J. E. Smyth is an American-born film historian and has been working in the Hollywood studio archives for twenty years. Her main interests are women’s employment and representation in Hollywood, historical gangster films, Westerns, and the history and practice of screenwriting and editing. Smyth is Professor of History at the University of Warwick, where she’s worked since 2005.
She began life with two regular forenames like most other people, but while in graduate school, she tried sending an article out to two different journals under two different names. Jennifer’s work on Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) wasn’t published by the first journal, but editor Robert Rosenstone, who ran Rethinking History at the time, liked the work of J. E. Smyth. Maybe a girl isn’t supposed to write about John Ford’s biopics of “great men”– particularly when she points out that producer Darryl F. Zanuck and writer Lamar Trotti had more to do with the film’s development. But she stuck with what worked, and it meant that she could have a laugh when critics and academic organizations address her as “Dear Sir.”
She has written for the Writers Guild Magazine, Written By, Film Quarterly, is a regular contributor to Cineaste, and is a very occasional blogger. Her interviews with Alvin Sargent, Oliver Stone, Walter Murch, Marsha Hunt, Maria Cooper, Sarah Gavron, and others have appeared in a variety of media. Her research on writer Edna Ferber’s impact on Hollywood was a key component of the award-winning PBS documentary, Children of Giant (2015).
Smyth has written five books about Hollywood and edited one, Hollywood and the American Historical Film, with contributions from Robert Sklar, Robert Rosenstone, David Eldridge, and Vera Dika. Her most recent book, published by Oxford University Press’s trade division, is a history of the many high-powered women who worked in Hollywood during the 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.