Hollywood’s “Madam President”:
Mary C. McCall Jr. (1904-1986) was one of the most influential women in the Hollywood studio system. The first woman to be elected president of the Screen Writers Guild, she served three terms, and navigated Hollywood screenwriters through their first contract negotiations, credit disputes, and wartime censorship. She faced down the post-war anti-communist witchhunts, sacrificing her career to defend the last vestiges of the guild’s contract and commitment to freedom of speech. Through it all, she built a network of strong, if not always like-minded Hollywood feminists who, for twenty years, fought for recognition and dominance in the American film industry. Smyth’s Maisie: The Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Most Powerful Woman is her first and long-overdue biography.
Film historians, critics, fans, and even contemporary screenwriters are often stunned when they learn that McCall was first elected in 1942, not in the new millennium. Though she would serve on the guild’s board for years, chair numerous industry committees, and write some of Hollywood’s most important women’s films, today few remember her name. She appears rarely in histories of Hollywood, and is little more than a footnote in the testosterone-driven narratives of the Hollywood blacklist and in director-focused auteur studies. But Mary C. McCall Jr. took an active part in the social and political issues facing her industry, and would wield more power than any other Hollywood woman before or since.
In 2021, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences named Smyth an Academy Film Scholar and awarded her a grant to complete McCall’s biography. See here for more information.