The silhouette of the man in the gray flannel suit is one of Hollywood’s most iconic images. But behind this stark outline of masculine managerial power were generations of white-collar women who worked for Hollywood. The US film industry's ranks of secretaries, script readers and writers, editors, producers, and superstars were crucial in supporting and challenging the country's most visible corporate entities from Hollywood's origins to the present day, and were integral in constructing cycles of major films which dramatised the lives of working women. 'The Organisation Woman' is their story.
Perhaps more than any other American corporate entity, the Hollywood studios have relied on women. Over the past few decades, film historians have charted executives’ respect for and abuse of the female star, the spectator, and the 'women’s film', but, with a few notable exceptions, they have tended to marginalise the industry’s reliance on female producers, prestige women’s fiction authored by women, female screenwriters, script readers, costume designers, secretaries, and film editors. Feminist film historians have frequently argued that Hollywood manufactured negative images of working women during the studio era, 'punished' female independence, and, in the final frames of the films, banished women from the workplace to conventional marriages. 'The Organisation Woman' will be the first major challenge to these assumptions, positioning its ambitious, revisionist history of women’s work in the film industry from 1919 to 1963. The project will not only attempt the first major assessment of women’s employment in the film industry from the early days of feature filmmaking through the “golden” studio era, but will also focus on women within the film organisation who articulated shifting attitudes toward gender, work, and power, whether secretaries and stars Ida Koverman and Katharine Hepburn, editors and producers Bobbie McLean and Harriet Parsons, or screenwriters and publicists Lillian Hellman and Sheila Graham. In this way, the project seeks to provide an overall picture of women's industrial practise with individual experience, uniting the careers of generations of Hollywood’s famous and forgotten women. It will examine employment at all of the major studios, patterns in the studios’ production of women's films, and publicity covering notable women's achievements in the industry.
The project's principal investigator is Dr J. E. Smyth, will run from 2014 to 2016, and is funded by the British Academy and the Warwick University Humanities Research Fund (HRF).