Hollywood – Not always a boy’s club. but studios never relished risk-taking.
Below: Harvey Weinstein and Jennifer Lawrence at the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in 2014. (JONATHAN ALCORN/REUTERS)
If Hollywood made a movie about Hollywood, this year would be the crisis point when the bruised hero wonders if she can really save the day. Summer 2017’s box office was the worst in more than 10 years, and the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault accusations are just the latest embarrassment as the industry comes to terms with its treatment of women. But the reasons that Hollywood reached this nadir are shrouded in errors and myths.
MYTH NO. 1
Hollywood has always been a boys’ club.
Last year, a University of Southern California study of diversity in entertainment concluded that “the film industry still functions as a straight, White, boy’s club.” Women directed just four of last year’s top 100 hits — though the grim number hasn’t discouraged aspiring female filmmakers, who constitute half of the students at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts.
A century ago, ambitious women had better reasons to be optimistic about a moviemaking career. In 1916, the highest-paid director in Hollywood was a woman: The passionately political Lois Weber shot 18 films that year, including the pro-birth-control tearjerker “Where Are My Children?” During the silent era, women wrote the majority of films. (Two-time Oscar winner Frances Marion penned a staggering 325.) Editing department jobs were “held almost entirely by women,” according to a 1926 article in the Los Angeles Times. And the first wave of female stars invested in their success by founding production companies, often helming their own films without credit. When Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin drew up the papers in 1919 to form United Artists, Chaplin was awed that the 26-year-old actress and mogul “understood all the articles of incorporation, the legal discrepancy on Page 7, Paragraph A, Article 27, and coolly referred to the overlap and contradiction in Paragraph D, Article 24.” As the agent and screenwriter Beatrice deMille, mother of Cecil B. deMille, put it in 1912, “This is the woman’s age.”
It didn’t last. As movies transitioned to sound, the major studios coalesced into a male-dominated structure that slashed female jobs in every branch. “Women entering the industry now find it practically closed,” Weber said in 1928 — words that have echoed for nine decades.
The studio system was terrible for actors.
An actor’s first Hollywood goal used to be to score a studio contract — and their second was to get out of it. Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” rehashed the tension of Bette Davis battling Jack Warner, who never forgave her for condemning his “contract slave system.” Studio bosses were paternalistic and punitive. Louis B. Mayer propelled teenage Judy Garland toward an addiction to cigarettes and diet pills. Rita Hayworth called Columbia’s Harry Cohn “a monster.” Her ex-husband Orson Welles agreed, with the caveat that he liked Cohn anyway, “in spite of the fact that he bugged my office.” As Kim Novak told her biographer: “You are no longer a person. You are a property.”