Research Update: History of Women Screenwriters

Mary McCall was the first female president of the Writers Guild of America.

Ida Lupino publicity.jpg

Ida Lupino

Now in the fourth month of my doctoral research journey, I’ve been taking an in-depth look at the history of women in screenwriting. It’s interesting to note that, despite my passion for this subject, I had barely ever scraped the surface of the history of the contribution of female filmmakers to the industry as a whole. While I had heard of and read about the big names like Mary Pickford, Frances Marion and Ida Lupino, I had never heard of Mary McCall, Jr., who was, apparently, quite the saleswoman of her own work. These women were pioneers (to use a cliche), and not only wrote, acted, directed their own films, but built their own companies. During the first World War, as with all industries, filmmaking was rather a woman’s game. Of course, it wasn’t entirely considered big money then, but, with the return of the menfolk, there was a sudden shift, and the studio system came into play. This, among many other factors (the developing income stream from cinema attendance, the debut of the talkie etc), led to a new age in movie-making, which, in turn, saw the golden age of the woman screenwriter (or ‘scenarist’) come to a close, and female auteurs relegated to small offices where they were paid to fix ‘broken’ scripts and inject a little female energy into male-dominated stories.

Mary Pickford

More to come on this at a later date, and a big thank you to the two fantastic and invaluable books that have dominated my time over the last couple of months; Lizzie Francke’s Script Girls, and Marsha McCreadie’s Women Who Write the Movies.



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