Tuesday, September 13, 2011

That's Typing Tuesday #18: Your Great-Grandparents Were More Modern That You Are (Well, At Least Some Of The Time)

"That's Typing" Tuesday, in which I share unpolished, unpublished writings from my vast store of unpolished, unpublished writings. On Tuesdays.

My post about Anita Loos yesterday inspired this additional thought: that during the silent era, Hollywood was a wide-open town as far as opportunities for women were concerned. Not just limited to the latest pretty face, women had a chance to direct, produce and especially write—hell, Mary Pickford owned her own studio and distribution company.

Indeed, I've read that more than half the screenwriters in Hollywood during the silent era were women—certainly the good ones were: in addition to Anita Loos, there was Frances Marion (who'd later win two Oscars), Jeanie Macpherson (who wrote all the good movies Cecil B. DeMille ever made) and June Mathis (who made Rudolph Valentino a star and later adapted Ben-Hur for the screen).

When the sound era forced studios to build thousands of new theaters and then the Great Depression soon after decimated the marketplace, Hollywood's moguls were forced to borrow millions of dollars to keep their studios afloat. Much like today, these money men were more interested in seeing a return on their investment than they were in art, experimentation or newfangled ideas (even the ones that worked). Powerful women made them nervous and women in the workplace, generally, smacked of unorthodox business practices, so women were out—no more Lois Weber's, no more Alice Guy's.

Because let's face it: nobody fears the future quite like a man with money.

And Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar (The Hurt Locker) notwithstanding, Hollywood's women have never really recovered, at least not in terms of the percentages working in high places. Something to think about the next time you congratulate yourself for being smarter than your grandparents.


Erich Kuersten said...

Amen, brother, your Loos spot was spot on, and it's sadly true... preach it brother, preach it... it's especially true where the sanctity of marriage is concerned. The whole elevation of Marriage and the family as this sacred cow was considered corny, the small town hypocrite's domain, something city slickers sneered at, and now you can't ever suggest such a thing without getting shocked looks. Torture a girl to death onscreen, sure, but don't you dare suggest a nuclear family unit is anything but the ultimate in American dreams

Mythical Monkey said...

Your comment made me think of the story of Cecil B. DeMille and Wallace Reid in the late 1910s/early 1920s -- DeMille you've no doubt heard of, but Reid is largely forgotten now despite the fact that he was the handsome, All-American leading man of the silent era, as David Thomson put, the era's Clark Gable or Robert Redford.

Reid was a small-town boy, innocent, inexperienced, genuinely nice, a pure apple pie kind of guy. And DeMille, despite all the Bible movies he directed, was a cynical hedonist who thought Reid's values were laughable. And he pretty much took the impressionable Reid under his wing and led him astray. As his biographer Adela Rogers St. Johns put it, "What [DeMille] did was constantly flaunt his philosophy of hedonism, of virtue begging pardon of vice, of wickedness as the most fun of anything. DeMille made Wally feel that his natural loving kindness and tenderness, his desire for true love, was ridiculous and immature and, again that horrid word that can somehow tempt and mortify people -- unsophisticated."

Anyway, Reid was in a train accident, was given morphine in the hospital, became an addict and then died when he tried to go cold turkey. The story shocked his fans and they turned on his memory about as quickly as Roscoe Arbuckle's fans turned on him.

I'm working on a post about Reid for when I get to 1919. These are some of the raw notes:

As Johnny Rocco said in Key Largo, everybody has their first drink, but everybody ain't a lush. Of course, Rocco was a notorious gangster, and a fictional one at that, so maybe he's not the best source of wisdom on the subject . Too, we know how mothers tend to idealize their sons, so maybe in her narrative, Wallace had to play the victim.

History does, however, suggest that DeMille was a well-practiced hedonist who probably never thought one way or the other about how his lifestyle might affect others. That's sort of the cornerstone of hedonism, I would think, self-absorption. He probably introduced the naive, inexperienced Reid to his self-centered, cynical view of life with no more thought than one might introduce a friend to his first beer. How are you supposed to know your friend is an alcoholic in the making?

On the other hand, what DeMille thought or didn't think is mostly irrelevant -- we judge a man not by his words and his intentions but by his actions and the results of his actions, just as we judge a movie not by what somebody envisioned in a pitch meeting but by what's on the screen.

In the law, we call it the "eggshell skull" doctrine -- if you hit someone with a blow that wouldn't hurt an ordinary person but in this case, oops, your victim has an eggshell-thin skull and dies, you are legally responsible for his death.

That's a pretty tough standard when you try to apply it to your daily life -- frankly more aspirational than practical, but then if a man's reach does not exceed his grasp, what is a heaven for? -- and requires humility and an awareness of others, neither of which, judging from his movies and what I've read of the man, were arrows in DeMille's quiver.

Mythical Monkey said...

And on further reflection, what your comment really makes me think of is the 1977 Paul Newman hockey movie, Slap Shot, which is really a commentary on the changing film industry, I think. The hockey fans cheer like maniacs when the players are on the ice beating each other to a pulp, but when one player, disgusted by the violence, strips down to his jock strap and skates around the rink, that's obscene.

Which is to say, it's easier to make movies about serial killers flaying someone to flinders than it is to make a movie with a little sex in it.

John L. Sullivan: "I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!"

LeBrand: "But with a little sex in it."

John L. Sullivan: "A little, but I don't want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity!"

LeBrand: "But with a little sex in it."

John L. Sullivan: "With a little sex in it."

Hadrian: "How 'bout a nice musical?"

These days substitute "serial killer" for "sex" and you've really got something.