Here’s the good news: Pioneering director Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979) — was one of the first woman directors to have a career in Hollywood making films. She was the first female member of the DGA, and still remains one of the most prolific women directors of all time (with 16 features), AND the inventor of the boom mike — will receive a career retrospective.
Here’s the bad news (for most of us): The retrospective will take place in Spain, at the San Sebastian International Film Festival (Sept. 17-26).
The retrospective will coincide with the publication of a book that seeks to explain why Arzner stopped making films after 1943’s First Comes Courage. In the 1960s and 1970s, Arzner taught directing and screenwriting at UCLA. Among her students was Francis Ford Coppola. She was honored by the DGA in 1975. Katharine Hepburn, with whom Arzner reportedly had a tense early relationship, sent a telegram for the event: “Isn’t it wonderful that you’ve had such a great career, when you had no right to have a career at all?”
Arzner started her Hollywood career as a stenographer for Paramount Pictures. She was promoted to screenwriter, then editor. (She went on to edit at least fifty films at Paramount). She landed her first directing assignment by threatening to defect to Columbia; her first film was 1927’s Fashions for Women, which was a hit. Legend has it that Arzner came up with the idea for the boom mike while on set at Clara Bow’s first talkie, The Wild Party — she had technicians attach a microphone to a fishing rod so that Bow could move around freely on set. She left Paramount five years after her debut film to work as an independent director.
Arzner made comedies and melodramas; among her works are The Wild Party with Clara Bow, Honor Among Lovers with Claudette Colbert, Christopher Strong with Katharine Hepburn, The Bride Wore Red with Joan Crawford, and Dance, Girl, Dance with Lucille Ball. Arzner was also known for her forceful female characters and lesbian subtexts.
You can learn more about her from the Women’s Film Pioneer Project here.