J. E. Smyth is an American-born film historian and has been working in the Hollywood studio archives for over twenty years. Her main interests are 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. She hasn’t seen as much of the archives since 2005, when she moved to England and a job in a university. In 2016, she became Professor of History.
Smyth has written for the Writers Guild Magazine, Written By, and is a contributing writer at Cineaste. Her interviews with Alvin Sargent, Oliver Stone, Walter Murch, Marsha Hunt, Maria Cooper, Sarah Gavron, Amy Pascal, 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, among others. Her most recent monograph is Nobody’s Girl Friday. Published by Oxford University Press’s trade division, it’s 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. One of the most prominent of these women was the President of the Writers’ Guild, Mary C. McCall Jr. (seen above).
This past year, Smyth has worked with Random House on a new edition of Jane Allen’s Hollywood novel, I Lost My Girlish Laughter. Yes, that’s the one written by Silvia Schulman, David O. Selznick’s former secretary…It will be released in 2019, to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Gone with the Wind, which Schulman helped persuade him to produce before quitting and writing her novel. Never underestimate a secretary.