Betty Boop Through the Years

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Credit: The Cut

Cartoon character Betty Boop took the world by storm upon her debut in 1931. Her unique voice, signature “Boop-Oop-a-Doop” catchphrase and Jazz-age flapper dancer look made her standout from her Disney and Looney Tunes animation contemporaries. She was aimed at an adult audience and was considered one of the first Hollywood sex symbols. Like many other areas of American cinema at the time, when the Production Code was implemented in 1934, Boop saw drastic changes in representation and personality. She went from a carefree, sexually confident independent woman to a conservative fully dressed introvert.

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Mae Questel and Max Fleischer Credit: Tech Times

Boop was the brainchild of Max Fleischer. He was born on July 18, 1883, and was also known for bringing the Popeye the Sailor Man comic strip to the silver screen. After completing a commercial art degree, Fleischer worked in various forms in the entertainment industry. He started Inkwell Studios with his brother, Dave, in 1921. Besides Betty Boop and Popeye, Inkwell Studios are also famous for creating the first Superman cartoons. Dave directed all one hundred plus Betty Boop shorts.

Changing the name in 1929, Fleischer Studios pioneered sound in animation. The first series was Song Car-Tunes in 1924. It beat Disney’s Steamboat Willie – Mickey Mouse’s debut – by almost four years. Each Song Car-Tunes entry was approximately three minutes long and also started the “follow the bouncing ball” trend. Audiences could now singalong by following a ball on the screen as it moved to music and subtitles. Talkartoons was another series of short animation films introduced in 1929. This is where Boop first appeared.

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Boop as a French Poodle Credit: Fleischer Studios

Betty Boop’s first incarnation was an anthropomorphic French poodle. Within a year of her first short, Dizzy Dishes, Boop’s appearance changed to a woman. Her human form was modelled after Clara Bow, Helen Kane and “Baby” Etsher Jones. Bow was known for her supporting roles in It and Wings. Both films came out in 1927, with Wings winning Best Picture at the first Academy Awards. Kane and Jones were both 1920s Jazz singers. Kane was known as “The Boop Boop a Doop Girl”, eerily similar to the character’s famous catchphrase “Boop-Oop-a-Doop”.

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Mae Questel Credit: Biography.com

A handful of women have voiced Boop, but Mae Questel is by far the most recognised. Born in 1908, her original plan was to become a teacher. Questel got the role after participating in a Helen Kane impersonation contest. She won and received $100 (no figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation). The contest ran yearly from 1928 to 1938 and women aged between six and eighteen could enter. Questel was also famous for voicing Olive Oil in the Popeye cartoons.

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Helen Kane Credit: Tralfaz

In 1932, Kane sued Fleischer and his studio for using her likeness as Betty Boop without permission. She demanded $250,000 in compensation and the lawsuit dragged on for a couple of years. Kane said to Fleischer she would drop the case if he fired the other women and made her the sole voice of Boop. He only wanted Questel and the case continued. The lawsuit ended when footage of “Baby” Etsher Jones performing surfaced that proved that she was the real caricature and inspiration for Boop. Jones was unable to be located to testify. It was later believed she had died the year before.

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“Baby” Etsher Jones Credit: Betty Boop Wiki

At the height of her popularity, Boop was shown in cinemas all over the world. She was especially well received in Japan. So much so that Boop sings in Japanese in A Language All My Own (1935). Fleischer wanted to make sure the cartoon was as authentic as possible and used Japanese exchange students as a test audience.

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Boop in A Language All My Own (1935) Credit: Alchetron

A stricter Motion Picture Production Code was introduced in 1934. It was a way of censoring film content before distribution. It was regulated within the industry itself by the Legion of Decency, a group that had strong ties to the Catholic Church. The doctrine consisted of a list that was thought to be offensive to a film going audience. Some areas that were boycotted included homosexuality, interracial lovers, drug and alcohol use, abortion and nudity. Couples were no longer allowed to be seen in the same bed together on screen. Boop was caught in the crossfire.

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Boop after the Production Code Credit: Cartoons of 1935

Her appearance changed drastically and she started wearing long dresses and cardigans. Her hoop earrings and bracelets disappeared. She slowly lost her signature curls and got a boyfriend, Freddie. Her personality changed and she became quieter and less outspoken. Over time, the stories began to focus more on Boop’s supporting cast members – Pudgy the dog, Koko the Clown and the eccentric Grampy – and less on her. The audience began to lose interest and production of new Boop cartoons came to an end in 1939. Questel retired from voice acting to start a family around the same time. Fleischer Studios had financial issues and was defunct by 1942. Boop faded into obscurity.

Betty Boop cartoons were among the first to enter television syndication in the 1970s. She found a new audience and resurgence here. Boop made a cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). She appeared in her original black and white form and was, again, voiced by Mae Questel. Besides some failed TV specials over the last thirty years, no new Betty Boop comeback has occurred. Questel passed away in 1998. Boop’s creator, Max Fleischer, died in 1972. These days Boop exists only in merchandise and for her nostalgia factor.

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Boop in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) Credit: The Billford

Author’s Note: Betty Boop Through the Years is dedicated to my mum, Sherryn Mary Kernaghan, an original Boop revival fan who left this world too soon. Your love and inspiration still guide me, and I still hear your voice in my head telling me off whenever I do something stupid.

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on July 12th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

100 Little Known Facts About Betty Boop (http://bettyboop.wikia.com/wiki/100_Little_Known_Facts_About_Betty_Boop)

Betty Boop and the Production Code of 1934 (http://www.oocities.org/d-patanella/boop.html)

Betty Boop – Under The Production Code (http://www.liquisearch.com/betty_boop/under_the_production_code)

Betty Boop Wiki (http://bettyboop.wikia.com/wiki/Betty_Boop)

Clara Bow Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/clara-bow-9221851)

Helen Kane (http://bettyboop.wikia.com/wiki/Helen_Kane)

Mae Questel: The Voice Behind Betty Boop (https://www.biography.com/news/voice-of-betty-boop-mae-questel)

Max Fleischer Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/max-fleischer-082515)

The Forgotten Black Woman Behind Betty Boop (https://www.thecut.com/2017/03/the-forgotten-black-woman-behind-betty-boop.html)

A Look at Best Director Films by Women

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Credit: Pinterest

Being nominated for Best Director is one of the most prestigious honours the Academy Awards has to offer. It’s the ultimate form of respect for a director’s hard work and achievements. Among the chosen are some of the greatest directors of all time, but only four women have been nominated since the Academy’s introduction in 1929. They are Lina Wertmüller, Jane Campion, Sofia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow. Out of this list, only Bigelow has won the award for The Hurt Locker in 2009.

Lina Wertmüller

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Credit: The Muse

An Italian director born on August 14 1928, Wertmüller was nominated for Seven Beauties in 1976.

The film follows the story of Pasqualino Frauso (Giancarlo Giannini) as he goes AWOL from the Italian army, during World War II, only to be captured by Germans and thrown into a prison camp.

The movie was the tenth written and directed by Wertmüller, but is her most well-known. Her films are noted for their arthouse-style and focus on political and social issues. Some of her other celebrated works include The Seduction of Mini (1972) and Swept Away (1974). Wertmüller had a number of positions in the Italian film industry – puppeteer, actress and stage manager – before she made her directing debut, The Lizards, in 1962. She learnt of her Oscar nomination while on the set of her first English-speaking film, A Night in the Rain. Unfortunately, Wertmüller’s career petered out after her Seven Beauties fame.

It was also the first foreign film nominated for consecutive Academy Awards. It lost Best Director to Rocky.

It would be another seventeen years before a woman was nominated for Best Director.

Jane Campion

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Credit: Festival Cannes

New Zealand-born director, Jane Campion, began to make an impact early on in her career. She was a household name in her native country when The Piano started to gain international recognition.

The Piano is a drama, set in the mid-nineteenth century, about a mute piano player, Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter), and her daughter Flora, played by Anna Paquin.

Campion was born in Wellington, New Zealand, on the 30th of April, 1954, to artistic parents. She showed a creative side from a young age, but went to university to study anthropology. Campion quickly changed to a film-based degree.

She has directed The Portrait of a Lady (1996) and Bright Star (2009), among others. Campion’s films are famous for their strong female ensemble casts and feminist undertones.

Though Campion didn’t win Best Director, she did receive the award for Best Original Screenplay. Steven Spielberg won with Schindler’s List. However, The Piano did win the Golden Palm at the 1993 Cannes Film Festival, the highest prize awarded at the French festival. Campion is the only female filmmaker in history, so far, to do this.

Sofia Coppola

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Credit: Film Society Lincoln Center

Born on May 14th, 1971, Sofia Coppola is the daughter of legendary Hollywood director Frances Ford Coppola, who is best known for The Godfather trilogy.

Being her father’s daughter, film has always been in Coppola’s life. She played Mary Corleone in The Godfather: Part III (1990) and Saché in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999). Critics labelled her Godfather performance as wooden, but Coppola knew her future lay on the other side of the camera. She has directed movies such as The Virgin Suicides (1999), Marie Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010) and The Bling Ring (2013).

In 2003, Coppola’s work on Lost in Translation was nominated for Best Director. Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, it follows the adventures of Bob Harris and Charlotte – a washed up movie star and a photographer’s neglected wife – as the two form an unlikely friendship in Tokyo, Japan.

Coppola lost to Peter Jackson, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, but left the Academy Awards with Best Original Screenplay.

Coppola received the Best Director award, for her current film, The Beguiled, at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.

Kathryn Bigelow

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Credit: Pinterest

Kathryn Bigelow is synonymous with action films. Her credits include Blue Steel (1989), Point Break (1991), Strange Days (1995) and K-19: The Widow Maker (2002).

Bigelow was born on November 27, 1951, in San Carlos, California. She was inspired by her father’s cartoon drawings as a child and went to university with the intention of studying painting. She graduated from Columbia University in 1979 with a Master’s Degree in film theory and criticism.

The Hurt Locker stars Jeremy Renner, as a bomb squad Sargent in the American military, and won six Academy Awards in 2009. The film won Best Picture and Bigelow became the only woman to win the Best Director award. She dedicated it to American soldiers fighting overseas.

Upon winning the award, her ex-husband, James Cameron (director of two Terminator films, Aliens and Titanic), was one of the first to congratulate her. He too was in the running for Best Director with Avatar.

Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow’s follow up film, was nominated for five awards at the 2013 Academy Awards. It only won Best Sound Editing.

No other women have been nominated for Best Director since Bigelow’s win. Hollywood statistics have shown that opportunities for women to direct films has increased since 1980, but it is still a male dominated industry. Out of a study of the 250 highest-grossing films of 2016, only 7% were directed by women. That’s 2% down from the previous year. Big budget films can be directed by women, and perform beyond expectations, as Patty Jenkins proved with Wonder Woman. Other notable American female directors include: Penny Marshall (Big), Penelope Spheeris (Wayne’s World), Mimi Leder (Deep Impact) and Vicky Jenson (Shrek).

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Credit: The New York Times

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on June 16th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

A Conversation with Lina Wertmüller On Her Legacy & Being the First Woman Nominated for a Best Director Oscar (http://themuse.jezebel.com/a-conversation-with-lina-wertmuller-on-her-legacy-bei-1794383646)

Biography: Jane Campion – Film Director (http://www.theheroinecollective.com/jane-campion/)

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Lina Wertmüller (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lina-Wertmuller)

Has a Woman Ever Won an Oscar for Best Director? (https://www.thoughtco.com/best-director-oscar-for-a-woman-4109468)

Jane Campion Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/jane-campion-9236601)

Jane Campion Director (https://www.nzonscreen.com/person/jane-campion/biography)

Kathryn Bigelow Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/kathryn-bigelow-546542)

Kathryn Bigelow makes history as first woman to win best director Oscar (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2010/mar/08/kathryn-bigelow-oscars-best-director)

Oscars: No Women Nominated for Best Director — Again (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/oscars-no-women-nominated-best-director-again-967284)

Ranked: The Best Women Film Directors (and Their Films) (http://www.metacritic.com/feature/best-women-film-directors-and-movies)

Sofia Coppola Biography.com (https://www.biography.com/people/sofia-coppola-10434307)

Sofia Coppola emerges from her father’s shadow with Cannes triumph for The Beguiled (http://theconversation.com/sofia-coppola-emerges-from-her-fathers-shadow-with-cannes-triumph-for-the-beguiled-78696)

Sofia Coppola is the second woman to win best director at Cannes in 71 years (https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/29/15708830/sofia-coppola-best-director-cannes-film-festival-the-beguiled)

The Hawksian Woman Archetype

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Credit: Envisioning the American Dream

In film theory, the Hawksian woman archetype describes the female lead characters in movies directed by Howard Hawks. An archetype is a character model, or pattern, that is common in storytelling. Hawks made a number of films during Hollywood’s Golden Age that featured female characters with very similar traits. The Hawksian woman archetype stepped outside the Hollywood norm – his female characters were not reduced to being damsels in distress or sexualised objects – and instead had spunk, charisma, wit, intelligence and were cool under pressure. They knew exactly what they wanted and were not afraid to go after it, but, most importantly, had the respect of their male counterparts and were considered “one of the gang” among them.

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Credit: Typology Central

Film critic Naomi Wise (1945-2011) first coined the term Hawksian woman in 1971. Howard Hawks, himself, was born on May 30th, 1896. He made his way to Hollywood in the 1920s where he landed a position at the Mary Pickford company. Hawks moved around, doing odd jobs in the industry, while building a reputation. His directorial debut was The Road to Glory in 1926. He had a consistent career with movies in the comedy, drama, film noir and western genres, many of which are now considered masterpieces of American cinema, such as A Girl in Every Port (1928), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), Red River (1948), The Thing from Another World (1951), Gentleman Prefer Blondes (1953) and Rio Bravo (1959). He also directed the original Scarface in 1932. It was considered the most violent film made up until that point and was at the centre of a censorship battle. It led to tougher rating restrictions on cinema under the Motion Picture Production Code. Hawks did not consider himself a feminist, but explained in interviews that, in film and life, lively women were more interesting.

Hawksian women were known for their strong and tough-talking personalities, with semi-masculine qualities. Especially for love interests, men were slightly feminised too. Wise points out that a typical Howard Hawks film would have a male character suffering from an emotional dilemma and it would be the woman who helps resolve it. Humphrey Bogart’s character, Harry Morgan, in To Have and Have Not (1944), notes “a man alone ain’t got no chance”. With Morgan in an emotional upheaval, it was Marie (Lauren Bacall) who assists and guides him through the ordeal. Some actresses featured in Hawksian roles include Katherine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, Joanne Dru and Marilyn Monroe. Hawks had a clause built into their contracts where actresses could only appear in movies twice a year. This was to keep their exposure fresh and to leave the audience wanting more.

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Credit: Pinterest

Unarguably the most iconic Hawksian woman was Lauren Bacall. She was born Betty Joan Perske on September 16th, 1924. Bacall was first noticed by Hawks’s wife, Nancy, on the cover of a glamour magazine. After bringing Bacall’s picture to the attention of her husband, Hawks organised a screen test for her and was impressed. He hired a speech coach, had her name changed to Lauren Bacall and brought her out to Hollywood. Bacall was always uncomfortable with her screen name as she felt it dishonoured her Jewish heritage. Bacall’s two big Hawksian roles were Marie “Slim” Browning in To Have and Have Not and Vivian Sternwood Rutledge in The Big Sleep (1946). Both films starred Humphrey Bogart as the male lead. Twenty-five years older than Bacall, the two began a romantic relationship that led to marriage. Their personal lives were covered extensively by the media of the day. Bacall was with Bogart at the time of his death in 1957.

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Credit: Here’s Looking Like You, Kid

Popularity of the Hawksian woman archetype began to slow down by the early 1950s. World War II had ended and soldiers had returned home. Women’s roles in society had become restricted to the household as wives and mothers. Hollywood, and the entertainment industry alike, began to substitute strong heroines for devoted house wives and stay-at-home mothers. Notable examples of the new perfect housewife archetype can be seen in TV shows like I Love Lucy (1951-1957) and Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963).

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Credit: Pinterest

Film critic Naomi Wise described the Hawksian woman as “some of the most honest portrayals of women” (p. 118) Hollywood cinema has to offer. Howard Hawks directed forty-five films in his career. Only fifteen of them featured the archetype. He passed away in 1977 at the age of eighty-one. Lauren Bacall continued to act up until her death in 2014. She was eighty-eight. Hawks’s influence can be felt in modern films and television series. The Hawksian woman legacy lives on.

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Credit: NewStatesman

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on May 16th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Classic Hollywood Archetypes: The Hawksian Woman (http://finefettleguide.blogspot.com.au/2014/01/classic-hollywood-archetypes-hawksian.html)
Decline of the Hawksian Archetype (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/decline-of-the-hawksian-archetype/)
Examples of the Hawksian Woman (https://hawksianwomen.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/examples-of-the-hawksian-woman/)
Hawksian Woman (https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Hawksian%20woman)
Hawksian Woman, The. Wise, Naomi. 1971.
Howard Hawks Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/howard-hawks-9331796)
Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall: May to December, A Romance to Remember (http://www.biography.com/news/humphrey-bogart-lauren-bacall-love-story)
Lauren Bacall Biography.com (http://www.biography.com/people/lauren-bacall-9194111)
Top 10 Hawksian Woman Movies (http://mavenrose.com/top-10-hawksian-woman-movies/)

The Time Mary Pickford Started a Film Studio

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Credit: When Women Inspire

Mary Pickford was an actress who is synonymous with silent film and early Hollywood. In 1919, she formed the film studio United Artists alongside other screen legends of the day; Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and D. W. Griffith. Chaplin had become famous playing the Tramp in comedies and was known internationally. Fairbanks was one of the most sought after male leads of his era and known for doing his own, dangerous stunts. At the time, he was also married to Pickford. Griffith was one of the first great directors. He popularised many common camera techniques and angles that, as a modern audience, we take for granted today. One of the first close-up shots in a Hollywood film featured Pickford in Friends (1912).

Pickford had been acting in plays since an early age to support her family. Her mother, sister and brother – Charlotte, Lottie and Jack – were all vaudeville actors too. Pickford’s father died when she was young. The family never stayed in the same place for long as they went where the work was. They saved what money they could and clocked up many miles on the road.

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Credit: The Photo-Play Journal

In 1909, when times were especially hard, Pickford went to the least respected place an actor could go – a film studio. The motion picture camera was invented in the later half of the 19th century and the technology was seen as a novelty. No respected Broadway actress, like Pickford, would ever sink so low. But with only the clothes she had on to her name, Pickford walked through the doors of the Biograph Company. She was noticed by Griffith, who called her fat and little. But her determination stood out and he began casting her in many films. Pickford was now making $10 a day. (No figures in this article have been adjusted for inflation.) Within a few short years, Pickford had become a household name and one of the first international movie stars. The media adopted many nicknames for her: “Queen of the Movies”, “The Girl with the Golden Curls” and “America’s Sweetheart,” even though she was Canadian. Her salary increased with her popularity. By the mid-1910s, she was making tens of thousands of dollars a week, something unheard of for a woman at the time.

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Credit: Heavy

The American film industry was expanding at an unprecedented rate. In the ten years Pickford had appeared on screen, movie production had become big business and was now taken seriously. The storytelling had found its own unique style and feature films were becoming the standard. Audiences had developed a hunger and couldn’t get enough of their favourite actors, especially Pickford. Some elite executives and producers felt that the stars had too much power and demanded ludicrously high salaries. Tension was ensuing throughout Hollywood.

Hearing whispers of a new company forming that would effectively block actor’s creativity and stagnate salaries, Pickford, Chaplin, Fairbanks and Griffith began talking amongst themselves. They were also joined by Western movie star William S. Hart. Their first act was to hire two private investigators to look into the rumours. The investigators were known as Operator 5 and Operator 8.

The Operators uncovered evidence of a conspiracy. The movie stars had an emergency meeting. It was decided they would start their own production company that would better serve their needs. The group called a press conference and announced they had banded together to form United Artists. The contracts were signed and United Artists officially began business on February 5, 1919. Hart dropped out in favour of a better business venture.

Pickford, Chaplin, Fairbanks and Griffith all invested their own money to start United Artists. Each owned 20% of the studio with the remaining 20% being controlled by lawyers. United Artists was unlike any other production company of the time. Where a traditional production company handles all stages of movie making – from script writing to filming to release – United Artists was solely designed as a distribution company. This meant that it only circulated films to theatre chains, both nationally and internationally. In theory, United Artists guaranteed greater profit returns for the actors. Pickford, Chaplin, Fairbanks and Griffith already had their own units for the writing, filming and editing processes. At its height, United Artists was the largest independent film production company in the world.

The 1920s was a very successful decade. Pickford’s first release was Pollyanna in 1920. It grossed over $1.1 million. This was followed with other hits – such as Griffith’s Way Down East starring Lillian Gish – and countless awards. Pickford herself won the 1930 Best Actress Academy Award for her role in Coquette. She was the second woman in history to win the award.

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Credit: The Internet Movie Database

Griffith left United Artists in 1924. Fairbanks and Pickford’s marriage fell apart and, sadly, he died of a heart attack in 1939. He was 56-years-old. Pickford retired from acting in the early 1930s, but continued to produce films up until 1949. Chaplin sold his United Artists shares in 1955, with Pickford doing the same the following year.

United Artists is still around today. The studio has made many notable films throughout the years. Some include: Secrets (1933), Of Mice and Men (1939), The Great Dictator (1941), High Noon (1952), 12 Angry Men (1957), West Side Story (1961), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) and Rocky (1976). New films are in development.

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Credit: Library of Congress

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on April 19th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Dream factory (https://www.theguardian.com/film/2008/feb/23/film)

Film History: How Mary Pickford Helped Create United Artists (https://whenwomeninspire.com/2014/09/25/film-history-how-mary-pickford-helped-create-united-artists/)

Mary Pickford Chronology (http://marypickford.org/home/mary-pickford-chronology/)

Star Power: The Creation of United Artists (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ri0ln17jaD4)

“The Lot” (http://www.cobbles.com/simpp_archive/ua-studio-lot.htm)

United Artists – The Boutique (http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Romantic-Comedy-Yugoslavia/United-Artists-THE-BOUTIQUE.html)

The Life of a Disney Inker and Painter

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Credit: Playbuzz

The alarm clock sounded and she stirred in bed. It was 4:30am and too early to get up. She felt like her head had only hit the pillow a moment ago. She couldn’t remember what day of the week it was; the days were blurring into one continuous shift. She and other women, of the Disney ink and paint departments, had been working double shifts to get the celluloid prints for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs finished in time for its premier. She reluctantly placed one foot out of bed and onto the cold surface below. She got up and raced to get ready before her mind had time to catch up, and complain about the sudden exertion. After leaving her apartment eating the last remnants of a quick breakfast, she shivered waiting for the bus. It was still early, but she fretted because anything could still happen to make her late. After hours of zigzagging on public transport, she had made it to the studio. She was just in time for the 9:00am start. Managers rhythmically walked back and forth, taking notes, of inker and painters who were not yet at their desks. Anyone late would be docked pay for every minute they were not working. She let out a sigh of relief; she had made it, again. She reached over and picked up one of her many pencils and began another very busy, but satisfactory, day.

Nearing the end of Snow White’s production in 1937, the ink and paint departments were made up of 100 hardworking and dedicated women. The last couple of months saw them sitting at their desks for an 85-hour working week. Many of them fell asleep where they sat but never complained about the long hours. Many of the inkers and painters became lifelong friends.

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Credit: Matterhorn

Both of the departments were responsible for the celluloids, or cells, for a Disney feature. The inkers would sketch the outlines of characters and environments. Once this was done, the cells were passed onto the painters who would add colour. Walt Disney was a perfectionist and some iconic characters were quite complicated. Pinocchio’s Jiminy Cricket alone was made up of 27 different colours. A relatively new process at the time, celluloid backgrounds could be made of up to six layers before they appeared on screen. The women had to work fast. Inkers had to be accurate and make sure no lines smudged. Painters had only moments to work as the paint dried quickly. To make the process even harder, two women were left handed and had to learn everything backwards. The paint was expensive and made in house in the studio lab. One production day would, usually, add up to approximately one minute of screen time. Each woman averaged between eight and ten cells an hour. Productivity was closely monitored and the inkers and painters refrained from talking while they worked.

Walt Disney only wanted the best and many of the inkers and painters were recruited right out of elite art schools, such as the California Institute of Technology. The average age was 25. Hiring was a rigorous process. Out of an initial group of 60, only three were employed. In fact, one of the three dropped out early on as well.

The male animators joked and laughed as they didn’t consider inking and painting artistic. The women were only expanding on earlier creative content that the men had already designed and fleshed out.  In 1941, top animators made $300 a week while the average inker and painter made only $18 a week. Many of the women, such as painter June Walker Patterson, could barely pay the rent. Inkers and painters were only allowed in the animation department “with good reason”. Disney initially shyed away from having female animators.

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Credit: CBR

There were a handful of women who made the transition to animation, but they were rare. The common belief was that Disney felt women would soon be leaving to get married and start families. It took ten years of study to become an animator, while only four years to become an inker or painter. Training new animators was a costly endeavour. When World War II broke out, a number of the male animators were drafted. During this period, Walt Disney gave women a chance to make the move across to the animation department. Male animators returned to their former positions when they came back from the war. The women either went back to the ink and paint departments or left Disney all together.

In May 1941, a large group of the women went on a 14-week strike to campaign for better working conditions. The event gained sympathy from other Hollywood animation studios, such as Warner Bros., with a number of them offering support. The strike resulted in an increase in pay. Some women also received screen credits, recognising their contributions to films that are now considered Disney classics.

As time went on, technology advanced. Handmade Ink and paint work began to be replaced by the photocopier and Disney downsized. Some of the women would return to animation production in the 1960s. Their families were all grown up when they went to work part time for Hanna-Barbera Productions. The studio responsible for TV cartoons such as The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, The Jetsons and Scooby-Doo. The environment was laid back and, unlike Disney, they could take their work home. Even after all these years, they were still surrounded by good friends and felt passionate about their work.

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Credit: Matterhorn

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on March 22nd, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

Coloring The Kingdom (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2010/03/disney-animation-girls-201003)

Look Closer: Women in the Ink and Paint Department (http://waltdisney.org/blog/look-closer-women-disney-ink-and-paint-department)

Movie Legends Revealed | Did Disney Really Not Allow Women Animators? (http://www.cbr.com/movie-legends-revealed-did-disney-really-not-allow-women-animators/)

The Unsung Heroine Animators of Disney’s Golden Age

In 1937 Walt Disney Animation Studios released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was a commercial success with ground breaking visuals. It was the world’s first feature-length animation with over 1.5 million hand drawn cells being used for its production. With a number of timeless classics following in only a few short years (Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi), the studio quickly obtained a reputation for pioneering innovation. Like Walt Disney himself, the studio’s Nine Old Men animators (as they were affectionately known in later years) had reached a level of celebrity and praise for their work. Little was publicly known about the handful of women that had made the transition from the ink and paint departments to join the male animators. They worked for less money and, in many cases, didn’t even receive a credit on the final film to acknowledge their contributions. Though the records are scarce, there are four female animators who standout: Bianca Majolie, Sylvia Moberly-Holland, Retta Scott and Mary Blair.

Bianca Majolie

Bianca Majolie
Credit: The Mary Sue

A chance encounter in 1934 would change Majolie’s life. While out for lunch, Walt Disney happened to see her work. Impressed with her artistic talent, Disney hired her on the spot. Majolie was the first female employee for the studio’s story department.

Learning of the lead, journalists from the Hollywood Citizen News approached Disney to write a feature article on Majolie. It was published without any mention of Majolie’s name. She jokingly wrote “Who is she?” on the copy of the article that was passed around the office.

Majolie is probably best remembered for the Silly Symphony’s 1936 short “Elmer Elephant”. While the rest of her male counterparts were busily coming up with the newest gag, Majolie was crafting a tender-hearted story about an elephant who was bullied about his looks. Many historians consider the animation a precursor to Dumbo. Two of the Nine Old Men, Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, admired Majolie’s contributions and, in their 1987 book Too Funny for Words: Disney’s Greatest Sight Gags, wrote the following about her: “We could not have made any of the feature films without learning this important lesson: Pathos gives comedy the heart and warmth that keeps it from becoming brittle.” She also worked on early versions of Fantasia’s “Nutcracker” scene, Cinderella and Peter Pan.

Majolie was fired in 1940. Her work was passed to Sylvia Moberly-Holland.

Sylvia Moberly-Holland

Guide
Credit: The Mary Sue

Sylvia Moberly-Holland saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs during its first theatrical run and was mesmerised by what she saw. In that moment, she made up her mind that she would work for Walt Disney Studios. Her dream was realised in 1938 when she became the second woman in Disney’s history to join the story department.

Not only was she an accomplished artist, but Moberly-Holland was a talented musician. This came in handy when she began work on The Concert Feature, that would later be renamed Fantasia. Moberly-Holland contributed many story elements and character designs to Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony”, “Waltz of the Flowers” and “Nutcracker Suite” scenes in the film.

She was also assigned to story lead on the Fairy sequence. A number of male animators left the team because they couldn’t handle being subordinate to a woman or for homophobic reasons. This was due to the nature of the sequence involving fairies and the jokes that were spreading around the studio. Despite these setbacks, Moberly-Holland and her team created some of the most memorable and beautiful imagery of the entire film. This was the closest a woman would come to directing a Disney feature until 2012’s Wreck-It Ralph.

When World War II ended in 1945, Moberly-Holland was dismissed from Disney. She passed away in 1974.

Retta Scott

Retta Scott
Credit: D23

Retta Scott enjoyed art from an early age. After completing High School, she studied it at the California Institute of Technology. She regularly attended the nearby Griffith Park Zoo where she would draw and sketch animals in her spare time.

Many male animators were drafted during World War II. In 1942 Walt Disney made it possible for a woman to be trained up as an animator to fill the empty spots. Scott was Disney’s first fully fledged female animator. She worked on Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi.

Her raw skill caught the eyes of Walt Disney and Bambi director David Hand. Scott was responsible for the ferocious dogs who chased Faline through the forest. The men couldn’t believe that such a petite, bubbly woman had created something so terrifying.

In 1942 Scott moved to the Ink and Paint department. The studio was suffering financially and had to downsize. Scott stayed with Disney until 1946 when she moved across America to be with her naval officer husband (though she did continue as a freelancer with Disney for a number of years afterwards). Her most well-known work during this period was her illustration contributions to the Big Golden Book of Cinderella and Cinderella Puppet Show books.

Scott was the first ever woman to have a Disney screen credit. She passed away on August 26th, 1990, and, ten years later, was inducted as a Disney Legend.

Mary Blair

Mary Blair
Credit: The Walt Disney Family Museum

Not only an iconic Disney animator, but Mary Blair is regarded as one of the most influential artists in the history of American animation. Her unique style and attention to detail set the Disney standard for many years after her departure from the studio.

Like Retta Scott, Blair studied art at the California Institute of Art before joining Walt Disney Studios in 1940 as a concept artist. She worked on The Three Caballeros, Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Fellow animator, Frank Thomas, noted how she used multiple shades of red together – something you don’t do – and made it work. Walt Disney regarded her as one of his all-time favourite Disney artists.

After the production of Peter Pan wrapped in 1953, Blair resigned from Disney. Around this period, she dealt with personal demons such as alcoholism. She continued working as an artist before returning to Disney to work on the It’s a Small World attraction at Disneyworld. The majority of her concepts and illustrations would be used in the final aesthetic of the ride. It’s a Small World opened in 1966 and still runs today.

In July 1978, Blair died from a cerebral haemorrhage. She received a Disney Legend Award posthumously in 1991. Google honoured her with a caricature logo in 2011 for her birthday.

These women achieved so much in their careers. Their legacy has opened up opportunities for many women in animation. As role models, they will continue to inspire and influence generations to come.

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on February 14th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

D23 – Retta Scott (https://d23.com/walt-disney-legend/retta-scott/)

A History of Women in Animation: Mothers of a Medium (http://www.themarysue.com/history-women-in-animation/)

Look Closer: Women in the Disney Ink and Paint Department (http://waltdisney.org/blog/look-closer-women-disney-ink-and-paint-department)

Magic of Mary Blair – About Mary (http://www.magicofmaryblair.com/about-mary.htm)

Not just Ink and Paint Girls. Women pioneers in the Golden Age of American Animation

(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S289zZJzTI&t=326s)

Worth as Much as a Man: Cracking the Celluloid Ceiling (http://waltdisney.org/blog/worth-much-man-cracking-celluloid-ceiling)

D. C. Fontana: The Woman Behind Star Trek

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Credit: StarTrek.com

A television series is only as good as its creative team. Star Trek is no exception. For 50 years now the franchise has been a cultural phenomenon, pulling in new fans with each new incarnation. The original series (1966-1969) pioneered many things and seriously went where no TV series, of the time, had gone before. It presented a unique view of the future where humanity had put their differences aside and explored the galaxy peacefully in starships. Our hero ship, the USS Enterprise, was led by Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) with Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Doctor McCoy (DeForest Kelley) not too far behind. A big behind the scenes imprint came from writer D. C. Fontana. Not only did she write some of the most notable episodes, but she held a position very few women had in the male-dominated era of 1960s Hollywood.

Dorothy Catherine Fontana was born in Sussex, New Jersey, on the 25th of March, 1939. From an early age, Fontana had a great love for reading and writing. She would read whatever she could get her hands on and write short stories and plays, acting them out with friends. Her other great love was the western film genre. This love would go on to play a significant part in her writing style and television career, where she wrote for many series such as The Tall Man, Frontier Circus, The Road West and The Big Valley.

After completing a degree at Fairleigh Dickinson University, majoring in Executive Secretarial, Fontana moved to New York City where she became a junior secretary for the president of a television studio. Her position at Screen Gems didn’t last long as the president fell ill and passed away. With no job waiting, Fontana moved back home. She then tried her luck in Los Angels. She landed employment in the typing pool at Revue Studios. Along with a group of other secretaries, Fontana typed up documents for producer Samuel A. Peeples.

One day Fontana tried her luck pitching a story idea to Peeples. This was her first sell; she was 21-years-old. As time went on, Fontana continued her secretarial responsibilities during the day and wrote at night. She was dedicated making sure neither affected the other. Fontana followed Peeples to the production of The Lieutenant. Here she met Gene Roddenberry for the first time. When filming was wrapping up – The Lieutenant wouldn’t be returning for a second season – Roddenberry slid a document across a desk towards Fontana. He asked her what she thought. The document was the original network pitch for Star Trek.

Around the time she started on Star Trek, Fontana had some stories knocked back from other television series due to gender bias. Male producers rejected her proposals when seeing a woman’s name on the document. She changed her screen credit from “Dorothy C. Fontana” to “D. C. Fontana”. From then on when she met producers for the first time, they were surprised to find a woman behind the script. Many got over the initial shock as they only wanted a good story for their show.

While submitting pitches to other shows (she was quite successful), Fontana focused the majority of her attention on Star Trek. She was still a secretary when Gene Roddenberry asked her to write an episode. “Charlie X” was the second episode of the show to air on television. Fontana penned many notable episodes such as “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, “This Side of Paradise” and “Journey to Babel”. Roddenberry noticed Fontana had a unique understanding of Star Trek and promoted her to story editor. She juggled the responsibilities of the position while still writing episodes. It was extremely rare for a woman to hold such a title as story editor in the mid-60s. Fontana fleshed out much of the Vulcan race’s history and added a lot to Mr. Spock’s background.

Fontana left the production of Star Trek towards the end of the second season. She would write two episodes, including “The Enterprise Incident”, as a freelancer for the third season. Fontana felt she had done all she could on Star Trek and wanted to explore other writing opportunities in Hollywood.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Fontana wrote for shows such as Bonanza, The Six Million Dollar Man, Logan’s Run, Dallas and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. She contributed one episode to the short lived Star Trek animated series, “Yesteryear”. Fontana also started getting further involved with the American Writer’s Guild. She and others felt there was hardly any female representation in the industry and formed the women’s committee. At the time the guild was made up of 90% men and 10% women. Fontana would serve as a board member for the Guild in the late 1980s.

Gene Roddenberry approached Fontana for the production of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late 1980s. She co-wrote the pilot, “Encounter at Far Point,” with Roddenberry and, again, served as story editor for the show. She pitched a number of ideas and wrote a few episodes for the first season. Fontana and other Star Trek production veterans left the show early on due to conflicts with Roddenberry. Fontana’s Star Trek days weren’t over just yet. The episode “Dax” was written for the first season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1993. Fontana also wrote three episodes for Babylon 5, another sci-fi series set on a space station.

Since 1998 Fontana has been teaching screenwriting at the American Film Institute. She gives this advice to aspiring writers: “…you can listen to experts tell you how to do it…but you have to write. You have to put the words on the page. You’re the one who has to tell the story”.

Fontana retired from professional screenwriting in 2009. She continues to teach and attends the occasional Star Trek convention.

This article was originally posted on The Sydney Feminists Blogspot on January 13th, 2017. (http://thesydneyfeminists.blogspot.com.au)

Sources:

D.C. Fontana – IMDb (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0284894)

D.C. Fontana – Memory Alpha (http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/D.C._Fontana)

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Dorothy Fontana, Part 1 (http://www.startrek.com/article/exclusive-interview-dorothy-fontana-part-1)

Star Trek Fontana, Dorothy (D.C.) (http://www.startrek.com/database_article/fontana)

Writer Speaks: D.C. Fontana, The (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCSp8TnnbNU)

Lights, Camera, Action…

Hello and welcome to Film Niche!

A website dedicated to the history of cinema, both past and present. The articles will focus mainly on movies but will delve into television from time to time.

If you have a topic you’d like explored, please feel free to send me an email.

All the best and have a great day.

Matt.

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Credit: Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library