“When I went to work in the studio, I took my pride and made a nice little ball of it and threw it right out the window.”
This shocking admission by Dorothy Arzner turned my understanding of her success upside down. Here was a legendary filmmaker, a trailblazing feminist voice in the early twentieth century, who admitted she had relinquished her power. Why would any intelligent woman do this?
The answer is quite simple and reflects what many women have always done – they make tough choices and find ways to overcome challenges. This was certainly true for Dorothy’s life and work in the film industry. While Dorothy may have swallowed her pride, she broke new ground for women with hard work and the strategic smarts to make herself indispensable to the studios.
In the late 1920s, the invention of sound and the amalgamation of production studios was a death-knell for most female film directors. The so-called Golden Age of America was anything but golden for women. Big production studios gobbled-up smaller ones, leveraging deals with the banking industry.
Naturally, sexist attitudes and stereotypical views of bankers spilled over and into the film industry. Men weren’t used to seeing women in positions of power in the U.S., especially in the film industry. Overseas, women like France’s Alice Guy had already started directing in 1896 but this would not happen in the U.S. until Dorothy took the reins.