It’s awards season, my favorite time of year. I love to watch the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Oscars. Ooh, ooh, ooh, don’t you just love all the gowns and glitter?
With the 92nd Academy Awards approaching, it’s a perfect time to showcase a new book, Hollywood Her Story: An Illustrated History of Women and the Movies.
The authors of Hollywood Her Story
Being a fan of film, I was honored to have the opportunity to interview the female baby boomer authors of this visually-stunning coffee table book, Jill S. Tietjen, P.E. and Barbara Bridges.
Plus I’m also excited to announce that one lucky reader will be winning a giveaway of the book, so be sure to read to the end and enter!
Jill is an author, speaker, and electrical engineer, and has conducted research into historical women around the world for the past 30 years. She is the co-author of Her Story: A Timeline of Women Who Changed America. Barbara has spent much of her life as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. In 2006, she founded Women+Film, a program in partnership with the Denver Film Society. Note: For those of you living in Denver, the 6-day film festival returns April 14-19, 2020 for its 10th year.
A primer on women and the movies
Hollywood Her Story, illustrates and brings to life the many women who contributed to the Hollywood film industry over the years. Beginning in 1896 with pioneering female director, Alice Guy-Blaché, the authors take readers through a photo-treasury of women and film with stories and images featuring more than 1200 women, from well-known legends to hundreds of unknown women in every facet of movie-making.
How was Hollywood Her Story conceived?
Jill and Barbara, have been friends and breakfast buddies for many years. In 2016, Jill mentioned that she was thinking about making Her Story into a series and that the next books might be on women from African countries. Barbara said, “How about women in the movies?” The two agreed. The rest as they say, is history, or in their case, Hollywood Her Story: An Illustrated History of Women and the Movies.
Without further adieu, let’s roll out the red carpet and hear from Jill and Barbara. I hope you enjoy their interview as much as I did. And don’t forget to enter the giveaway to get a chance to win a copy! See below. Note: All images are from Hollywood Her Story except the portrait of the authors.
Why did you write this book — what is its importance now?
“Throughout this book we celebrate the achievements of women in the movie business. In January of 2018 the Time’s Up Movement was founded to address inequity in opportunities, benefits and pay in the entertainment industry. Systemic harassment that had previously gone unacknowledged, and had been tolerated for too long, came to the public’s attention and began to be addressed as well.
People are more aware of the struggles of women in so many areas, including the movie business. They are more aware that although a number of women are known movie names, so many have not received the recognition that they deserve. This book strives to correct that imbalance and shine light on the women who have helped to create the movies that we know and love.”
What is the overarching story?
“The overarching story is that women helped found the movie industry. Women were the early filmmakers, owned studios, developed many of the filmmaking techniques that are still in use today. Women thrived in the industry in the silent film era. In the late 1920s, when movies started making money, men took over and women were pushed out of many areas. Unions were formed and women were not allowed to join.Women are still working to reclaim all the roles that they had at the beginning of the movies.”
What were your biggest surprises while writing the book?
“Along with the overarching story, that women played such an important part in the creation of the movie business, it was an interesting journey to explore the list of Oscar-winners and nominees. When looking at the list of only women who received these recognitions, it shows the categories in which women could excel in Hollywood and where they had to prove themselves the most.
For example, only one woman has been nominated for Best Cinematographer, Rachel Morrison for Mudbound, and that was in 2018! However, women were welcomed in the Best Costume Design category where Edith Head won eight Oscars with another 27 nominations, the most Oscar nominations of any woman in Oscar history. By looking at the list of women receiving Oscars and nominations by year, we see that more women continue to be recognized over time. This is the 92nd year of the Academy Awards and a record 62 nominations went to women.”
Tell us about some of the first female filmmakers.
“The first female filmmaker was Alice Guy-Blaché, a Frenchwoman. She made her first movie in 1896. It is titled The Cabbage Fairy and is less than a minute long. It tells us where babies come from – the cabbage patch. Alice developed narrative filmmaking, experimented with sound and employed the first special effects.
In 1910, she became the first woman to run her own studio – Solax – in the hub of filmmaking at the time, Fort Lee, New Jersey. Alice made 1,000 films over her career and was also a producer, writer and cinematographer. Alice said “There is nothing connected with the staging of a motion picture that a woman cannot do as easily as a man and there is no reason she cannot completely master every technicality of the art.” Film history has tried to erase Alice but her accomplishments are finally being identified and celebrated.
Lois Weber was the first American female director and the most important female director of silent films. Lois had her own production company and was the first woman to direct a full-length feature film in the U.S. In 1916, she was the highest paid director, male or female, in the world. She was the first (and only) woman invited to become a member of the Motion Picture Directors Association (today the Directors Guild of America). She also wrote, acted, and produced.
There were so many interesting women in the silent film era – you’ll have to get the book to see them all. Here are some samples:
One of the highly versatile women of the silent film era was Gene Gauntier who wrote the screenplay for the 1907 version of Ben Hur in two days. Not only was she a writer, she was also an actress, stuntwoman, producer and director.
Gauntier is credited with inventing the genre of serials. Not only would she write them she would act what she wrote. She said: “Only youth and a strong constitution could have stood up under it. I was playing in two pictures a week, working in almost every scene, and writing two or three scenarios a week. . . Horseback riding for hours each day, water scenes in which I . . . floated on spar in shark-infested waters . . . I was terrified at each daring thing I had to do but for some inexplicable reason I continued to write them.
Mary Pickford appeared in 51 films in 1909 (of course, they were much shorter then). Pickford was the first movie star to form her own film company, and later, she helped found United Artists. Controlling the creative output of all of her movies after 1919, she was the first actor, male or female, to become a millionaire. She won a Best Actress Academy Award in 1930 for Coquette. Her 1976 Honorary Academy Award was “In recognition of her unique contributions to the film industry and the development of film as an artistic medium.”
The “First Lady of the Silent Screen Era” and the “First Lady of American Cinema,” Lillian Gish appeared in her first film in 1912. Over a career that would last for 75 years, she was nominated for an Oscar and received an Honorary Oscar in 1975 for superlative artistry and distinguished contribution to the motion picture industry.”
What are some interesting stories about particular women?
“There are so many interesting stories.
Mae West had fabulous quotes including “It is better to be looked over than overlooked. I believe in censorship – I made a fortune out of it.” “I used to be Snow White but I drifted.”
Mae Questel provided the voices for Betty Boop and Olive Oyl starting in 1931. Between 1931 and 1939, she voiced 150 animated shorts for Betty Boop.
Voice actress June Foray had more than 300 credits during her 80-year long career. She voiced Lucifer in the 1950 movie Cinderella and Rocky, the Flying Squirrel. She was the force behind the Annie Awards – given to animators – as well as the Best Animated Feature Oscar.”
Who are your favorites in the book?
Jill: “My favorite actress is probably Julie Andrews. When I was a teenager, The Sound of Music came out and I was so impressed with Maria and her portrayal. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in the Star Wars saga is also a favorite – I love science fiction and I am very fond of strong female characters.”
Barbara: “My favorite quote is by Nora Ephron about Meryl Streep who has won more acting Oscars than any other woman. “I highly recommend having Meryl Streep play you…She plays all of us better than we play ourselves. Although it’s a little depressing knowing that if you want to audition to play yourself you would lose out to her. Some days, when I’m having a bad day, I call up Meryl and she’ll come and she’ll step in for me. She’s so good, people don’t really notice. I call her at the end of the day and find out how I did, and inevitably it’s one of the best days I’ve ever had.”
Women still face challenges in getting recognition as directors. How do you think this might change in the future?
“Yes, women, and especially women of color, still face challenges, but we are at least at a point in history where the issues are being recognized and talked about – they aren’t being swept under the rug anymore. With the Time’s Up movement and focus on the issues, we are hopeful that women will have more opportunities. And, women are making opportunities for themselves – forming production companies and taking on many other roles in addition to acting in order to make movies.”
What were your favorite films this past year that you would recommend to women post 50?
“Little Women and The Farewell were two of our favorites. (Ooh, ooh, ooh, Little Women was my favorite this year too!)
Little Women is such a classic and is nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Although Greta Gerwig did not get a Best Director nomination, she did receive a nomination for Writing, Adapted Screenplay. Interestingly, 86 years ago, Sarah Y. Mason received an Oscar for her screenplay adaptation of Little Women.
The Farewell, on the other hand, is a new film, written and directed by Lulu Wang starring Awkwafina. Although this film has received various awards and nominations, including a Golden Globe for Best Actress – Musical or Comedy for Awkwafina, the Academy passed on nominations for this film.”
What about older films that feature female leads?
Barbara: “Annie Hall, Julie & Julia”
Jill: “The Sound of Music, Driving Miss Daisy, The Turning Point, Steel Magnolias”
How can people find out more about the book?
For more information, visit the website, http://hollywoodherstory.com.
Enter the giveaway to win a copy of Hollywood Her Story
Okay readers and fellow film fanatics, if you would like to enter the giveaway to win a copy of Hollywood Her Story, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below or leave a comment about your favorite female actor, favorite movie that features a female lead, or favorite female lead from this year’s collection of Oscar nominated movies. Some of my older favorites are Roman Holiday, Annie Hall, Working Girl, Pretty Woman.
Thanks again to Jill and Barbara for this fun and informative interview and for writing such an important book.
Scarlett Johansson is one of my favorite current actresses. I heard her speak at the first Women’s March and admire her for speaking out and challenging the status quo – not just then, but on a continuing basis.
Kim, I like Scarlett Johansson too. She was really good in Marriage Story. Unfortunately, she didn’t win either best actress or best supporting actress.
My favorite female actor is Angelina Jolie.
Cynthia, I like Angelina too. I haven’t seen her in anything lately.
I would say Laura Dern.
Cassandra, you pick a winner!
Reader J said: “This book really resonated with me. I am looking forward to reading it. Having taken numerous film courses at the University of Arizona as well as being the researcher for a book on historic film in Tucson, this sounds like a wonderful read. I tend to enjoy the classic actress like Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn — both of whom had amazing costumes/fashions in their movies.”
I wonder if Barb will ever be brave enough to tell her own true, tragic and cruel story?
Guess we’ll never know.