Months of research went into the creation of the essays in “When Women Wrote Hollywood.” Here are some of the resources used to enlighten today’s film lovers to the female pioneers who helped create it.
“Difficult” is probably the most tactful word one could use in characterizing Lillian Hellman. If ever there were an author safer to meet through her art rather than in real life, she was the one. Born in New Orleans into a Jewish family, Hellman came of age in the Roaring ’20s, liberated by flappers and Freud. Hellman drank like a fish, swore like a sailor and slept around like, well, like most of the men in her literary circle, chief among them Dashiell Hammett, with whom she had an open relationship spanning three decades. She was, recalled one observer, a “tough broad … the kind of girl who can take the tops off bottles with her teeth.”
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Another woman — we’re moving kind of through — now we’re moving to the 40s and 50s — Lillian Hellman. More people know of her because she was a playwright. They know about her winning some Tony’s and then her stuff was transferred to film. The Children’s Hour was almost a Pulitzer Prize winner but it’s the story of two lesbian women who run a girl’s school and one is accused of lesbianism and the Pulitzer Prize committee actually came out and said “we’re not giving an award to a movie that discusses that” — Oh to a play, excuse me. So it was won that year by Zoe Akins for a play that has been falling out of — nobody cares about anymore — et people are still performing The Little Foxes and you can still of course watch the Bette Davis version, which is quite brilliant. So Lillian Hellman is a pretty amazing woman. She’s also famous to us because during the Blacklist there was a threat of blacklisting her and when she was asked to give names to the committee in Washington that’s what she said — which could have destroyed her career.
Dr. Rosanne Welch discusses the women in her new book “When Women Wrote Hollywood” which covers female screenwriters from the Silents through the early 1940s when women wrote over 50% of films and Frances Marion was the highest paid screenwriter (male or female) and the first to win 2 Oscars. Yet, she fails to appear in film history books, which continue to regurgitate the myth that male directors did it all – even though it’s been proven that the only profitable movies Cecil B. de Mille ever directed were all written by Jeannie Macpherson film ever won for Best Picture was written by Robert E. Sherwood (who people have heard of, mostly due to his connection to Dorothy Parker) and Joan Harrison.