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Lois Weber in Early Hollywood

Lois Weber in Early Hollywood

Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    Lois Weber in Early Hollywood
    Book Description:

    Among early Hollywood's most renowned filmmakers, Lois Weber was considered one of the era's "three great minds" alongside D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille. Despite her accomplishments, Weber has been marginalized in relation to her contemporaries, who have long been recognized as fathers of American cinema. Drawing on a range of materials untapped by previous historians, Shelley Stamp offers the first comprehensive study of Weber's remarkable career as director, screenwriter, and actress.Lois Weber in Early Hollywoodprovides compelling evidence of the extraordinary role that women played in shaping American movie culture.Weber made films on capital punishment, contraception, poverty, and addiction, establishing cinema's power to engage topical issues for popular audiences. Her work grappled with the profound changes in women's lives that unsettled Americans at the beginning of the twentieth century, and her later films include sharp critiques of heterosexual marriage and consumer capitalism. Mentor to many women in the industry, Weber demanded a place at the table in early professional guilds, decrying the limited roles available for women on-screen and in the 1920s protesting the growing climate of hostility toward female directors. Stamp demonstrates how female filmmakers who had played a part in early Hollywood's bid for respectability were in the end written out of that industry's history.Lois Weber in Early Hollywoodis an essential addition to histories of silent cinema, early filmmaking in Los Angeles, and women's contributions to American culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-96008-4
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Introduction: Portrait of a Filmmaker
    (pp. 1-8)

    Consider this portrait of Lois Weber, early Hollywood’s preeminent female filmmaker. Sitting outdoors at her typewriter, shoulders draped in a shawl, Weber appears hard at work on one of her screenplays. The sharp focus of her attention, the intense concentration etched on her face, renders the image immediately compelling. Hands poised above the keyboard as if in midstroke, eyes fixed on the page before her, Weber seems gripped by creative energy. Quotidian details of her writing practice are evident all around her—pens and pencils overflowing from their container, leather satchel lying nearby, books and papers close at hand, ready...

  5. 1 Creating a Signature
    (pp. 9-66)

    Weber’s 1915 featureHypocrites,the film that secured her place among the foremost filmmakers of her generation, opens with a still photograph showing her elegantly dressed, posed against a chaise lounge, eyes cast sideways out of frame. A handwritten signature across the corner proclaims, “Yours Sincerely, Lois Weber.” Although viewers would have been accustomed to seeing favorite screen personalities introduced in opening vignettes, it was unusual to see a filmmaker so visibly embodied in her own production. A title card has already announced thatHypocriteswas “written and produced by Lois Weber.” By adding her photograph and the trace of...

  6. 2 “Life’s Mirror”: Progressive Films for a Progressive Era
    (pp. 67-140)

    When Weber’s headline-grabbing film on birth control and abortion,Where Are My Children?was released in 1916, just as Margaret Sanger’s crusade to legalize contraception reached its peak, journalist Ernestine Black insisted that no filmmaking concern in the country would dare tackle that subject “with any other director than Mrs. Smalley.” Only Weber, Black claimed, could approach the topic from an “intellectual standpoint” and “make a commercial success” of the enterprise.¹ At the height of her renown, Weber, still cloaked in the bourgeois propriety of “Mrs. Smalley,” took on the Progressive Era’s most vexing questions, placing popular cinema at the...

  7. 3 Women’s Labor, Creative Control, and “Independence” in a Changing Industry
    (pp. 141-215)

    Later in life Weber recalled the time she spent at Lois Weber Productions as the “most productive years” of her career, a period when she thrived “under ideal conditions” at her own studio.¹ After signing one of the most lucrative distribution deals in the business, she leased a large residential estate and in July 1917 began equipping it as a filmmaking studio. Lois Weber Productions released fourteen features over the following four years before folding in 1921. In forming her own studio, Weber took advantage of opportunities in postwar Hollywood, especially for women working on both sides of the camera....

  8. 4 “Exit Flapper, Enter Woman”; or, Weber in Jazz Age Hollywood
    (pp. 216-278)

    Most accounts of Weber’s career chronicle nothing but loss and failure following the demise of Lois Weber Productions in 1921. Rehearsed in many iterations, the story goes something like this: “Weber’s marriage broke up, she lost her company and she had a nervous break down.” Thereafter “she seemed to lose her focus and energy, and her career as a filmmaker essentially ended.” Her “life completely fell apart,” her “career went to pieces,” and she was “never able to regain her career momentum.” Some sources will admit that Weber “returned to directing briefly in the late 20s,” releasing “one or two...

  9. Conclusion: “Forgotten with a Vengeance”
    (pp. 279-286)

    By 1921, apparently, Lois Weber was simultaneously everywhere and nowhere in Hollywood, omnipotent yet imperceptible. A catalogue of astonishing accomplishment, the poem quoted above fashions Weber as an enigma, unrecognizable even after such an exhaustive accounting. “Who is she?” the verse asks, seemingly confident that few readers will have guessed. Indeed, if this poem were to be read aloud even today at any gathering of film scholars or filmmakers, few would be able to identify its subject. The litany of Weber’s achievements, piled here as they are line by line, makes her invisibility all the more poignant. Portrayed through an...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 287-336)
  11. Filmography
    (pp. 337-352)
  12. Index
    (pp. 353-374)