On Friday, May 5th I had the honor of delivering the commencement speech at the 2023 Stephens College Commencement Ceremony for Graduate & Continuing Studies as part of having received the Distinguished Faculty Award for the year. The full commencement ceremonies for the 2023 Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting include speeches by MFA student commencement speaker Natalie Cash Petersson and Stephens College President Dianne Lynch.
Together we covered the gamut from “How Watching 1970s TV Gave me the Female Role Models to Succeed in Life” through “How to Channel your Knowledge into Action” and “How to be a Lifelong Learner – After a Well-Deserved Break”.
You can listen to the short ceremony here (the audio is a series of slides but the audio is smooth).
One panel involved giving feedback on student pitches for TV shows or films and the other was more of a Q&A about careers in screenwriting. On both I was joined by other friends and colleagues from the writing world and the world of academia – David Morgasen (CSUF) and Jon Vandergriff (who teaches at a couple of colleges and happily one of them is the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting).
The stories we heard in the pitches were lively and several were quite unique, as were the questions about how to gain – and then maintain – a career in writing.
Afterward, the panels ended we three stood in the hallway so long continuing to answer questions such that we invited a few of the stragglers to dinner with us. Since we landed at Benihana we were joined by a father and son from Trinidad and Tobago who were in town for the father’s 30th NAB conference. During our conversation when they heard us mention Ted Lasso they had to ask how a country that doesn’t understand soccer/futbol watches a show set in that world. The film students with us were able to explain that from their generation forward, many, many young American children play on soccer teams – largely because they are co-ed in the younger years whereas baseball and softball segregate the sexes. Amazing the way a conversation ebbs and flows over flame-grilled shrimp and steak.
Department Directrice Kira Kitsopanidou had a Ph.D. student who was using the book I edited – When Women Wrote Hollywood – so they looked me up online and found all those marvelous lecture clips that Doug posts for me and decided to ask me to deliver a lecture on Early Women Writers and Writers Rooms in the U.S.
They wanted an international focus for their students who already know some of the great French female screenwriters in history so they ask academics from other countries to speak about their industries. It was lovely and will result in having an article I wrote for them translated into French, which will be a new experience for me.
Then I capped the week off as an online guest panelist for one of the Kopenhaver Center Conversations along with my friend, colleague, and MFA mentor Rashaan Dozier-Escalante as we discussed Writing as Activism: Creating for Inclusion on the Screen. Moderated by Dr. Bethanie Irons of Stephens College we discussed the lack of representation for writers of different genders, races, ethnicities, and abilities and how writers can make the needed changes because we all recognize that Representation Matters.
I’m pleased to have been invited as a guest panelist for a Kopenhaver Center Conversation as I share in their goal to “empower both women and non-binary professionals and academics in all the fields of communication, in order to develop visionaries and leaders who can make a difference in their communities.”
Along with my friend and colleague Rashaan Dozier-Escalante we will be discussing “Writing as Activism: Creating for Inclusion on the Screen”.
Join us for this free online event
Friday, April 7, 2023 (1:00-2:00pm Central/11am-12noon Pacific/2-3pm Eastern).
American Women’s History on Film, my newest book co-written with my colleague Dr. Peg Lamphier is out now and so some reviews are beginning to roll in. While this review in Booklist (March 2023) is mostly informational it’s always nice to hear that our writing style is “informative and engaging” and that this “makes the book a welcome addition to women’s and film-history collections.” That’s been our hope since being commissioned for the book a few years ago.
Yep, it takes a few years from being commissioned to do the research, do the writing, do the rewriting, do the editing, and then for the publishers to print and distribute the book. Our first book in the series covered Films of the Civil War – with that historical period being Peg’s academic specialty and film being mine. Covering women’s history and film this new book fits perfectly in each of our wheelhouses.
The icing on the cake for me was the chance to celebrate films I adored in my childhood and that I now have on the viewing list for the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting like: Norma Rae, and Silkwood alongside films written and produced by friends of mine such as On the Basis of Sex (produced by Karen Loop) and Hidden Figures (written by Allison Schroeder).
Thanks to all the current MFA candidates and alums who sat for interviews so that we could create this video for the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting and thanks to the Stephens College videographer, Andrew Church, for all his work on the project. Who knew a 2-minute video could take so many hours of interviewing and editing – oh, yeah, anyone else who does this for a living.
During each of our Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting we take our MFA candidates on field trips around Los Angeles and this January that included the screening of a silent movie – “The Social Secretary” – hosted at the Historic Women’s Club of Hollywood with a full audience. Many attendees had never watched a film shown from a projector, much less a silent film on such a large screen with live piano accompaniment. The MFA co-sponsored the event with the , a group dedicated to promoting education and enthusiasm about the art of silent film.
I was happy to be asked to deliver this introduction to the work of screenwriter and novelist Anita Loos whose work bridged the worlds of silents – where she was instrumental in creating the swashbuckling character for Douglas Fairbanks – to talkies and screenplays to novels to Broadway plays. Her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes remains a classic, never having gone out of print, and it led to several film versions including the famous one starring Marilyn Monroe. Her book for Gigi helped give the play a successful transition to the well-known film that showcased Leslie Caron.
If you don’t know much about this prolific woman writer, check out my introduction and then go watch some of her films, many of which are on YouTube. Yet the experience of seeing it on the big screen became one of this Workshop’s most appreciated events.
…Rosanne Welch. [Applause]
Hello everybody. I am Dr. Rosanne Welch. I run the Stevens College MFA and TV and Screenwriting where we study film with a female gaze.
So we study Anita Loos and so I’m gonna –– we’re here for an hour and a half lecture right?
Very quickly, I just want to make sure people who are here know what we’re talking about. First of all, what we do in our program is we teach the history of screenwriting because in most places they teach you the history of film and that tends to be the history of directors which becomes the history of Great Men. While we love men, women founded Hollywood and need to be remembered.
So I was really pleased when Tom said I have the Anita Loos print and I was like, oh yeah Anita Loos. We study her. We love her and it would be lovely to see it with real live accompaniment.
I’m gonna say a very quick things about Anita. I want people who don’t know her to know these things. First of all, we have to remember her as the first person to put wit in her title cards and today when someone writes a television or film script, in their action lines they use that technique. They use their own voice. They say funny things. They don’t just say the door opens right? They are still doing something essentially we learn from Anita. So I think that is a reason that she should stay with us. I think it’s also important to remember her as a star maker. She’s the reason you know who Douglas Fairbanks is. He was just the stumblebum actor until she made him a swashbuckler and then he became the Douglas Fairbanks –– the founder of the Academy right? She also –– I’m sure many of you can think about Carol Channing and Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. Talk about a character that lived forever in that actress. So I think that’s brilliant for Anita. She was also known for her diligent work ethic. The woman got up at five o’clock and wrote until two or three in the afternoon and then dealt with business –– that and she would tell people she didn’t work very hard. It wasn’t very hard at all. Think about that. So I think that’s really beautiful. I think it’s important to think about all the literary friends she had. She was friends with Theodore Dreiser , and H.L. Mencken – these are major names of their day. Interestingly enough her name is still a little more famous than theirs are. So there’s something about her work. Though people made fun of films and film writing clearly she survived where some of their stuff isn’t read that much anymore and also she was a brilliant friend to other women in the business and we know that that’s how everyone who moves up in the world by taking the next person below you and bringing them up right? So she was friends with the young Ruth Gordon. Y’all don’t remember when she was young but she was and Anita was someone who helped her move forward in the business. She was best friends with Helen Hayes who many people remember. So the idea that she understood that sisterhood was the way to help everybody. So those are the reasons that I still admire Anita. I always say that I met her when I was six years old – not the person but in her memoirs and so if you haven’t read A Memoir of hers you should because they’re funny and witty and teach us a lot about this time period and also we’ve written about her in this book which we will have for sale afterward. There you go. I’ll teach Tom how to sell. Which was written by the first inaugural students in our program about seven years ago and there’s a chapter on 25 different famous female screenwriters of that period. So if you’re interested we’ll have some more of those and we’ll talk afterward and we have three of the original authors of chapters right here with me tonight. So with that, I hope that everybody adores if you haven’t met Anita Loos before you will listen to her voice today and laugh. Have a great night.
Panelists included MFA alum Sahar Jahani (Writer, Hana Khan Carries On, The Bold Type, Ramy), Tracy Andreen (Writer, The Holiday Sitter, All Saints Christmas, Two Tickets to Paradise); Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith (Writer/Producer, Trinkets, Legally Blonde, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Ugly Truth); and Nia Vardalos (Writer/Director/Actor, My Big Fat Greek Wedding films, Larry Crowne, I Hate Valentine’s Day).
It was an engaging, entertaining, and especially supportive group of women talking about the importance of stories about choosing our partners in life.
Host: I know it’s always so heartening when something turns up that was thought to be lost and there may still be some Treasures out there and people are discovering new things every day and that’s what you know of course of interest to us at the Museum – finding those rare rare voices that luckily were preserved in some way or other and just bringing them to light more.
Rosanne: Well and that’s what I always tell students too. If you go to places like museums you know when my students are in town – they’re low residency but they come in town once twice a year – and we’ll go to The Autry. We’ll go to the Herrick. We’ll go to different places but what – even long before I did this job – I would go to The Autry with my son because of course cowboy stuff cool but also you look at the photographs of who the Cowboys right and we all know they weren’t John Wayne. We all know that wasn’t who it was right? They were the Mexican Americans and they were Chinese Americans and you see that in the photographs but movies came along and made them all Caucasian and that’s ridiculous but that became the myth right? So the more we look at the real history the more we can tell those real stories. I love research.
Host: Me too. Well, thanks so much for joining us it was such a wonderful conversation and I especially I think I’ll take away this idea of a sort of community type stories in westerns particularly from our perspective – what are those western films that feature that Community story and is that a sort of more feminine point of view or a kind of women’s view of the West. That’s going to stick with me but as will many other points thanks so much for joining us.
Rosanne: Thanks for asking me. I love to talk about this clearly and I love The Autry
the archery Museum of the American West thanks our members and supporters
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.