J. E. Smyth is an American film historian and critic. She was born in New England and was educated at Wellesley College and Yale University. She has been working in the Hollywood studio archives for over twenty years, focusing on women’s employment and representation in Hollywood, historical gangster films, Westerns, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., and the history and practice of screenwriting and editing.
Smyth is a contributing writer at Cineaste. Her research on writer Edna Ferber’s impact on Hollywood was a key component of the award-winning PBS documentary, Children of Giant (2015), directed by Hector Galan and executive produced by Carolyn Pfeiffer. In 2021, she was named an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences film scholar.
Smyth has written or edited eight books about Hollywood, including a new edition of Jane Allen/Silvia Schulman’s Hollywood novel, I Lost My Girlish Laughter (Random House, 2019). Her most recent monograph is Nobody’s Girl Friday (Oxford University Press, 2018), a history of the many high-powered women who worked in the Hollywood studio system (1924-1954). While all of Smyth’s work on Hollywood can be classed as “revisionist” (meaning: she gives studio-era filmmakers credit for the brains they had), Nobody’s Girl Friday reveals a film industry that supported the careers of many women in a range of creative and administrative work, from executives and producers to writers, editors, designers, actors, agents, critics, and directors.
Arguably the most prominent of these women was the President of the Screen Writers Guild, Mary C. McCall Jr. Smyth is currently writing McCall’s biography, Maisie: The Rise and Fall of Golden Age Hollywood’s Most Powerful Woman.