Mae West in 1933.
Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-111081.
Male actors were at least as susceptible to these problems as female ones, and because women were essential to playing female screen roles, many women continued to do well. Sexy actor Mae West was Hollywood’s first woman to earn a million dollars—but her image belied the shrewd businesswoman that she was. Unlike most acting professionals, she did much more than act: she wrote virtually every word she delivered. Her first big hit, daringly titled simply Sex (1926), was entirely her own production, from writing the script to starring in it. Although she was over 40 during the Great Depression of the 1930s, she made more than a movie per year and was the highest paid actor of either gender.Other women were not so astute, and a more pronounced gender difference developed at the executive level of filmmaking in the 1930s. Although Americans continued to flock to theaters as an escape from the troubled times, Hollywood began edging female directors and writers out of the business.