Dr. Rosanne Welch Interviewed by the Journal of American Popular Culture – Fall 2021

What a lovely Christmas gift.

I was more than honored a couple of months ago when Leslie Kreiner Wilson (Associate Professor of Creative Writing & Film at Pepperdine University) asked to interview me for the special segment of the Journal of American Popular Culture called “Conversations with Scholars of American Popular Culture.

It was published this week in the Fall 2021 issue. 

Leslie and I found we share such similar interests in the ways women and their work is recorded in history that we could have stayed on the phone for hours – as it is we traversed topics ranging from how we both teach Anita Loos and other female screenwriters of Early Hollywood; how I found feminist messages in The Monkees thanks to the writing of Treva Silverman; how working on encyclopedias allowed me to curate which women were remembered; how Wally Funk, who learned to fly in the aviation program as a student at Stephens College became one of the Mercury 13 and finally made it into space on a SpaceX flight last year. 

It all boiled down to the fact that we both have dedicated our careers to writing about powerful women.  It’s nice to find kindred spirits in academia (all nods to author Lucy Maude Montgomery for teaching me the phrase ‘kindred spirits” when I read Anne of Green Gables – another story about an empowered young woman that deserves more attention).

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Dr. Rosanne Welch Interviewed by the Journal of American Popular Culture - Fall 2021Dr. Rosanne Welch Interviewed by the Journal of American Popular Culture - Fall 2021

Featured Guest:
Rosanne Welch

Rosanne Welch is the Executive Director of the MFA in TV and Screenwriting Program at Stephens College where she teaches the History of Screenwriting as well as Writing the One-Hour Drama. She has written for such television shows as Beverly Hills 90210, Picket Fences, Touched by an Angel, ABC/Nightline – as well as publishing novels.

Her critical studies books include Why the Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television, and American Pop Culture (McFarland, 2016) and The Civil War on Film (with Peg A. Lamphier, ABC-CLIO, 2020). In addition to publishing many chapters and journal articles, she has written or edited several essay collections and encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia of Women in Aviation and Space (ABC-CLIO, 1998); Women in American History (with Peg A. Lamphier, ABC-CLIO, 2017); When Women Wrote Hollywood (McFarland, 2018); and Technical Innovation in American History (with Peg A. Lamphier, ABC-CLIO, 2019).

Dr. Welch sits on the Editorial Board for the Writers Guild Written By magazine and the California History Journal. She also serves as the Book Reviews editor for the Journal of Screenwriting where last year she co-edited (with Rose Ferrell) a Special Issue on Women in Screenwriting (11.3). Dr. Welch holds a Ph.D. in twentieth century American history with a focus on film from Claremont Graduate University.

We talked to her about her teaching, research, and writing, which consistently empowers women.


When you were writing Touched by an Angel, were you conscious of writing a strong female-centered show? Was that discussed in the writers’ room?

Oh yes, I always felt the show was really Cagney & Lacey without guns. I’m Sicilian-American, so I’m loud and assertive. People thought I would write for Roma Downey’s sweet, quiet character, but soon realized my personality was better suited for Della Reese. I wrote her dialogue.

The series was about two women trying to change people’s lives for the better. When they resisted the change, God was mentioned, and then they changed. We were empowering women to empower others.

What attracted you to directing the MFA program at Stephens College and teaching the History of Screenwriting?

The history of film is usually taught as the history of directors, which is the history of great white men. Why don’t we equally teach women and men’s contribution to the industry? I want students to know how important women were and are to the movies and television. Stephens is a woman’s college, but the graduate program is co-ed, so we get a lot of cool feminist guys who want to know the full truth, too.

I want them to know about Anita Loos and Gentleman Prefer Blondes – haven’t we heard enough about F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby? I teach the fact that Nora Ephron got an Oscar nomination [with Alice Arlen] for a serious drama they never heard of – Silkwood. They only know her for her funny stuff. When I teach Rocky, I want them to learn about Norma Rae, written by a woman – Harriet Frank Jr. and her husband, Irving Ravetch. How can they not know about Norma Rae? How can they not know all the unrecognized contributions of women in this industry?

I liked how Fosse/Verdon showed how important Gwen was to his career. Most of my students never even heard of Gwen Verdon. I made them watch the show. You know, her daughter was a producer. I think that’s why it was so good. She was saying, “Now mom gets her due.”

I teach the women in the beginning of film, then I do the men, Trumbo, all that, then I return to the women screenwriters emerging in the late seventies and early eighties. But they need to know Lucille Kallen and Selma Diamond, the only women in Sid Caesar’s famous writers’ room for Your Show of Shows in the 1950s. And writers like Suzanne De Passe – she co-wrote Lady Sings the Blues in the 1970s and was nominated for an Oscar, but is rarely included in most film history courses.

Your first book was Why the Monkees Matter. It might surprise readers to know you have a chapter on feminism, gender, and sexuality in relation to the show.

The Monkees was my favorite show when I was a kid. I went back and re-watched all the episodes as a pop culture-cultural studies professor and realized there were a lot of feminist messages that I hadn’t caught when I was little.

I focus on Treva Silverman who was a prominent television writer in the sixties and seventies with The Mary Tyler Moore Show, That Girl, The Monkees, He & She, and Room 222. She won two Emmys in 1974. Most people don’t know there was a woman in the writers’ room. A woman in the room makes a huge difference.

For example, every single girl who dated one of the main characters on the show had a job. Not one was a bubble head or waiting to get married, so someone else could take care of her. They had jobs – in record stores, television studios, reporting the news. That was an interesting message to send in 1966. Every time we met a girl, she was defined by her job first.

In the first episode that aired, Princess Bettina of Harmonica turns down the cute boy because she has “responsibilities for the welfare of [her] people.” They even flip the trope in the episode of the girl getting kidnapped and the boys having to save her. Here, The Monkees get kidnapped, and Princess Bettina has to save them. When they meet the Julie Newmar character in another episode, she’s working on a Ph.D., and they learn “the fastest way to a woman’s heart is through her mind.”

At the end of the book, I make the point that if you were to girl in 1966, you learned that if you wanted to date a Monkee you should be a woman of value. That was an interesting feminist thought – that you should think about your purpose in the world and be led by it.

You have published several encyclopedias. What is it about that form that excites you?

Choice. I get to choose who is included. When ABC-CLIO put me on Technical Innovation in American History, there were no women. They also didn’t included innovations that have made women’s lives easier such as dishwashers and vacuum cleaners. Having a say in who or what is included makes a difference in how we teach and understand history. We, as women writers, have the ability to be our own gatekeepers.

For Women in American History, I was able to include people like Cyndi Lauper who others might dismiss as a silly pop star, but she was the first woman in history to win a Tony for writing the lyrics and music without a male partner. Her Broadway musical Kinky Boots got thirteen nominations. I like having a say in who’s going to be remembered and why.

You collected essays written by your students for When Women Write the Movies and the publisher asked you to write a chapter as well. You did. Tell us why you chose to focus on Ruth Gordon.

A lot of people attribute the feminism of the Spencer-Tracey films to Katherine Hepburn, but I contend that Ruth Gordon deserves the credit. She co-wrote those films with her husband Garson Kanin who was a cool guy, and they were Oscar-nominated for Pat and Mike and Adam’s Rib.

George Cukor gets the credit for the film because he directed it. However, Ruth’s voice comes through in the feminist message of Hepburn’s character. Gordon essentially invented the popular culture image as a feminist that Hepburn enjoyed – more from the power of the characters Ruth wrote than the events of Hepburn’s actual life.

Gordon is more famous as an actress – she won an Oscar for Rosemary’s Baby and starred in Harold and Maude, which has become a cult classic – but she was an accomplished writer and hard worker – working and writing plays and films all the way until her death.

In 2020, you published The Civil War on Film with Peg A. Lamphier. What was the most interesting thing you learned in writing and researching the book?

Right up front, we asked the publishers to make sure there was a female in the photo chosen for the front cover, and they listened. Sally Field as Mrs. Lincoln appears on the cover along with Daniel Day Lewis. Yes! Usually, Civil War studies only feature the men – and usually men in uniform glorying war which was not the message of our book at all.

You know, Glory is the film that historians and scholars point to as the best, most accurate Civil War movie ever made, so I was surprised that they didn’t include the fact that Harriet Tubman was a spy at that point and could have been included in that story – a young woman running around doing things – not the old lady in the rocker – the one image we have of her.

Written by boys. Produced by boys. Reminds us why it’s important to have a woman in the room. I’m writing a chapter right now about the women who created A Star Is Born. When Dorothy Parker wrote it – and Joan Didion remade it for Barbara Streisand – I could see the female gaze, but the last version by Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth focused on the man’s point of view. It didn’t work creatively. Frankly, it became more like A Star Is Dying.

What’s the most interesting story from your first encyclopedia Women and Aviation in Space?

The Powder Puff Derbies are interesting – women flying in races all across the country from Cleveland to Los Angeles. You know, they said Amelia Earhart was not the best flyer – others were better than she was, but she had a publicist for a husband.

Women were tested as Mercury 13 astronauts, and they did very well – better than the men in some cases – but the program was quickly cancelled.

But the most interesting story is the WASPS. Over a thousand women were flying in World War II – the Women Airforce Service Pilots – civilian volunteers flying all the military planes. They delivered the new ones to bases, worked as test pilots, hoped to join the military, but that program was cancelled after two years.

It would be many years before women got their due. One of the original Mercury pilots Wally Funk just went up in the Blue Origin launch at the age of 82. She said she can’t wait to go up again. Happily enough, she learned aviation as a student at Stephens College in the run up to World War II.

I have so much respect for these women because they love one thing so much they don’t want to do anything else. It’s passion. I feel that as a writer. I must write. It’s my passion.

What’s next? What are you writing now?

I’m editing the ABC-CLIO Women Making History Series, a set of biographies with primary documents (so we can let these women speak for themselves). We’re working on Ida B. Wells, Sally Ride, Delores Huerta, and Wilma Mankiller now. We’ve recently published books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Hillary Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and Helen Keller.

I’m also writing a chapter for Palgrave – “Women Screenwriters in Early Silent Film” and one for Bloomsbury on A Star is Born. The next book I’m finishing is similar to the Civil War one – this one on Women’s History on Film – a collection of films about moments in women’s history.

And in a completely other vein, though still connected to celebrating empowered women, I just published a chapter in Doctor Who New Dawn: Essays on the Jodie Whittaker Era which details the work of screenwriter/showrunner Christopher Chibnall in creating the first female incarnation of this fifty year old sci-fi icon.

So you enjoy writing about powerful women.

Clearly, women who make things happen fascinate me. In fact, last year I published a novel about Giuseppe Garibaldi, the man who united Italy in 1860, and in the research I discovered his Brazillian-born wife, Anita, joined his band of soldiers and fought side by side for that dream. I enjoyed bringing her story to the forefront of his oft-told (at least in Italy) tale.

Interestingly enough, Anita Garibaldi brought me back to American History when she crossed paths with journalist and Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller, who was the first correspondent sent to Italy to cover the fight for unification. The two women worked together as nurses for fallen soldiers. Imagine what they talked about as they created their cross-cultural friendship.

So even when writing about an international couple, I found my way back to an icon of American popular culture.

Fall 2021
Leslie Kreiner Wilson, Interviewer and Editor

The Monkee’s Michael Nesmith, 1942- 2021

Facebook is fleeting so when I heard that Mike Nesmith of The Monkees had passed away this morning I posted this short tribute along with the link to his audition for the show:

This is how I will remember Mike, another hopeful young performer who came to Hollywood, hit the heights so many others only dream of, and became the ‘father’ figure on a show that eschewed authority figures. RIP Mike Nesmith. 

Why The Monkees Matter Book Cover

 

But there is more to say (heck, I discovered there was a whole book’s worth). In Monkees fan circles I call myself a Mickey girl as Dolenz was my major childhood crush from the show.  What I recognized in the character of Mike (all the actors used their real names on the show which proved to make their career lives post the show a bit more difficult) was the strength and balance he brought to the show.  Part of that came from being among the older (and taller) of the 4 actors and part from his having been in the military for a short time – and he was the only then-married member of the band.

Just as Davy Jones brought his bit of vaudevillian Broadway to the show, Peter Tork brought a bit of peace-loving hippie and Mickey Dolenz brought his Marx Brothers madcap-ed-ness, Mike brought what one producer defined as a “Will Rogers kind of country and western figure” to the show – and to their concerts through his songwriting.  I wonder what would have happened if back then actors also contributed writing to their TV shows as some do today… What sort of adventures would Mike have added to the story of those 4 fictional boys who dreamed of being famous when he lived that dream…?

Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “One Man Shy” episode on the Zilch Podcast’s Monkees 101 Series 

Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “One Man Shy” episode on the Zilch Podcast’s Monkees 101 Series 

Even though my book is now 5 years old, I’m still always happy for any excuse to talk about The Monkees TV show – and my Monkees 101 co-host gives me that opportunity once a month as we work our way through each episode (mostly) chronologically.  We cover the news of the day when each episode aired, the Top 5 on the Billboard Charts (which often includes a Monkees tune), and all the meta things about the production (from the writing to the casting choices choices to the props and sound departments).  It’s quite a fun way for 2 lady doctors (the Phd kind) who found each other online over our Monkee-fandom can spend our time.

Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “One Man Shy” episode on the Zilch Podcast's Monkees 101 Series 

It’s time for Monkees 101! Tim Powers and Sarah Clark host the show and talk Monkees current events in 2021, then Sarah and Rosanne talk “One Man Shy”, which aired Dec 5th 1966. Bashful Peter tries to win the heart of lovely debutante Valerie Cartwright (Lisa James) while dealing with her haughty boyfriend Ronnie Farnsworth (George Furth).

Songs: “I’m a Believer”, “You Just May Be the One” (original version)
1967 reruns: “I’m a Believer” was replaced with “Forget That Girl.”
Saturday mornings: “I’m a Believer” was replaced with “If I Knew.” 

Listen to this episode


Want to learn more about The Monkees? Buy Why The Monkees Matter: Teenagers, Television and American Pop Culture

 

A hit television show about a fictitious rock band, The Monkees (1966-1968) earned two Emmys–Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Directorial Acheivement in Comedy.

Capitalizing on the show’s success, the actual band formed by the actors, at their peak, sold more albums than The Beatles and The Rolling Stones combined, and set the stage for other musical TV characters from The Partridge Family to Hannah Montana. In the late 1980s, the Monkees began a series of reunion tours that continued into their 50th anniversary.

This book tells the story of The Monkees and how the show changed television, introducing a new generation to the fourth-wall-breaking slapstick created by Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers.

Its creators contributed to the innovative film and television of 1970s with projects like Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Laugh-In and Welcome Back, Kotter. Immense profits from the show, its music and its merchandising funded the producers’ move into films such as Head, Easy Riderand Five Easy Pieces.

McFarland (Direct from Publisher) | Amazon | Kindle Edition | Nook Edition

Want to use “Why The Monkees Matter” in your classroom?

Order Examination Copies, Library and Campus Bookstore orders directly from McFarland

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Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “Monkee Chow Mein” episode on the Zilch Podcast’s Monkees 101 Series [Audio]

My co-host, Dr. Sarah Clark and I usually host a segment on Zilch: A Monkees Podcast where we break down episodes of The Monkees in terms of history and popular culture of the time in which is was written, filmed and aired. 

For this episode, however, we tackled the problem with an episode we consider to be a sad outlier to the usual mix of positive energy and creativity. The title alone will tell you the problem with the episode –  Monkee Chow Mein. Sadly, against the show’s youthful promise to celebrate how “we’re too busy singing to put anybody down” the title tells you laughs were wrung from doing exactly that so in this discussion Dr. Clark and I try to understand how that happened.

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Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “Monkee Chow Mein

Monkees News and “We need to talk about monkee chow mein”. Farewell tour, it looks like this is it.

Dolenz Sings Nesmith, a collection of songs featuring Micky paying tribute to the songbook of Michael Nesmith.

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Get Rosanne’s Monkees Book – Why The Monkees Matter!

Great note about Why The Monkees Matter from a satisfied reader and recommender!

It was quite nice to find this message on Linked In the other day. The Monkees book is now 5 years old but the fandom that comes to it is still as vibrant as ever. 

Great note about Why The Monkees Matter from a satisfied reader and recommender!

Thanks again to Adelaide!

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Drs. Rosanne Welch and Dr. Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” episode on the Zilch Podcast’s Monkees 101 Series [Audio]

In the latest installment of Monkees 101 – a segment of the Zilch: A Monkees Podcast which I co-host with Dr. Sarah Clark. We’re covering all 58 episodes of the show one at a time. 

In this show we analyze “I’ve Got a Little Song Here”  (written by the amazing, future Emmy-winning Treva Silverman), which aired November 28, 1966.

In the story Mike writes a new song, but the publishing company he tries to sell it to tries to rip him off and his musician pals come to his rescue.  Lots of fun meta-moments for all the cast.

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Drs. Rosanne Welch and Dr. Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “I’ve Got a Little Song Here” episode on the Zilch Podcast's Monkees 101 Series [Audio]

The Zilch Staff drops Tour News AND the “Dolenz Sings Nesmith” track lists before a double-header episode! First up Sarah talks to Nashville musician Walter Cherry about his ambitious 5(!) album Monkees cover project, and then it’s time for Monkees 101! Sarah and Rosanne talk I’ve Got a Little Song here, which aired November 28, 1966. Mike writes a new song, but the publishing company he tries to sell it to tries to rip him off.

Aired 3/22/21

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Dr. Rosanne Welch Joins Panel on the Monkees TV Show with Plastic EP Live [Video] (49 Minutes)

Dr. Rosanne Welch Joins Panel on the Monkees TV Show with Plastic EP Live [Video] (49 Minutes)

Monkees Top 5 TV Shows With Plastic Ep And A Panel Of Special Guests

Get your copy today!

Dr. Rosanne Welch Joins Panel on Monkees Books with Plastic EP Live [Video] (54 minutes)

Many thanks to Fred Velez for telling me about Daniel Sam and his fun internet Monkees talk show — followed by thanks to Dan for inviting me onto  this discussion of all the great Monkees books out there. I enter the chat at the 15 minute mark in the video. — Rosanne

Plastic ep monkees 20210216

On Tuesday February 16th, 2021, the Plastic EP TV Facebook Live Monkees Discussion Panel  held a literary discussion on Monkees Books.

Participants included:

  • Fred Velez
  • Charles Rosenay
  • Ed Reilly
  • Michael A Ventrella
  • Mark Arnold
  • Natalie A Palumbo 
  • Special Guest, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Author of Why The Monkees Matter

Get your copy today!

Dr. Rosanne Welch Joins Panel on Monkees Books with Plastic EP Live – Tuesday February 16th, 2021, 8pm EST/5pm PST

Dr. Rosanne Welch Joins Panel on Monkees Books with Plastic LP Live - Tuesday February 16th, 2021, 8pm EST/5pm PST

Tuesday February 16th, 2021, the Plastic EP TV Facebook Live Monkees Discussion Panel will present a literary discussion on Monkees Books.

Tuesday February 16th, 2021, 8pm EST/5pm PST

Watch Live

Join Plastic EP and his distinguished, literary panel for a spirited discussion on Monkees Literature.

Participants:

  • Fred Velez
  • Charles Rosenay
  • Ed Reilly
  • Michael A Ventrella
  • Mark Arnold
  • Natalie A Palumbo 
  • Special Guest, Dr. Rosanne Welch, Author of Why The Monkees Matter

Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “Monkees A La Carte” episode on the Zilch Podcast’s Monkees 101 Series [Audio]

It’s time for another Monkees 101, co-hosted by myself and Dr. Sarah Clark on the Zilch podcast. This time we discuss and debate “Monkees A La Carte” where the show spoofs all the classic gangster characters.  I always enjoy chatting with Dr. Clark since she’s the Monkees music uber fan to match my TV show uber fan-ness – all with a dash of the kind of research we both do in our day gigs as professors!

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Drs. Rosanne Welch and Sarah Clark discuss The Monkees “Monkees A La Carte” episode on the Zilch Podcast's Monkees 101 Series [Audio]

Zilch & The PTFB Team, Sarah Clark, and Tim Powers are co-hosting a Stranger Things Have Happened Zoom Listening Party on FEBRUARY 13 AT 4:00 Eastern, featuring appearances by Glenn Gretlund, Mark Kleiner, James Lee Stanley, and others!

Register Here

After Tim and Sarah plug the listening party (and get a little silly), Sarah and Rosanne discuss “Monkees a la Carte, which aired November 21, 1966. “A gangster has taken over the boys’ favorite Italian restaurant, so they disguise themselves as The Purple Flower Gang.”

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