tom Stempel Reviews “When Women Wrote Hollywood” In Script Magazine

Tom Stempel Reviews

Script Magazine publishes the “Understanding Screenwriting” column by historian Tom Stempel (author of Framework: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film). In this post Mr. Stempel reviews our book “When Women Wrote Hollywood.”

The review is the last thing in the column, so you will have to scroll down to it – but it’s well worth it – as it is well worth reading his reviews of the several films he writes about in the front matter of the article. — Rosanne

When Women Wrote Hollywood (2018. Book edited by Rosanne Welch. McFarland []. 221 pages)

Rosanne Welch is a television writer who also teaches screenwriting at a variety of places. One of her gigs is handling the Los Angeles residency for screenwriting courses offered at Stephens College in Missouri. The students come out to L.A. a couple of times a year, where they get lectures from people connected to the business. One assignment that Welch has her students do is research papers on screenwriters of the past. This book is a collection of those papers, 23 by her students and one by Welch.

Stephens used to be an all-women’s college, but it now takes male students. The preponderance of its students are female, so all of the essays, including two by male students, are about women screenwriters in the early days of Hollywood. Some writers, like Anita Loos, you have probably heard of. Many of them you probably have not.

I was particularly taken by Amelia Phillips’s piece on Jeanie Macpherson. I wrote briefly about Macpherson in my book FrameWork: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film(1988), but one reviewer gave me a hard time for not mentioning that she was Cecil B. De Mille’s mistress. He seemed to think that disqualified her as a writer. Phillips starts out in the first paragraph by noting that Macpherson was only one of De Mille’s three long-time mistresses and has credits on a lot more than just De Mille’s films.

Several of the pieces, such as the ones on Zoe Atkins and Bella Spewack, note that they worked in both the theatre and film, which was a lot more common than is generally assumed about the early days of movies.

Welch takes her students to the Margaret Herrick Library of the Motion Picture Academy and some get into the archives in depth. Others, such as the people writing on Anita Loos and Dorothy Parker, depend mostly on memoirs and biographies. Then there is Pamela Scott, who found very little material on Sarah Y. Mason, the wife and co-writer of Victor Heerman, but was able to follow her connections with other people to give a nice little view of Mason’s career.

Like virtually every other book that is a collection of essays by different writers, the quality varies a lot, but there is enough good stuff to make it worth your while.

When Women Wrote Hollywood Book Reading and Signing, Skylark Bookshop, Columbia, Missouri

On Saturday, November 3rd, 2018 several of the contributors to When Women Wrote Hollywood gathered at the Skylark Bookshop in Columbia, Missouri for a signing and launch party that functioned like a mini-reunion of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting Class of 2017.

Many thanks to all who came to hear them each speak with passion about the research subjects who became whole chapters in this book of essays on female screenwriters from the Silent Era into the 1940s.

Check it out!

Video: When Women Wrote Hollywood Book Reading and Signing, Skylark Bookshop, Columbia, Missouri


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