So I spent the weekend in Los Angeles. The City of Angels is one of my favorite places because of all the Hollywood history, the movie industry and the beach…and my wonderful friends who live there. My friends and I played tourist this weekend. In honor of that trip, today’s blog is going to cover some fun Hollywood History. Well one person in Hollywood’s history in particular. A person who seems to have gotten lost in the passage of time but should be a household name, at least with those of us cineastes.
Early on Saturday morning we piled into my friend Chris’s neat-o electric car, it’s a leaf, and headed out to tour Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. (I just like saying my friend Chris drives a leaf…it’s like he’s Queen Mab’s boyfriend or something. Yes, I’m a geek and yes I made a bad joke. Deal) We parked the car and hoofed it down Hollywood Blvd to the Egyptian, stepping on the Walk of Fame Stars of such celebrities like Dolly Parton and Bob Hope.Grauman’s Egyptian is one of the oldest movie houses in the city. It first opened in 1922 with the world premiere, the very first world premiere to be exact, of ROBIN HOOD starring Douglas Fairbanks. (Those of you who know me will understand the epic geek out I had at the mention of this title…my friend Megan just shook her head at me…then took my picture and posted it on Facebook.) Our tour guide, an older gentleman who thought he was the funniest guy since Danny Kaye, proceeded to tell us some of the titles of films that had played there over the years. It got me thinking about the men and women who helped shape the Film Industry.
One such person is Lois Weber. Lois was truly a woman ahead of her time. She has become known as “one of the most important and prolific directors of the silent film era.” Did I mention she was a woman?? In a time when women were for the most part supposed to be barefoot, blissfully uneducated, and in the kitchen, here was Lois Weber standing side by side with the greats of the film industry like D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin.
Lois was born in 1879 in Pennsylvania. She was considered a child prodigy and an excellent pianist. She played music and sang, touring the country as a concert pianist. It wasn’t until 1904 that Lois took up acting. On the advice of an uncle in Chicago, she moved to New York to pursue the stage. For the next four years she was a stock player and repertory actress. (For those of you out there in the blogsphere who have no idea what that means, basically she would play parts like human prop #4 or girl in the back with a bowl of grapes) She wrote in her spare time. Sang for her supper. Got Married. And then…moved to Los Angeles.
1910, Lois and her husband Wendell Smalley, an actor, moved to L.A. to take part in the fledgling movie industry. She starred in a film called Hypocrites, which she also wrote. What makes Hypocrites so special is it contains the very first full frontal female nude scene in film history. Yep, a movie made in 1915 holds this distinction. (I better you are all rethinking how you viewed people from the ‘olden days’ now aren’t you.) Also she wrote and starred in a film called, Where Are My Children, another controversial film which dealt with abortion and birth control…in 1916.Lois was the first person to adapt a Tarzan novel for the movies. She is also credited with discovering people like Mildred Harris, Billie Dove, and screenwriter Frances Marion. During her career she directed over 200 to 400 films. An exact count is not available because many of these films are lost and records have been destroyed, misplaced, or complete lost to time. Only about 20 of these films remain to this day. (Silent film era movies deteriorated badly over the years and many of what we would consider classics of the genre have been lost to the ages. If you take the tour of the theatre, the incredibly knowledge projectionist will tell you the details as to why they did.) She wrote over 114 and acted in 100. She was one of the first directors to come to the attention of the censors (Must be the naked chicks in her films and her controversial topics) Lois made only one talkie in her entire career and then faded from the flicking light beam of the movie world. In 1932 she tried a final comeback of sorts after being hired by Universal as a script doctor. She was also a talent scout at that time. In 1933 she was offered a new directing contract for the film Glamour, but she was removed from the project abruptly. There are no records as to why.
Her final film, and her only talkie, White Heat was first shown on NBC in 1940. It is considered a lost film has no known copies exist.In 1939, Weber passed. Her funeral was attended by over 300 people. Her death was largely overlooked though, garnering two brief paragraphs in Variety and even less in the Los Angeles Examiner. Gossip Columnist Hedda Hopper gave her a much better send off in her column. She was cremated at the Los Angeles Crematory. The location of her remains are unknown. It seems she is lost to time as many of her films are. In 1960 she was awarded a star on the Walk of Fame at 6518 Hollywood Blvd.
Here was a woman who defied convention and become of the most prolific director, screenwriter, and producer of her time, not to mention of the highest paid earning about $50,000 a picture. (In the midst of the Great Depression and all that entails was a ridiculous amount!) When most women were standing in the kitchen with a baby on their hip, Lois Weber was breaking down barriers and crossing boundaries. Yet, she is hardly ever mentioned in Hollywood History books or documentaries.There more I research topics for this blog, the more I find history appealing. There is so much out there that is not in the books. Search for it and you’ll be amazing by what you find.