Before the Emmys, here's a primer on Hollywood women trailblazers
Before our Cate Blanchette’s and Emma Watson’s, before women were supported to call out sexism through UN speeches and red carpet outrage, Hollywood was left in the hands of quieter feminists who changed the industry via their lifestyle and career choices. Here’s a short list of women to applaud for paving the way in the film industry.
The woman who brought us “Dance, Girl, Dance” featuring Maureen O’Hare and Lucille Ball. Arzner was one of the few female directors who began her career during the silent cinema age and ended up becoming the only female director during the Golden Age of cinema (the beginning of sound cinema). Arzner was also the first woman to join the Directors Guild of America. Arzner’s contribution to film include being a women in the industry (of course!), jump starting the creation of the first boom mike (thanks to Clara Bow and “Wild Party”), and charging through the male dominated field by staying true to her career and personal ambition.
Garbo, a Swedish actress whose career sustained and flourished during the switch from silent to sound cinema, is one of the most iconic, established, and appreciated actresses when it comes to film history. Despite this, her feminist contribution extends itself outside of the industry and emerges from her personal life. Living in the time of tradition, Garbo broke out of female confinements by declaring that marriage and children were simply not for her because she wanted to be the center of her own universe. Hello! Amazing! Beyond that, Garbo was semi-open about her sexuality, having romantic relationships with both men and women.
One of the most well known women in the entertainment business thanks to the widely popular and successful television shows, “I Love Lucy,” Ball broke barriers through her endless comedic energy as well as her televised pregnancy. When Ball was pregnant with her second child on the show, it became apparent that the birth would occur during its running. Not right in the middle of the live studio, of course, but in the middle of the season. Controversy emerged when the studio felt it was inappropriate to be openly pregnant on live television. It was completely okay to be pregnant, but god forbid someone point out the bulging belly or pregnancy glow! After debates, research, and support from religious sects, the studio finally allowed Ball to be openly pregnant on the TV show, however, the characters had to refrain from saying pregnant and instead say expecting.
Hat’s off to this woman’s contribution to cinematic screenwriting. Known as the wife of Alfred Hitchcock but a real talent in her own right, Reville contributed to the Master of Suspense’s career by adapting and writing every screenplay ever written for one of Hitchcock’s films. Although many would argue Reville was not awarded enough for her contributions, she proved that women’s interests go beyond the house and the genres of romance and drama. Reville’s mind allowed for the murderous, mysterious, and suspenseful qualities of Hitchcock’s films to jump out of the screen and gain recognition around the world.
Pickford can be deemed the most influential woman in early cinema for her contributions to the industry. Starting film in its silent era, Pickford was the co-founder of the United Artists film studio alongside Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, a studio that supported independent filmmakers and contract studios. Pickford wasn’t solely known for her on screen stardom (acting in over 250 films), she also was a profound screenwriter and film producer. Pickford dominated early cinema both in front of and behind the camera.
Known for her pant suits and fierce facial features, Katharine Hepburn refused to let the traditional confinements of what it meant to be a woman dictate the lifestyle she chose to lead. Her private life remained that way, private. Hepburn broke barriers by refusing to have children and instead choosing to make herself and film her full time career. Hepburn’s attitude was confident and fearless, two qualities that often followed up with critique from her peers and co-workers. Hepburn showed women it was okay to be confident and career oriented and that it could be met with support and success.
[Image via CBS]