The Women Who Built Hollywood


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Brattle Theatre starts A Year of Women in Cinema repertory series

  • Lois Weber Productions
  • Dorothy Arzner and Clara Bow
  • House of Cards - Directed by Alice Guy-Blache
  • Brattle Theatre - Women who Built Hollywood poster
Women in Cinema Series

"Beginning in March of 2017, the Brattle is excited to present “A Year of Women in Cinema.” For the following 12 months, each one of our bi-monthly calendars will include at least one repertory series highlighting films by, for, or about women. We kick off this effort with a program of films from the early days of Hollywood that were directed, written, edited, produced, or just plain willed into existence by women."

-- Ivy Moylan, Executive Director/ Co-Founder, Brattle Film Foundation/Brattle Theatre

I was amazed to learn of the major role women played in creating the film industry when it was still an experimental art form in the first film in the series “Et la Femme Créa Hollywood/The Women Who Run Hollywood.” This documentary, created by filmmakers Julie and Clara Kuperberg and  featured at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, showcased a number of female cinema pioneers from the early 20th Century through archived footage, photographs, and commentary from powerful women currently working in the movie business.

I have read about and researched local and national, and global women’s history for years for my own interest and for my theatre company, Cambridge Vintage Mystery Theatre, but I was shocked by the amount of buried history surfaced in this film about these powerhouses, including:

  • Mary Pickford – known as “America’s Sweetheart” for her on-screen performances, but less known for being a co-founder of United Artists production studio and a producer of many of her own films
  • Alice Guy-Blache, first woman to found and run her own movie studio, director of the first “talkie” (movie with sound), and visionary who experimented with color tinting, interracial casting, and special effects throughout her career
  • Lois Weber, producer of the first color film and director of more than 300 films
  • Frances Marion, author of numerous screenplays for Mary Pickford and winner of two Oscars

I had already found out about Dorothy Arzner, director of more than 50 feature films from the 1920s through the 1940s, and the inventor of the boom microphone, in Smithsonian article while researching my upcoming play, The Tremendously Terrifying Talkie Tangle, which takes place in 1929 when a talkie is being filmed at a Cambridge vaudeville theater.

Part 1 of A Year of Women in Cinema runs through March 8. If you can’t make it this time, you can find out more about the upcoming repertory series at the Brattle Theatre web site

Another interesting resource on the topic of women's major roles in early cinema is the Women Film Pioneers Project.

Image Credits: Women in Cinema Poster, courtesy of Brattle Theatre; Lois Weber Productions, public domain - no source; House of Cards, U.S. Amusement Corporation - Internet Archive, Public Domain,; Dorothy Arzner & Clara Bow – Paramount Pictures publicity shot for The Wild Party, 1929. Public Domain.