Nobody knows exactly how many silent films were penned by women. Screen credits were a bit odd back in the day and a good number of studio records are gone forever. However, it has been estimated that as many as 50% of all silent films were written by women. Other estimates hover around 30-40% but that’s still a darn sight better than the 15% of modern Hollywood. (Oh, and they’re paid less for their work too.)
(And this is where the men invade, carefully ‘splaining to us wee women that we just need to work harder. And then I am forced to lay an ancient curse upon their heads: May they ever find themselves barefoot in a room full of Legos with their shoes outside the door.)
Not only did women bring their unique perspective to cinema, they often wrote juicy roles for actresses. The intriguing and empowered female characters of silent cinema seemed to be linked to the large percentage of women writers. Fancy that.
For this month, I have selected a grab bag of movies written or co-written by women, both famous and obscure. About half of them I have never seen before, so these films may be good, they may be bad but they will illustrate just how common women were in the writers’ rooms of American cinema.
As an appetizer, here is a selection of woman-written silent films that I have already reviewed and think are particularly important and/or enjoyable:
The Lad from Old Ireland (1910) written by and starring Gene Gauntier (and shot on location!)
Stella Maris (1918) adapted masterfully for the screen by Frances Marion
Miss Lulu Bett (1921) novel by Zona Gale adapted for the screen by Clara Beranger
The Captive (1915) co-written by Jeanie Macpherson and Cecil B. DeMille, the first in a long writing partnership
Little Annie Rooney (1925) written by Mary Pickford (she couldn’t find a story she liked and so she wrote one herself using an alias)
The Enchanted Cottage (1924) adapted for the screen by Josephine Lovett
Show People (1928) written by Agnes Marie Johnston (she received prominent billing on advertising materials)
The Cruise of the Jasper B (1926) adapted for the screen by Zelda Sears and Tay Garnett (and contains a hilarious inversion of the male gaze)