Dorothy Arzner, the legendary film director who helmed more studio films than any other woman in history, was honored by Paramount Pictures on Thursday, with the studio dedicating one of the buildings on its Hollywood lot in her name.
Arzner directed 11 films for Paramount in the 1920s and 1930s, breaking glass ceilings as the first female member of the Director’s Guild of America and inventor of the boom microphone. In the 1960s, she started teaching at UCLA’s film school, where she had a soon-to-be-famous student — Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola traveled from Chicago to the dedication ceremony to honor his former teacher, who he described as “salty and sort of tough, but she had a heart that was as big as the world, and one way I knew it was because every time she came to class, she would always bring boxes of cookies and crackers because she knew we were starving to death and had no money, and she would always have stuff so we could eat.”
The “Godfather” director also remembered some tricks of the trade that Arzner taught him, including the importance of sitting on set in view of the actors, even today with the use of video assist, because she told him, “They’re doing it for you, they’re not doing it for anyone else and if they see you smile or if they see you nod they have a way to gauge what they’re doing.”
Coppola closed his dedication with a particularly impactful memory of one night when he was sitting on the steps at UCLA and Arzner walked by.
“She stopped and she handed me a box of crackers that she always had with her for her hungry students and she said to me, ‘You’ll make it, I know, I’ve been around and I know.’ Then she disappeared into the shadows like the ending of one of her movies,” he said. “So I don’t know the proper way to pay respect to a woman as you gather now that I always referred to as Ms. Arzner only because of my immense respect for her.”
At that point, he turned to a large photo of the director on set and spoke directly to it, saying, “I can never thank you enough Ms. Arzner for the many things you taught me, all of which helped me through the next 50 years of my career and for your prediction that gave me the confidence to go on and become a film director. Thank you.”
Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos was also on hand at the dedication, revealing a plaque on the Dressing Room building in Arzner’s name. Arzner died in 1979 at age 82 after starting her career as a stenographer and going on to make more than 50 films.
Directors Betty Thomas, Mimi Leder, and Lyndall Hobbs were also on hand along with tech exec Wendy Aylsworth.
(Pictured: Jim Gianopulos and Francis Coppola)