As with many women in early Hollywood, Gene Gauntier entered the business as an actress. Born Genevieve G. Liggett in Texas sometime in the 1880s, Gauntier had graduated from the Kansas City Academy of Elocution and Oratory. After a couple of years on the New York stage, she auditioned for director Sidney Olcott at the Biograph Studios in 1906. She saw that in the script her character appeared to drown and though Gauntier did not know how to swim, she took the job anyway. On that adventuresome spirit, she built a career in which she served as a writer, producer, director, and production company owner. She also instituted rules that covered adaptations for years.
On Saturday, August 6th I had the pleasure of giving an Introductory lecture on Adaptation before a screening of the movie Gidget. Written by Gabriele Upton the film was based on the novel by screenwriter Frederick Kohner which was itself based on the diaries of his daughter, Kathy Kohner, about the summer she learned to surf.
I focused on the fact that the book is a love story between a young woman and a sport – surfing – whereas the movie became a more generic love story about a girl and a college boy. While it has been enjoyed over the years its saccharine take has kept readers from discovering the real excitement and joy of independence Kathy (nicknamed Gidget) found that summer in Malibu. She made a series of important decisions about her life and proved herself among a group of seasoned male athletes simply by working hard at being good enough to surf alongside them. I ended by illustrating how the TV series (written by Ruth Brooks Flippen and starring Sally Field in her first big role) managed to capture the truth of the novel better than the 3 films made from it – which oddly starred 3 different women in the lead role but the same male lead – as if the films belong to Moondoggie but the TV show belonged once again to Kathy.
I had the great treat of bringing my 2 MFA cohorts to the Autry Museum for the event so they could check out the museum before the show. Then we all had the great treat of being joined by the real Kathy Kohner Zuckerman herself along with a group of young female surfers who wanted to watch the movie and meet an idol. Thanks to Ben Fitzsimmons for inviting us all to create this event together. And remember whenever you see a film based on a book that reading the book will make for an even richer experience of the story.
In doing some research on YouTube I stumbled onto the speech Hugh Laurie gave in celebration of Emma Thompson receiving her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. What struck me is that at 2:52, after joking a bit about having known each other since they were in their late teens in college together, Hugh gets to the meat of why Emma Thompson deserves the star. It’s for her WRITING.
Yes, her first Oscar came for Best Actress in Howard’s End, which is where Americans first heard of her. BUT her second Oscar came from adapting a Jane Austen novel into one of my favorite films – Sense and Sensibility (and she cast Hugh in a small part!). She then went on to write several other films (including Wit, the 2 Nanny McPhee movies, and Bridget Jones’s Baby) though many still don’t realize she is a writer.
In this clip, he explains what makes her writing so powerful…a good lesson to us all.
Ruth Goodman’s family had been involved in theatre even before her birth in 1908. Her father produced shows involving W. C. Fields and Jerome Kern. Those connections, and her education in New York and Paris, brought her jobs as a costume designer and story editor before marrying Augustus (Gus) Goetz on October 11, 1932, after having met onboard ship. Her mother disliked him, but Ruth described Augustus as enchantingly witty. Though a stockbroker when they met, he gave up finances and they began writing plays together, collaborating nearly exclusively throughout their career. Their most famous play, The Heiress, brought them to Hollywood.
Once again I’ve had to email a film screening program about the blurb they posted about an upcoming screening and Q&A with the creators of a new film. Here’s the post I read:
When single father Max (John Cho) discovers he has a terminal disease, he decides to try and cram all the years of love and support he will miss with his teenage daughter Wally (Mia Isaac) into the time he has left with her. With the promise of long-awaited driving lessons, he convinces Wally to accompany him on a road trip from California to New Orleans for his 20th college reunion, where he secretly hopes to reunite her with her mother who left them long ago. A wholly original, emotional and surprising journey, Don’t Make Me Go explores the unbreakable, eternal bond between a father and daughter from both sides of the generational divide with heart and humor along for the ride. From Amazon Studios, #DontMakeMeGo will begin streaming July 15 globally only on Prime Video.
Why We Love It: Don’t Make Me Go is an emotional and beautiful exploration of the struggle between chasing your dreams or settling on the safe choices. Mia Isaac and John Cho’s chemistry is captivating in this one of a kind father-daughter road trip film. Bring tissues.
Here’s the email I had to send to the programmer:
I saw your announcement and wondered if Don’t Make Me Go is “A wholly original, emotional and surprising journey, Don’t Make Me Go explores the unbreakable, eternal bond between a father and daughter from both sides of the generational divide with heart and humor along for the ride” then WHY wasn’t the writer, Vera Herbert, invited to this live discussion? Or even mentioned in your post, which makes the reader assume that the director is a writer-director, giving them all the credit for what sounds like a film based on characters, situation, theme, and dialogue – none of which are under the auspices of a director.
As the Executive Director of an MFA in TV and Screenwriting, I subscribe to all your posts to see what events I might want to bring my MFA candidates to – but I only attend events that include writers. It’s an insult to not even name the writer. The auteur theory was invented years ago by French film reviewers who found it simpler to list directors since many were writer-directors and sometimes a film is written by 2 people which was unwieldy in a review. That’s why it exists and it’s a shame for film experts/programmers/educators to continue that practice. More women have written films than directed them (the Joan Harrison/Hitchcock team is an example) so it was another way to erase the creative work of women when we only mention directors. I would say “Please stop” but I’m tired of saying “Please”.
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.
I’m proud to announce my latest book (co-written by my colleague Peg Lamphier) is set for publication this November 2022 by ABC-Clio/Bloomsbury. In it we take a look at 10 films that tell stories about famous moments or women from Women’s History in the United States.
Films covered in each chapter are:
Norma Rae (1979)
Joy Luck Club (1993)
GI Jane (1997)
Iron-Jawed Angels (2004)
Salt of the Earth (1954)
Hidden Figures (2016)
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
We’re particularly pleased with this cover. We learned from our Encyclopedia of Science and Technology that you have to ask for what you want upfront. For that one, the art department had chosen photos of 2 male inventors and the space shuttle to decorate the cover. We asked that it be 2 male inventors and one female inventor for balance. No one had thought about including a female until we asked. So for our Civil War on Film book, we asked for that upfront and sure enough, though the bulk of Civil War films are full of dudes in uniforms they found a photo of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln sitting beside Mr. Lincoln.
Similarly, a couple of years ago in my work as book reviews editor for the Journal of Screenwriting I asked to use a photo of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala on the cover since one major article was about her amazing career writing everything from Room with a View to Howard’s End to Jefferson in Paris. The editor agreed but then production hit a snag in that the only photo available in our price range was too small to blow up to fill the whole cover. But then someone in production had the great idea to use that small photo several times, strung along on a graphic that made it look like a strip of film with that same picture in every frame. Creative and brilliant and salvaged the idea of having a female face on the cover while simultaneously celebrating the work of a wonderful female writer.
By exploring a range of films about American women, this book offers readers an opportunity to engage in both history and film in a new way, embracing representation, diversity, and historical context.
Throughout film history, stories of women achieving in American history appear few and far between compared to the many epic tales of male achievement. This book focuses largely on films written by women and about women who tackled the humanist issues of their day and mostly won.
Films about women are important for all viewers of all genders because they remind us that the American Experience is not just male and white. This book examines 10 films, featuring diverse depictions of women and women’s history, and encourages readers to discern how and where these films deviate from historical accuracy. Covering films from the 1950s all the way to the 2010s, this text is invaluable for students and general readers who wish to interrogate the way women’s history appears on the big screen.
Focuses on 10 films with an emphasis on racial and class diversity
Explores where storytelling and historical accuracy diverge and clarifies the historical record around the events of the films
Organized chronologically, emphasizing the progression of women’s history as portrayed on film
Accessible for general readers as well as students
Join us for the first public read of Mount Wilson, a drama pilot which follows Edwin Hubble, a rising astronomer, as he navigates his own web of lies as he works to disprove the theories of some of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. Hubble finds an unlikely alliance in Milton Humason, a maintenance worker at the Mount Wilson Observatory, who may just hold the key to the secrets of the Universe. Mount Wilson was written in partnership with the SeriesFest Writers Room Initiative and produced by Dilettante Productions and Unreal Media.
I’m happy to announce the public table reading of a new script I’ve co-written with 3 alums of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting (Betsy Leighton, Misty Brawner, Adam Parker). We were all involved in a mini-writers room earlier last year to come up with the outline for a 4-hour mini-series based on a book about the life of Edwin Hubble (of Hubble Telescope fame) – and we did. Then the 4 of us wrote the pilot. Now we’ll all be attending the reading at the Gates Planetarium in Denver as part of SeriesFest.
In honor of that project Douglas and I recently visited Mt. Wilson once again in this almost-post pandemic world and took photos of things like Hubble’s desk, and the wooden ladder they used to reach the platform – and, of course, the 100-inch telescope from which he made his major discoveries about the galaxy.
What were these discoveries? Well, you’ll have to attend the table reading – or watch the series when it sells – to find out.
I attended my first Broadcast Educators Association (BEA) conference last weekend on the invite of Dr. Ed Fink, my former department chair, and greatly enjoyed hosting a pitchathon for graduation bachelor students interested in creating their own television shows.
My co-panelists included two fun colleagues who have become good friends – Jon Vandergriff (Stephens College) and David Morgassen (CSUF). We gave feedback on 9 different pitches and followed it up with a Q&A about the world of being a professional writer. The audience was so interested and engaged that after our session ended, we all grabbed a table together and kept talking until we closed the venue down for the night.
Meeting potential MFA candidates is one reason to attend events like this one – but mostly it’s to make new friends in the academic world and strengthen the friendships you’ve already created; to learn how they approach the teaching of screenwriting or media history and bring those ideas back to my own classrooms.
On this trip, I met professors from Illinois and Michigan and reconnected with folks I’ve worked with at CSUF and elsewhere. Having lunch and hashing over which films or television shows to teach and how to best help students learn to analyze these in order to improve their writing is the heart of such a conference. Meeting the students and hearing their ideas is the icing on the cake.