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.