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.

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


Read about more women from early Hollywood


Dr. Rosanne Welch Quoted in Bitch Media article on Women Screenwriters

Journalist Alexis Schwartz contacted me a few weeks ago to be interviewed for an article she was writing about female writers in Hollywood on the eve of hoping a woman would win this year’s Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Alexis noted, teenagers entering high school this fall would never have seen a female win in that category since the last win was 13 years ago (Diablo Cody for Juno).  Happily, Emerald Fennell did win – for Promising Young Woman. Then Chloe Zhao won for directing Nomadland.  Yet notice how in the Chloe Zhao descriptions no one calls her the writer-director of Nomadland even though she adapted the book. They only call her the director – though she did both important tasks on that now Academy Award-winning film.  So there is still much work to be done for writers to be recognized on an equal level.

We had so much fun talking and there was so much to say that it’s no surprise something got mixed up.  The initial published version of the story reported that Eve Unsell was Cecil B. deMille’s mother – but that was playwright, Broadway producer Beatrice deMille who had hired Unsell after reading one of her short stories and therefore began Unsell’s career as one of Hollywood’s earliest writer-producer-directors – and as the woman who taught Hitchcock how to direct.  Read the article to learn more.  And then read our book – When Women Wrote Hollywood – to learn more about the important work women have been doing since the founding of the film industry.

As Alexis and I noted during the interview – we really could talk about this all day – and look – how wonderful for both Fennel and Zhao to win that night.

Dr. Rosanne Welch

Emerald Fennell attends the 2020 Sundance Film Festival  Promising Young Woman premiere on January 25 2020 in Park City Utah header

A Woman Hasn’t Won a Writing Oscar in 13 Years. That Could Change on Sunday by Alexis Schwartz

The 2007 Academy Awards’ futuristic stage was adorned with three large pillars—some 25 feet in diameter—superficially holding up the Dolby Theatre. Within the stage’s center, an equally large Oscar statue loomed over the diminutive presenters like a god demanding hecatomb. Throughout the evening, celebrities weaved through the stage, including winners Alan Arkin, Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker, and Martin Scorsese, the latter of whom’s cop-and-mob film The Departed (2006) would go on to win four statues that evening. But something happened in the middle-pack of the awards—more “popular” than sound editing, less “popular” than original score —an unsuspecting former exotic dancer and first-time screenwriter, Diablo Cody, won Best Original Screenplay for her freshman film, Juno.

[…]

Writers such as Jeanie MacPherson, who wrote most of the profitable films credited to director and Hollywood tycoon Cecil B. deMille, have been all but forgotten. Meanwhile, deMille is described as “a founder of the Hollywood motion-picture industry” and is the namesake for the Cecil B. deMille Award of Excellence presented annually at the Golden Globes. Paradoxically, deMille’s mother, Eve Unsell, who taught Alfred Hitchcock everything he knew was later regarded as an erasable footnote by Hitchock himself. She was left uncredited in his memoir—only to be known as “a middle-aged woman.” Even worse, these titans set a precedent by often discrediting writers’ work during interviews. This became standard practice—if the writer was mentioned at all. “The [director-ownership model] destroyed writers, even great men, like Preston Sturges [the first-ever winner of the Academy Award for Original Screenplay], had to become directors to protect their words and characters,” Rosanne Welch, PhD, screenwriting historian and former Beverly Hills 90210 writer says. “No one was safe.”

[…]

Read the entire article — A Woman Hasn’t Won a Writing Oscar in 13 Years. That Could Change on Sunday by Alexis Schwartz

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


Read about more women from early Hollywood


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. 

RMW Rosanne Signature for Web

Script magazine logo Rmw script 001

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

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion]

“Let us simply celebrate good television” and Bridgerton [Opinion] by Dr. Rosanne Welch

Leave it to NPR to get it right, which is why I’m posting this piece they did on Bridgerton (Netflix), the new show executive produced by Shonda Rhimes and created for television by Chris Van Dusen from the romance book series by Julia Quinn.

See ‘Bridgerton’ Is A Delicious, Raunchy Tale Of One Very Hot Family

Far beyond explaining the show’s popularity, this article interested me because it understood instantly that what works best and most binge-ably about this show is that

“Let us simply celebrate good television, made by a shop run by a woman who loves good television and written by people who are experienced in television.”

Bridgerton and

In fact, I found one of the cleanest, clearest descriptions of the difference between movie screenplays and television screenplays while listening to this.

“Writing television requires writing to the rhythm of the episode, not just the season. An episode must have its own shape, its own rise and fall… Obviously, in a serialized story, one episode will not be complete on its own when it comes to plot, but it should work on its own structurally. It should have a beginning, middle, and end.”

You could spend a whole semester in a writing class and not yet be able to define it so cleanly – or create a piece that demonstrates having digested that delightfully delectable tidbit. 

I also appreciated the note about how we may think streaming services invented binge-watching but

“Remember, binge-watching really came of age with DVDs, which didn’t have the Netflixian boosts of the auto-play and the credits-skipping and the part where they almost bodily shove you from one episode to the next episode. If you watched 10 episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on DVD, it was because you affirmatively said yes, over and over.”

I would go so far as to say TV in general invented that because before streaming it had to make characters and stories so compelling you would remember to be in front of the TV set at the same time every week in order to keep up.

That’s quite a lot of television writing (and history) information to glean out of one short public radio piece. Kudos to NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes. And because we learn so much from any writer’s origin story – don’t miss her story at the end of the online post:

“She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living-room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.

Holmes was a writer and editor at Television Without Pity, where she recapped several hundred hours of programming — including both High School Musical movies, for which she did not receive hazard pay. Her first novel, Evvie Drake Starts Over, will be published in the summer of 2019.”


Rosanne Welch serves as Executive Director of the Stephens College MFA in TV and Screenwriting. Television credits include Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, Nightline and Touched by an Angel. Award-winning publications include When Women Wrote Hollywood, runner up for the Susan Koppelman Award for best edited book in feminist studies and Women in American History, named Outstanding Reference Source and added to the list of 2017’s Best Historical Materials, by the ALA.