…and women are terrible at keeping track of their own archives. So many of these women threw away material. They cleaned out their houses. They were busy with kids. They didn’t want all this clutter around when their career was over and it disappeared. I mean it’s a great story, Bess Meredyth – who wrote many, many films in the silent era – and then she married Michael Curtiz who is the director of Casablanca and there –as people study Casablanca often – he would be asked the question on the set and had to leave to figure it out and they knew he went home to call his wife to help him figure out the story problem. Then he’d come back and her son wrote a biography of her. He also became a TV writer. Problem was he never thought to ask his mother about her career. When she was older it was like I didn’t imagine she did anything interesting. So even within our own families we don’t talk about the work that we do women particularly and that’s a mistake because then the stories die. So we need you know in the places where we have things like the Library of Congress and all the catalogs of film, we have to start going backward and preserving as much of female work as we can and work by African Americans. We have a lot of early African-American screenwriters where we know they existed because there are advertisements for their movies but the movies don’t exist anymore. So how can we study stuff that we can’t have access to.
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.