Film buffs will delight in discovering the lives and careers of Oscar-winning film editors Anne Bauchens (who edited every Cecil B. DeMille film from 1918 to 1956) and Barbara McLean (All About Eve), producer/writer Virginia Van Upp (Gilda) and many others. Smyth's appreciation of producer/screenwriter Joan Harrison (Rebecca) removes her from the shadow of her mentor, Alfred Hitchcock. Nobody's Girl Friday is an energetic, surprising and vital book that uncovers and celebrates the accomplishments of women who created film history from the 1920s to the 1960s
Smyth’s book is something of a revelation, even for readers who enjoy a steady diet of films on Turner Classic Movies. Scouring studio newsletters and company directories, she surfaces the names of women who held prominent positions in the film industry, including agents, writers and producers. Far from being a boy’s club, 1930s Hollywood was pretty inclusive; Smyth cites a 1934 report claiming that women made up 40 percent of the workforce at the large studios at the time ... Many women were put on blacklists like the one that kept [Mary] McCall from working in film, though the author doesn’t provide much evidence that conservative groups disproportionately targeted women ... Smyth makes a more compelling case that female executives simply have been written out of the lore of the golden age of Hollywood ... In their zeal to call out sexism, feminists may have inadvertently helped erase women from the history books.
Ms. Smyth’s exposition is varyingly successful. She is less than engaging when, in a reach for inclusivity, she presents evidence in the form of long lists of women employees’ names ... Her arguments are far more persuasive when they emerge through portraits of individual women ... Engrossing as these mini-biographies are, elsewhere Ms. Smyth’s eagerness to prove her empowerment thesis leads to distracting hyperbole ... There are some odd elisions as well. Ms. Smyth barely mentions the significant influence of émigré women ... The strongest argument in Nobody’s Girl Friday is perhaps the most important: that achievement in Hollywood depends on networks and alliances, often created by chance.
J.E. Smyth's Nobody's Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood is a rich history ... Her points are clear and effectively laid out. While we may easily cite Dalton Trumbo as a resistance hero against the House on Un-American Activities, there were just as many women ... Smyth is determined to prove that male film historians seemed focused on erasing the role of women in the development of cinema as an art, business, and representation of American culture ... As an astute film history text, Smyth manages to fill in the missing pieces in the standard view of the roles women played in Hollywood ... a meticulously researched history of how women entered, developed, sustained, and grew within the Hollywood dream factory in that mid-century period before World War II and through to the end of the system in the early '60s.
Smyth, a professor of history at the University of Warwick and the author or editor of several previous books on film, has an interesting story to tell about the underreported contributions of women during the Hollywood studio system’s heyday ... But Smyth’s view is that the much maligned studio era, rather than being (mainly) a time of enforced servitude and gender inequities, was something of a Golden Age for women’s opportunities—especially in comparison with the conservative decades that followed ... Smyth does best when she moves in for a close-up ... Smyth is not a particularly skilled storyteller. Too often, in lieu of color and anecdote, she proffers long lists of now obscure women who populated the studios’ production ranks.
For every recognizable name, such as legendary costume designer Edith Head, there are numerous mentions of women whose contributions have been neglected by historians, such as Mary C. McCall, Jr., a gifted writer and two-time president of the Screen Writers Guild, who saw her career snuffed out by the persecution of Communists, despite the fact that she was a political moderate. Aimed at readers with a knowledge of and keen interest in Hollywood of yesteryear, Smyth’s enlightening tome reveals the power and influence women wielded in Tinseltown during the Great Depression, WWII, and the postwar era.
In a fresh, lively examination of women’s places in film history, Smyth ... has uncovered abundant evidence for their significant roles as producers, writers, agents, editors, designers, union leaders, and, of course, performers ... An exuberant celebration of empowered women.
Smyth’s effort to 'name as many names as possible,' at times creates a roll call effect, hindering reader engagement with the overarching argument. The strongest sections focus more intently on specific people, both famous ones...and lesser-known figures ... Smyth’s work stands out as especially meaningful in the era of #MeToo and revived resistance of women in Hollywood to gender inequality.