The question about why we forget women screenwriters is bothering us for a long time and one of the things we fall back on is this thing called unreliable narrators and it’s really sad to think that many of these early women writers – and there were more women writing films in the early silent days than there were men. It was a Wild West of a job and so we always let women in in the beginning. We did the same thing in aviation. Tons of female flyers. They’re doing all kinds of contests flying from here to Cleveland. I don’t know why Cleveland did it with hub right and all these contests and then when it becomes a business we say oh no no no this is now a place where men can make money. You ladies should leave and we essentially leave them behind. So, one whenever we became a business – both in aviation and in Hollywood – they took women who had been producers, they’d been directors, they’d written their own material and the guys running the studio suddenly said um here’s your new contract. You’re now a junior writer and you can work with this guy and they were like thank you I’ll go back to new york and I’ll write novels right. So that’s Anita Loos and “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and you know Francis Marion who’s probably the most famous early female screenwriter. They just started writing novels where they could again be in charge of the whole story. You know why should they be treated that way.
The Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting is building a relationship with the Autry Museum of the American West since both organizations are devoted to bringing out more diverse and untold stories. Last year we were able to take our cohort of graduating MFA candidates to the museum’s theatre for a showing of Michael Wilson’s Salt of the Earth and we had plans to present a film of our choice this year – but of course the pandemic changed all that. Instead, Autry Curator Josh Garrett-Davis asked me if I would sit for an interview about female screenwriters in the western genre and so “When Women Wrote Westerns” came to be a part of their “What Is a Western? Interview Series”.
I had a great time discussing so many wonderful women writers – from Jeanne MacPherson to D.C. Fontana to Edna Ferber to Emily Andras. If you love westerns I suggest you watch Josh’s other interviews covering everything from the work of Native Americans in Western movies to films in the western-horror hybrid. —
What this entire presentation
As part of a series exploring the significance of the Western genre and the ways in which the movies shape our understanding of the American West, Autry Curator Josh Garrett-Davis interviews Professor Rosanne Welch about the women screenwriters of Hollywood and their contributions to the Western genre.