Women Who Made the Movies: Part 2


In my last post I strived to highlight the top women, or in some cases the only women, working behind the scenes as producers, directors, or screenwriters during Hollywood’s golden age, creating great work that has rightfully stood the test of time. However,  screenwriting was a field that allowed more women to have a fairly prominent role than other positions during those years, so to only highlight three women, as I did in my last post, with so many more making such significant contributions during that historic time frame would be a disservice.  So, with that in mind, I would now like to add the names of other notable female screenwriters of the era to the ones already mentioned, along with their more recognized films or films needing to be seen, showing what an outstanding share these women had during the classic period of Hollywood moviemaking. It’s also important to note that most of these women were Oscar nominees, with some winning Oscars for their work. The range of classic movies these talented women had a hand in writing is quite impressive and could be surprising to some. They are as follows:

(1) Frances Goodrich- It’s A Wonderful Life (James Stewart and Henry Travers pictured above), Diary of Anne Frank, Father of the Bride, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Easter Parade

(2) Bess Meredyth-The Mark of Zorro

(3) Tess Slesinger-The Good Earth (Luise Rainier pictured above), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

(4) Lenore Coffee-Sudden Fear, Tomorrow is Forever, The Great Lie (Bette Davis pictured above), Four Daughters (pictured above), Young at Heart

(5) Elizabeth Reinhardt-Laura (Gene Tierney pictured above), Cluny Brown

(6) Dorothy Parker-A Star Is Born (Fredric March and Janet Gaynor pictured above)

(7) Elizabeth Hill-The Citadel, H.M. Pulham, Esq.

(8) Lillian Hellman-Dead End, The Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour

(9) Harriet Frank Jr.-The Long Hot Summer (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward pictured above), Hud (Paul Newman pictured above)

(10) Sonya Levien (Oscar Winner)-Quo Vadis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939 version), Drums Along the Mohawk, Oklahoma!, Bhowani Junction (Ava Gardner pictured above)

(11) Bridget Boland-Gaslight (1940 British version), The Prisoner

(12) Irma Von Cube-Johnny Belinda (Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres pictured above)

(13) Sally Benson-Shadow of a Doubt (Joseph Cotton and Teresa wright pictured above), Meet Me in St. Louis (Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien pictured above)

(14) Helen Deutsch-National Velvet, Lili, I’ll Cry Tomorrow (Susan Hayward pictured above), King Solomon’s Mines

(15) Isobel Lennart-Love Me or Leave Me (James Cagney pictured above), Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Sundowners (Robert Mitchum pictured above)

(16) Claudine West (Oscar Winner)-Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Random Harvest (Ronald Colman pictured above)

(17) Frances Marion (2 time Oscar Winner)-The Big House, The Champ (Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper pictured above), Dinner at Eight

(18) Muriel Box (Oscar Winner)-The Seventh Veil

(19) Sarah Y. Mason (Oscar Winner)-Little Women (Katharine Hepburn pictured above), Magnificent Obsession (1954 version), Age of Innocence

(20) Catherine Turney-The Man I Love, A Stolen Life, No Man of Her Own (1950)

This certainly may not include all, but it does give a good idea of how much female screenwriting talent was at work during those most celebrated years of Hollywood cinema. And when you combine the above list with those women who primarily worked as part of a team, such as Phoebe Ephron with her husband Henry, Fay Kanin with her husband Michael, and Betty Comden with Adolph Green, the list and range of what they created becomes even more impressive. Without question, the contribution of women in various roles behind the scenes during that period, though relatively small in number, added greatly to the depth, breadth, and quality of work coming out of Hollywood during that time.

Then there are those in front of the camera. In my last post I mentioned that certain actresses would be highlighted in this one based on what they brought to the screen in almost every movie they were in. First, you have the actresses that were the true stars and superstars of the era: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, etc. Then you have actresses that never achieved that level of fame but attained a cult status years later due to the types of roles they played and the strong personas they brought to the screen that have continued to make them memorable. Such would be the case with actresses such as Ann Dvorak, Marie Windsor, Gloria Grahame, and Audrey Totter, among others.

Well, just a little beyond this group are the actresses that will be highlighted here, all being personal favorites. They did not reach the level of fame of their counterparts mentioned above nor did they necessarily reach the level of cult status achieved by the others. Rather, what they did was continue to put in noteworthy performances in film after film, creating a body of work in both big budget and low budget pictures that cemented their status as solid performers and enhanced  whatever they were in, making the movie just that much better due to their presence in it. There are three in particular that will be spotlighted, one an Oscar winner who is known  primarily by classic movie fans, another perhaps not as well-known who bounced between big budget and low budget productions without a true starring role, and the other, probably the least-known, who was primarily in low-budget productions but made each one memorable. They are as follows:

(1) Claire Trevor (pictured above, row second from bottom next to Katharine Hepburn) -The most well-known of the three particularly by classic movie fans, she raised whatever she was in to a higher level and never gave anything less than a solid performance. An Oscar winner for “Key Largo” where she plays the alcoholic girlfriend of mobster Edward G. Robinson, who forces her to sing for her liquor in one memorable scene, she was also known as The Queen of Film Noir which, though apt, somewhat does her a disservice as she was able to distinguish herself playing a variety of roles in different types of films. One of the best actresses to never truly hit a level of stardom like others of her era and definitely worthy of attention for her strong body of work.

Must sees: Stagecoach (1939), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Born to Kill (1947), Raw Deal (1948), Key Largo (1948), Hard, Fast, and Beautiful (1951), The High and the Mighty (1954)

(2) Jan Sterling (pictured above, left, bottom)-Rarely playing a good girl but always compelling, she was typecast for the most part in ‘blonde floozy’ roles, but she made the most of them and can be counted on for a memorable performance in whatever movie she appears in. Highly underrated, her work is well worth seeking out.

Must sees:  Johnny Belinda (1948), Caged (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Flesh and Fury (1952), Split Second (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Female on the Beach (1955), Women’s Prison (1955)

(3) Hillary Brooke (pictured above, right, bottom)- Probably the least known of the actresses mentioned, she specialized in portraying haughty, scheming women, but did so in a way that made each one extremely watchable. Though having the looks and bearing of a leading lady who gets the man, she rarely played one, which made the characters she did play even more interesting.  Her uniqueness truly makes her worthy of notice by any classic movie fan.

Must sees: Ministry of Fear (1944), Strange Impersonation (1946), Confidence Girl (1952), Invaders From Mars (1953), Heat Wave (1954)

Hopefully with these two posts a little more light has been shed on the important role women had during Hollywood’s golden age both in front of and behind the camera. Understanding their contributions can enhance appreciation for that time and help anyone see more clearly why it became what it is known as to this day: the most celebrated and creative period in moviemaking history.

About bjbradford

An avid collector of classic movies for over 20 years ranging from the silent era through the early 1960's, from the justly famous to the unjustly obscure and quite a bit in between.
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