Within five years the feminine influence will be fully fifty-fifty in Studio Land.
–Ladies Home Journal, 1920
Fully Fifty-Fifty is dedicated to uncovering and celebrating the frenetic, fascinating – and feminist – world of the dawn of Hollywood.
We tend to think of Hollywood as the original boys’ club. Every few months there’s a new flurry of discussion about how we need to get more female voices in movies, how women should be paid as much as their male co-stars, and to what extent some innocent, hardworking Twitter egg’s life is ruined by having to witness stinky girls in his favourite franchise.
And it’s easy to imagine it was always so.
When we picture Old Hollywood, we tend to imagine some slimy middle-aged dude muttering around a huge cigar, “try that again with less clothes, honey,” as a starlet grits her teeth and tells herself that it’ll all be worth it someday – right? But in fact, there was an old Old Hollywood. Before the studio system. Before the Code. Before even talkies.
For the first decade or two of the film industry, women were a dominant force both in front of and behind the camera.
Female stars could expect top billing, had control over who directed and wrote for them and were paid as much — and often more — than their male counterparts. Behind the camera, women were writing, producing, directing and editing in numbers we can only dream of today. The first star to sign a million-dollar contract was a woman. The first studio head was a woman. The first screenwriter to win more than one Oscar was a woman.
The fair sex is represented [in Hollywood] as in no other calling to which women have harkened in the early years of the twentieth century.
– Motion Picture Classic in 1915.
Every Monday, you’ll meet the fabulous pioneering female filmmakers of the teens and twenties and their groundbreaking work (the 1913 short by Lois Weber that’s the blueprint for every Hitchcock movie ever made, anyone?). There will be hundred-year-old celebrity gossip (and it’s good), discussions on just how this fledgling industry provided so much opportunity for women (and why that opportunity died a death by the early thirties!), and some fun stuff on the fashion and fads of the first roaring twenties!
Starting this week, we have an ongoing series coming out every Friday, He Did and He Didn’t, exploring the explosive death of Virginia Rappé and how it set the scene for #metoo that’s still reverberating 100 years later. Ask anyone about Fatty Arbuckle today, and they’ll tell you that he was an innocent fall guy who got a raw deal… I’m going to prove to you why I think he was as “innocent” as every other prominent man accused of sexual assault. And why I think that without this case, there would have been no Weinstein.