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 the beginning and then when it becomes a business we say oh no no this is now a place where men can make money. You ladies should leave
VO: From the Autry museum located on Tongva homelands in Los Angeles California join us in asking “What is a western?
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.
This month in my monthly column for Script Magazine – which “celebrates the female screenwriters who came before us” — I turn the spotlight on playwright turned screenwriter Laura West Perelman. She wrote 6 films, many adapted from plays she had co-written with her husband, humorist S. J. Perelman. I learned more about her when I researched them both for my dissertation “Married: With Screenplay” which studied several married screenwriting couples from the early days of Hollywood.
What I learned that happened often with married couples is that many of the female screenwriters were lost to history as newspapers referred more often to their husbands as the authors of the works. Unless the woman was equal or more famous than her writing partner husband (such as was the case with Dorothy Parker, Ruth Gordon, and Frances Goodrich Hackett) the contribution of the wifely part of the partnership was ignored, even by later oral historians. So it’s nice to have a place to bring their names back into the conversation about their screenplays.
As with several silent film screenwriters, earlier careers in journalism and playwriting during the 1910s brought Clara Beranger to Hollywood. She would amass 85 credits between 1913 and 1934, bridging the worlds of silent and sound films.
Born Clara Strouse in Baltimore, Maryland on January 14, 1886, to a department store dynasty, she graduated in 1907 as a Phi Beta Kappa at Goucher College. She gained her professional surname when she married Albert Berwanger and kept it (except for the ‘w’) after their divorce. They had one child, a daughter named Frances, in 1909.
What wonderful work journalist Hope Lasater did for BuzzFeed in ranking 50 famous TV shows, from fewest to most episodes written by women. Episodes co-written by a woman and episodes with a woman on a “story by” credit were counted. I Love Lucy ranks 1st with 95% written by a woman – most all the work of the marvelous Madeline Pugh. Other shows that are fun to see on the list are The Mary Tyler Moore Show (since I was able to interview Treva Silverman for my book on The Monkees so we also talked about the 2 Emmy Awards she won while writing on the MTM show). See how your favorite TV shows past and present ranked (or if they made the list at all). – Rosanne
Here are 50 famous TV shows, ranked from fewest to most episodes written by women. Episodes co-written by a woman and episodes with a woman on a “story by” credit are being counted.
Hope Loring co-wrote Wings (1927), the first film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Film at the inaugural ceremonies in 1927. The story of World War I fighter pilots involved in a love triangle starred Clara Bow and is the first on-screen appearance of a young Gary Cooper.
Born in Barcelona, Spain (or maybe Madrid) in 1894 Loring had moved to England at the age of 2 to live with an aunt after her parents died in a car accident. At the age of five, the aunt moved her to the United States where she studied dance and literature at various boarding schools. At 14 Loring sold her first short story to a magazine. She reported that she had come to Los Angeles by 1916 after stints as an extra in New York and drama critic in Florida.
As a warm-up to the upcoming Oscar ceremony, the Women in Film DC podcast invited me in my position as Executive Director of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting to a panel discussion about the women who have won Oscars from the beginning of the famed award ceremony. Having watched most of the ceremonies from the time I sat in front of the TV in my grandparents’ house cross-legged and begged to stay up past 11pm on a Sunday/school night, I had plenty of information. Then, as editor of When Women Wrote Hollywood I had the chance to talk about the many female screenwriters whose names aren’t well known, but who wrote or otherwise contributed to films from Queen Christina (Salka Viertel) to It’s a Wonderful Life (Frances Hackett) to The Piano (Jane Campion).
Topics that come up include women’s writers penchant for using their art for social justice, how the rise of the studio-as-factory system affected female employment, and how will streaming services change what films can be made – and can be nominated. I hope you enjoy the listen:
Ahead of the 94th Academy Awards on March 27, 2022, board member Sandra Abrams sits down with two amazing women to discuss Oscar’s history on nominations of women in non-actor categories. Our guests are Dr. Rosanne Welch, Executive Director of the MFA in TV and Screenwriting Program at Stephens College, and Leslie Combemale, a syndicated film critic known as Cinema Siren, and the creator and host of WomenRockingHollywood – an annual panel at Comic Con in San Diego which highlights female filmmakers. The women reflect on female representation throughout Hollywood’s and the awards show’s history, how it has changed, and what they see for the future.
From Marilyn Monroe to Lady Gaga it seems one actress every generation is said to have “It” but few know that a female screenwriter of the silent era coined that still current phrase. Meet Elinor Glyn. Her life as a high society wife in England fed the novel-writing success that brought Glyn an invitation to Hollywood at the age of 56.
Through marriage, she had gained the glamour of being a member of the titled nobility. Yet she soon learned he had less funds than could support their lifestyle, so Glyn became a writer, publishing a book a year to keep her family’s finances afloat. Her ‘naughty’ novels – because they involved women involved in torrid affairs — became best sellers. That success caused the Hearst publishing company to sign Glyn to write articles and – recognizing the power of the film industry – Glyn included a clause for the motion picture rights.
Born in Chicago in 1888 (or thereabouts, different sites report different dates), writer-producer Eve Unsell grew up in Caldwell, Kansas. After earning her undergraduate degree and working as a journalist for the Kansas City Post, she attended graduate school at Boston’s Emerson College for a year. There she studied drama and literature before heading to New York. After reading one of her short stories, theatrical agent Beatrice deMille (mother of Cecil and William) hired to work as what was then called a play reader and constructionist. During her career, Unsell accumulated nearly 100 credits as a screenwriter while writing for notable stars including Mary Pickford, Lon Chaney, Clara Bow, Baby Peggy and Jack Benny.
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.
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.