“There’s a French saying that an actor is less than a man and an actress is more than a woman. Men weather better. But women owned Hollywood for twenty years, and we must not be bitter.”
–Bette Davis, 1977
This book is meant to challenge and to inspire people who love Hollywood and believe in gender equality. It targets the beliefs, reinforced in too many histories and public comments, that feminism died between 1930 and 1950, that women were not important within the Hollywood studio system and had little creative control, that directors called all the shots, that the most important Hollywood writer you should know about is Dalton Trumbo, and that Katharine Hepburn is the best example of studio-era feminism. On that last point– yes, sad to say, she admitted she was not a feminist.
Within the past few years, actresses such as Reese Witherspoon and Geena Davis have taken Hollywood to task for its lack of substantial roles for women. Press coverage focused primarily on actresses’ salaries and the number of women directing features. Since October 2017, the Hollywood branch of the #MeToo movement has focused primarily on the experiences of actresses. Hollywood has been characterized as an industry in which women are marginalized and victimized, not empowered.
Yet, there was a time when Hollywood recognized and supported a collaborative working environment and when women achieved positions of power and influence in the American film industry. Sadly, the memory of these women’s achievements has faded with the old studio system. Given the renewed hopes for gender equality in Hollywood today, it is worth looking back to the Golden Age for role models.
Hollywood may have been a bastion of male privilege for the past sixty-odd years. But there was a time when things were a bit different. Let me take you back to 1942 . . .
Published by Oxford University Press in April 2018.