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The Girl from God's Country

The Girl from God's Country: Nell Shipman and the Silent Cinema

Kay Armatage
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 384
  • Book Info
    The Girl from God's Country
    Book Description:

    Armatage reintroduces film studies scholars to Nell Shipman, a pioneer in both Canadian and American film, and one of proportionately numerous women from Hollywood?s silent era who wrote, directed, produced, and acted in motion pictures.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8137-8
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-31)

    Simpering Lillian Gish with her lips pursed like a little posy; helpless melodramatic victim tied to the railroad tracks waiting for the hero to rescue her from the wicked landlord; sultry foreign vamp: these may be the popular stereotypes of women in the silent cinema, but they are by no means typical of all movie women from the period. Contemporary research is rewriting such inscriptions, as we discover a repressed image-bank of energetic modern women who drove automobiles, flew in airplanes, openly expressed sexual desire, and even rescued the hapless hero.

    Nell Shipman, the Canadian-born independent filmmaker – one of...

  5. chapter one Women Directors of the Silent Era: The Scholarship
    (pp. 32-54)

    We may well ask, especially now, after thirty years of feminist film scholarship, whether a study of women filmmakers as a group in any era is needed. One recent response to this question can be found in the Gwendolyn Foster’s introduction toWomen Film Directors: An International Bio-Critical Dictionary:

    Women Film Directorsevolved from a compelling urge I have had since I studied women’s literature and film at Douglass College to reclaim the legacy of women directors. As a student of film and literature, I saw a huge disparity between feminist scholarship in literature and that in film. In the...

  6. chapter two Women with Megaphones
    (pp. 55-77)

    Of course, it wasn’t Hollywood then. The towns that are now simply areas of Los Angeles (Burbank, Pasadena, Glendale) were equally production centres, and independent regional companies were scattered over the nation. The Mandarin Film Company was located in San Francisco, Alice Guy Blaché’s Solax Company in New Jersey, and Oscar Michaux and Selig in Chicago. The film industry was moving generally to California in the early teens, called by the wide variety of geographical terrains, cheap land, and the constant sunshine.

    With her husband Ernest, Shipman moved to California in 1910. She tells the beginning of her career as...

  7. chapter three Back to God’s Country
    (pp. 78-120)

    After Shipman’s success as star of two James Oliver Curwood adaptations,God’s Country and the Woman(d. Rollin S. Sturgeon; sc. Christine Johnston;¹ Vitagraph, 1916; lost)² andBaree, Son of Kazan(d. David Smith, 1918),³ she was hired as both screenwriter and star of their next great project,Back to God’s Country(d. David M. Hartford, Canadian Photoplays Production, 1919) which she adapted from Curwood’s short story ‘Wapi the Walrus.’ Curwood offered an exclusive contract, binding Shipman to adapt and star in his vehicles, with husband Ernest Shipman as producer. Ernest raised the production financing forBack to God’s Country...

  8. chapter four Something New
    (pp. 121-160)

    AlthoughBack to God’s Countrywas reaping enormous box office returns, somehow Shipman’s share of the profits was slow to arrive. ‘My whack was a delayed take while everyone else connected with the picture was getting theirs. I had annoyed Mr. Curwood and part of the management so I got it last.’¹ Tom Trusky adds that Shipman’s ‘relationship with Bert Van Tuyle began on the Canadian-American production; it could be that Ernest Shipman knew of their relationship and saw to it that his soon-to-be-ex fourth wife was paid last.’² On the other hand, Joseph Walker attests that both Shipman and...

  9. chapter five The Girl from God’s Country
    (pp. 161-211)

    Eking out a living by taking on industrial projects, Nell Shipman and Bert Van Tuyle were determined to mount another feature that would capitalize on Shipman’s promotional sobriquet, ‘the girl from God’s country.’ Nell Shipman Productions raised the financing forThe Girl from God’s Country(1921) in Spokane, Washington. Although the company was trading on the star’s earlier success, raising funds was far from easy. In this period of renegade entrepreneurship, fraud was an ever-present danger for the investor in films. Already Spokane financiers had been defrauded twice by stock-selling movie ventures that left town without producing a film.¹ Nell...

  10. chapter six The Grub-Stake
    (pp. 212-260)

    Close to broke after the fiasco ofThe Girl from God’s Country, Nell Shipman and Bert Van Tuyle had to sell the house in Highland Park, California, as well as the new car that they had bought in the first flush of the financing. The furniture, baby grand piano, and heirlooms were put in storage while the couple set about to raise money for another feature,The Grub-Stake(1923; titledThe Romance of Lost Valleyin Great Britain, and re-released asThe Golden Yukonin the United States, 1927). As had been her practice since the beginning of their partnership,...

  11. chapter seven Bits and Pieces
    (pp. 261-302)

    We must take a little dip back in time for the beginning of this chapter, to pick up a short film that Nell Shipman made almost immediately afterBack to God’s Countryand beforeSomething New. After a brief consideration ofA Bear, a Boy, and a Dog(1920), we will return to the Idaho years to consider the last films that she made there. Situating Shipman’s films within a brief history of wildlife films, this chapter concerns itself with the use of animals in Shipman’s work. Issues of wilderness consciousness, anthropomorphism, women’s involvement with animal care movements, and new...

  12. chapter eight Tissue-Paper Tower
    (pp. 303-342)

    As recounted by Shipman in the memoir and inAbandoned Trails, the scene of the last Christmas at Lionhead Lodge in 1924 is worthy of any melodramatic scenario. It features son Barry, home for the holidays from school in Spokane, Washington, Bert Van Tuyle, Shipman wearing evening clothes, high heels, and perfume, and a twenty-two-year-old actor, Ken Sidney – Sid – from New York who had come to Lionhead Lodge for a career in the movies. As the radio plays music and the candles gutter, Shipman and the young man begin to dance and then to flirt. Van Tuyle, drunk...

  13. chapter nine Naked on the Palisades
    (pp. 343-352)

    Shipman’s efforts to make it back into the movie industry never ended. Shipman and Serrao ceaselessly planned and attempted to flog projects, trying to get back into the industry. Barry continued to send them money, and Shipman and Serrao continued to move. There were times when they lived in the dark because the electricity bills remained unpaid, pawned borrowed jewellery (‘Two dollars worth!’) so they could eat, or rode ‘the subway [at] nights because there was no sleeping place.’¹ But the projects for movies, television, radio, and theatre kept being written and the deals kept falling through.

    In all these...

  14. appendix a. Biographical Timeline
    (pp. 353-354)
  15. appendix b. Known Nell Shipman Filmography
    (pp. 355-358)
  16. Notes
    (pp. 359-396)
  17. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 397-398)
  18. Index
    (pp. 399-428)