MADRID – Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979), the first woman member of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) and still one of – if not the – most prolific of woman helmers in Hollywood –will be honored with a career retrospective at September’s 62nd San Sebastian Festival in Spain.
Though not the world’s first woman director – that honor may go to France’s Alice Guy – Arzner was the first to carve out a career in Los Angeles during the golden age of Hollywood’s studios, first as an editor, where she is credited with working on 52 movies, including 1922’s Rudolph Valentino-starrer “Blood and Sand,” on which she also directed second unit shots of its bullfights. Her debut, for Paramount, was 1927’s “Fashion For Women.”
The first woman in Hollywood to direct a sound film, 1928’s “Manhattan Cocktail,” Arzner is said to have invented the boom mike when, on Clara Bow’s first talkie, box office hit “The Wild Party,” she had technicians hang a mike onto a fishing rod to give it more mobility.
From “Party,” she shot a string of movies, comedies or melodramas – “Anybody’s Woman” (1930), “Honor Among Lovers” (1931), “The Bride Wore Red” (1937) – which often championed strong femme characters, helped consolidate the early careers of Katherine Hepburn – with whom she quarreled – and Lucille Ball, andsometimes suggested – think 1933’s “Christopher Strong” – lesbian sub-texts.
The retrospective will be accompanied by the publication of a book that , it is hoped, will clarify why Arzner’s directorial career abruptly ended with 1943’s “First Comes Courage.”
During the 1960s and 1970s, she taught directing and screenwriting at UCLA, her students including Francis Ford Coppola. In 1975, she was honored with a DGA Tribute, which, in an anecdote collected by MDB, included a telegram from Katherine Hepburn: “Isn’t it wonderful that you’ve had such a great career, when you had no right to have a career at all?”
The text admits multiple readings. The 62nd San Sebastian Festival runs Sept. 17-26.