Alice Burton Russell Micheaux: “Breaking Barriers on Two Fronts” — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, November 2021

Alice Burton Russell Micheaux: “Breaking Barriers on Two Fronts” -- Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, November 2021

 

Film history texts often neglect female screenwriters and completely omit the names of women of color such as Alice Burton Russell Micheaux, wife of filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. Script contributor Dr. Rosanne Welch rightly so celebrates the female screenwriters who came before us with attainable insight about filmmaker Alice Burton Russell Micheaux.

Read Alice Burton Russell Micheaux: “Breaking Barriers on Two Fronts” — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, November 2021


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June Mathis: An Eye for Talent — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, October 2021

June Mathis: An Eye for Talent -- Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, October 2021

Though she wrote over 100 films in the Silent Era and was a founding member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, June Mathis appears in film history books (when she does) as a writer-producer with an eye for talent in that she gave both Buster Keaton and Rudolph Valentino their debuts on film.

She came to film from an early career as a child in vaudeville, despite suffering from undiagnosed heart issues. Born as June Hughes in 1887 in Leadville, Colorado there was no father listed and the child would later take Mathis, the last name of her stepfather, as her own.

Read June Mathis: An Eye for Talent — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, October 2021


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Contract or No Contract, Bess Meredyth Made Movie Magic — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, September 2021

Contract or No Contract, Bess Meredyth Made Movie Magic -- Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, September 2021

Bess Meredyth is one more name to add to that list of Silent Hollywood’s most prolific and respected screenwriters yet few textbooks mention her name – or her work as both a writer and producer in that period. In fact, when her son John Meredyth Lucas wrote a memoir of his own screenwriting career he never thought to interview her about her career. That’s how easy it can be to be forgotten and why it is so important to highlight these stories today.

Read Contract or No Contract, Bess Meredyth Made Movie Magic — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, September 2021


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Jeanie MacPherson – The Genius Behind DeMille — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, August 2021

 Jeanie MacPherson - The Genius Behind DeMille -- Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, August 2021

Script contributor Dr. Rosanne Welch shines a light on Jeanie MacPherson, a trailblazing screenwriter from the silent era who would eventually come to write a bulk of famed Hollywood mogul Cecil B. DeMille’s box office hits.

As with many other female Silent Era screenwriters Jeanie Macpherson began her career as an actress (appearing in over 147 films). Then she became a writer/director at Universal (writing 54 films) and eventually met Cecil B. DeMille, for whom she would write the bulk of his box office successes. In 1927, Macpherson became one of only three women, the other two being Mary Pickford and Bess Meredyth (more on her in a future column) who helped found the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (along with thirty-three male screenwriters). She was also a suffragette – and a pilot in those early days of aviation when, like the new world of motion pictures, even the skies were open to female trailblazers.

Read Jeanie MacPherson – The Genius Behind DeMille — Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, August 2021


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24 Conclusion from How The Chaos Of Collaboration in the Writers Room Created Golden Age Television [Video]

With the full recording of “How The Chaos Of Collaboration in the Writers Room Created Golden Age Television”

24 Conclusion from How The Chaos Of Collaboration in the Writers Room Created Golden Age Television [Video]

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When the folks hosting the conference announced their theme as “Screen Narratives: Chaos and Order” the word ‘chaos’ immediately brought to mind writers rooms. I offered a quick history of writers rooms (the presentations are only 20 minutes long) and then quoted several current showrunners on how they compose their rooms and how they run them.

Transcript:

…and then there were many many stories in this one particularly, very quickly, there were people in the room who wanted to shoot down your ideas. Again reading the room and I had an idea about dealing with teenage young men who were fathers and lived in gangs and they had to make a commitment to their real family not their gang family. I knew that someone else in the room would not want me to have the extra script that year because that’s a nice chunk of money he would rather have. So my joke is I followed my executive producer into the bathroom because she was a woman and so was I and then I pitched her while we were washing our hands. So that when we walked back in the room, she already liked the idea and for someone else to shoot it down would be to say she had a bad idea and therefore I got whatever. So reading the room has always been a very important lesson. As well as remembering the doctors have power. Whenever you think about side characters, think about making them ethnic because that’s really important and then these are just the things that I learned from the room. You have to do research. You have to think about your nightmares. You have to speak up. I teach my female students this all the time. Please speak up. Don’t wait for the boys to give you a moment because they won’t and then I learned a lot and then I will briefly just say teachers make great writers because they do and collaboration doesn’t just happen in tv right because these guys collaborated on those films we have to recognize that so collaboration and chaos makes good quality presentations. Thank you.

 

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Ruth Gordon (with Her Husband, Garson Kanin) — Truly The Marrying Kind, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, July 2021

 Ruth Gordon (with Her Husband, Garson Kanin) -- Truly The Marrying Kind, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, July 2021

Mention the name of Ruth Gordon and most people remember her as an actress ranging from Abe Lincoln in Illinios (1940) to Harold and Maude (1971) or for her Academy Award-winning role in Rosemary’s Baby (1968). The impromptu acceptance speech she made that night identified her as the writer she actually was. Being 72 at the time she quipped, “I can’t tell you how encouraging a thing like this is.”

Ruth Gordon Jones came into the world on October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. Though her sea captain father seemed steeped in the past, she convinced him to let her move into the new century by moving to New York as a single nineteen-year-old to study acting. She began appearing on Broadway in Peter Pan in 1915. Acting in movies soon beckoned, as did writing them, which was enhanced when she married her second husband, director Garson Kanin.

Read Ruth Gordon (with Her Husband, Garson Kanin) — Truly The Marrying Kind, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, July 2021 on the Script web site


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Frances Goodrich Hackett (and Her Husband, Albert) Wrote Themselves a Wonderful Life, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, June 2021

Frances Goodrich Hackett (and Her Husband, Albert) Wrote Themselves a Wonderful Life, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, June 2021

You have watched countless films written or adapted by Frances Goodrich Hackett. She has four Academy Award nominations for screenplays AND a Pulitzer Prize. Yet I bet you didn’t know her name until now. True to the title of one of her most enduring creations Frances had A Wonderful Life. Yep, she (and her writing partner and husband Albert Hackett) developed that beloved film from the bare bones of a postcard.

Though she was born in 1890, Goodrich found herself in an atypical family — one that accepted the idea of the theatre as a career — and she lived an atypical life for a woman of that era. Goodrich married three times (with the third to Albert being the charm that lasted over 50 years). When Goodrich showed an interest in the stage after her graduation from Vassar in 1912, her father arranged for her to join the Northampton Players stock company in Massachusetts. There her performances convinced her father that she should move to New York where she quickly earned bit parts on the Broadway stage.

Eventually, she started writing plays and asked a fellow actor, ten years her junior to read her script, give her notes, and help her on the rewrite. The play was Up Pops the Devil and the younger actor was Albert. When Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios offered the Hacketts a six-month writing contract at $750 per week in the midst of the Great Depression, they jumped on the steady money and made the move to Hollywood.

Like Wonderful Life the other stories the Hacketts brought to American films have made an indelible mark on our culture. They earned an Academy Award nomination for their adaption of the Edward Streeter novel Father of the Bride which became so entrenched in American memory it — and the sequel they also wrote– were remade in the 1990s for Steve Martin and Diane Keaton to headline (screenplay by then-also-married-screenwriting-couple Nancy Meyers & Charles Shyer). Few high school or college students graduate without once watching the film the Hacketts adapted from their own Broadway play, The Diary of Anne Frank (for which they earned a Pulitzer).

When Frances and Albert approached their first adaption – bringing The Thin Man (written by Dashiell Hammett) to the screen in 1934 — Nick and Nora Charles became synonymous with the emerging ideas of equality in modern marriage. Film studies have long held that the detective couple were patterned after Hammett and his companion, playwright Lillian Hellman. According to The Real Nick and Nora By Frances Goodrich & Albert Hackett, written by their nephew David L. Goodrich the relationship of Nick and Nora as it appears on film is in fact more closely connected to the relationship of the Hacketts.

Their marriage made their written work deeper and more sophisticated and whose shared work lives made the marriage stronger and more capable of lasting fifty-three years (ending only in Goodrich’s death in 1984.) In fact, as Nick and Nora are often referred to as the screen’s most beloved couple, Frances Goodrich Hackett and her husband Albert were often described as the “most beloved couple in Hollywood”.

Read Frances Goodrich Hackett (and Her Husband, Albert) Wrote Themselves a Wonderful Life on the Script web site


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Dorothy Parker: Born to be a Star of Poignant and Pointed Word Play, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, May 2021

Dorothy Parker: Born to be a Star of Poignant and Pointed Word Play, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Script magazine, May 2021

Mention of the name “Dorothy Parker” conjures up thoughts of New York’s famed Algonquin Round Table and the lone woman (though Edna Ferber and Ruth Gordon often stopped by) trading quips with the greatest male writers of her day. Few know that Parker pounced on Hollywood, following in the footsteps of many those male writers looking for a quick – and hefty – payoff. Parker’s second husband Alan Campbell (who knew she was married?) had heard the call of the West but her name in their shared credits cinched those extra 000s on their shared studio checks.

The imbalance of fame in their marriage lead to one of Hollywood’s greatest stories, one that is remade in almost every generation. But Parker lived emotional experience gave the story its birth. If you’ve seen any of the myriad versions of A Star is Born I believe you have seen into Parker’s heart as much as if you’ve read any of her poetry or short stories. All these writings share a voice dripped in sarcastic wit and word play used as brain armor to combat an ever-present tide of melancholia and loneliness.\

Star originally focused on an up and coming actress (Janet Gaynor) who falls in love with a partner whose fame is on the wane. Remade in 1954 for an up and coming musical comedy performer (Judy Garland) it was reconfigured for a rock star (Barbara Streisand) in 1976 and a pop star (Lady Gaga) in 2018. All but the latest version share the tragic concept that society couldn’t condone a woman more successful than her man. Parker’s lived emotional experience encompassed more sadness than her marriage.

Born Dorothy Rothschild in New Jersey in 1893, her mother died when she was five years old. Her father raised her with the help of a stepmother Parker disliked. In her late teens Parker, who was even then witty, wrote what she characterized as ‘light verse’ that didn’t sell – until it did. Parker’s reputation as a writer grew from writing for The New Yorker and then publishing Enough Rope, a collection of poetry, in 1926.

Her first marriage failed after her husband returned from World War I. Her second ended in divorce, remarriage and then Campbell died of a drug over dose. Her career largely never wavered, moving from magazines to screenplays, including Saboteur for which Alfred Hitchcock courted her contributions and counted them as so important he offered her a shared cameo in the film.

You can find comments about how Parker and Campbell worked together in S.J.Perelman’s published letters or in reminiscences of prolific (and also married) screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett who had the office next door. It amounts to the idea that Dottie, as she was called by friends, did the bulk of the writing and character creation and Campbell did not. You’ll hear more about Goodrich next month! Meanwhile, it is hard to decide which cultural icon has become a more enduring and influential touchstone to the twentieth century – A Star is Born or Dorothy Parker.

Read Dorothy Parker: Born to be a Star of Poignant and Pointed Word Play on the Script web site


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Women Prefer Anita Loos: Celebrating the Female Screenwriters Who Came Before Us, Dr. Rosanne Welch, April 2021

Women Prefer Anita Loos: Celebrating the Female Screenwriters Who Came Before Us, Dr. Rosanne Welch, April 2021

I first found Anita Loos in her memoir A Girl Like I which sat on the sparsely covered “Hollywood History” shelf in my local library one summer. Reading her story showed me women had been masterful in the world of screenwriting, which taught me that they could – and would be again – even though it was the late 1970s and I could only name two female screenwriters. Nancy Dowd, who had won the Best Screenplay Oscar for Coming Home and Harriet Frank, Jr., who had been nominated for Norma Rae. (Watch future columns for more on their storied careers.)

If you’ve never heard of Anita Loos, now you have. Historians admit she “discovered the key to all good movie writing, a story to be seen rather than told” in her very first screen story The New York Hat. The 1912 film came from a very particularly female perspective being a social satire highlighting the hypocrisy of how gossip destroys women’s reputations (available on YouTube – go watch now!). Yet many male historians also dismiss Loos because they fell for the fragile little girl persona she created for herself, so necessary to prop up the egos of the men who bought her scripts. One could say Loos understood branding even before Mae West (whose writing career you will also read about in a future column).

Loos became one of the busiest writers of the silent period. By 1913 she had sold upwards of 40 scenarios writing for the biggest stars of the day including creating the swashbuckling persona of Douglas Fairbanks. She would go on to write over 140 films across her career with more being remade in her retirement. Loos is also known as the first literate screenwriter since she included dialogue in her silent film scenarios to make them more interesting for the directors to read and therefore more sellable.

Loos frequently had to use her alcoholic husband, John Emerson as a conduit to communicate with directors and other executives who balked at dealing with a woman on equal footing. This worked well to promote the idea they were a writing “team” and a happy couple, when in fact Loos did most all of the writing, including writing her signature novel, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, alone. This novel concerns the romantic adventures of two nightclub singers traveling to Paris to perform. It proved so popular it has never been out of print. Loos adapted Blondes as a film in 1928. Then she adapted it as a Broadway musical in 1949, cementing Loos as the writer who gave flappers respect as independent women and not floozies. (Most fans are familiar with the iconic 1953 film musical starring Marilyn Monroe. Charles Lederer did that adaptation).

Loos also worked behind the scenes to aid fellow females in their entry into the film world. For example, in 1920 Vanity Fair magazine fired their theatre reviewer, a young Dorothy Parker, for writing disparaging reviews of actresses whose producer husbands or boyfriends threatened to pull advertising from the magazine. Friends and fellow writers Robert Benchley and Robert Sherwood resigned the same day. Loos and another highly paid female screenwriter of the day, Frances Marion, both suggested to actress and producer Lillian Gish that she hire Parker for a film she was currently supervising that starred her sister, also named Dorothy. More on Dorothy Parker as a screenwriter next month!

Read the entire article, Women Prefer Anita Loos on the Script web site


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Celebrating the Female Screenwriters Who Came Before Us by Dr. Rosanne Welch — Script Magazine, March 2021

It seems quite appropriate that in March, the month we set aside to commemorate all the many marvelous contributions women have made in the arts, I’ve begun a monthly column for Script Magazine celebrating famous female screenwriters of the past.  The first column posted today. Come along and learn the names of the many wonderful women who wrote Hollywood. 

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I’m pleased to begin this new column in March, the month we set aside to commemorate all the contributions women have made – and will continue to make – as writers in media forms ranging from silent films to talkies to television to video games.

People often ask me why I created a series of History of Screenwriting courses and not courses on the History Film. I tell them that the History of Film most often becomes the History of Directors which in turn becomes the History of Great Men and I am done with that version of history. I’m also done with the auteur theory that came from French film critics deciding directors were the ‘authors’ of the movies – a theory that has been disproven over and over again but still refuses to die. The word writer comes before director in the job title writer-director because when people talk about the film and TV shows they love they rarely recollect a director’s camera angles but they always quote the writer’s dialogue.

I spent my childhood in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, an only child who watched TV and read books so I could spend my summer days with newfound friends. I read every book about Hollywood I could find in my tiny local library. Most of them written by men but some, some precious few, were the memoirs of women who had written movies before and during the Golden Age: Anita Loos, Adela Rogers St. Johns, Dorothy Parker (who I only knew as a poet), Ruth Gordon (who I only knew as an actress), and many more who became my mentors. Yet when I went to college and studied film history (there wasn’t any TV history) I never found their names in the textbooks my professors assigned me. In fact, many of my (mostly male) professors had never heard these women’s names.=

I won’t let that happen to you. I firmly believe we need to know the names – and the bodies of work – of the women on whose shoulders we stand as we build our writing careers. Novelists study those who came before them. Screenwriters need to do the same. Women especially need to know the names of the women who founded filmmaking — and those who founded the Writers Guild to protect their interests — so that whenever some modern studio executive wonders whether they can risk big budgets when women writers aren’t usually given such power, the women can list off the names of all the women who came before them whose films made millions – and won Oscars – long before these (mostly male) studio executives were born.

Word matter. Writers matter. Women writers matter. Follow this column to learn not only their names but the themes of their work. Each month I’ll introduce you to women who took the lemons of love and loss in their lives and turned them into art that lasts across decades. Follow me and soon women like Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), Jeanie Macpherson (Ten Commandments), Elinor Gwyn (It), Frances Goodrich (The Thin Man), and Dorothy Parker (A Star is Born) will be your friends and mentors, too.

Read Celebrating the Female Screenwriters Who Came Before Us on the Script web site

(L-R) Dorothy Parker, Jeanie Macpherson and Anita Loos