Women Behind the Camera: Women as Directors
Grace Cunard
Grace Cunard, 1916.
Photoplay Magazine.
Lois Weber was not the only notable female director during film’s first decades. Grace Cunard rose to fame by starring in numerous serials, but she also wrote many screenplays and directed a number of films in the World War I era. “Cunard’s depiction of strong action heroines,” notes Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, “marks an important, almost completely lost, cultural moment in which women were portrayed as active, clever, physically adroit warrior archetypes who were quite capable of saving themselves and others.”10

Paramount Studios also sought to capitalize on the ability of women to legitimize early film. Their star female director was Dorothy Arzner. Arzner began her career as a stenographer at Famous Players-Lasky, which later became Paramount. She was later promoted to film editor (a common job and stepping stone for women in the film business), and in 1927, directed her first film. When other female directors were pushed out of the business in the late 1920s, Arzner was the only woman who continuously directed films in the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s. She was known for her movies about spunky women, as well as her ability to bring out the best in the actresses she directed. After her retirement from directing in 1943, she worked as a professor of film at various universities.11