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Universal Women

Filmmaking and Institutional Change in Early Hollywood

Mark Garrett Cooper

Publication Year: 2010

Between 1912 and 1919, the Universal Film Manufacturing Company first systematically supported and promoted women directors--crediting eleven women with directing at least 170 films--and then abruptly reversed that policy. In this trailblazing study, Mark Garrett Cooper approaches the phenomenon as a case study in how corporate movie studios interpret and act on institutional culture. In focusing on issues of institutional change, Cooper challenges interpretations that explain women's exile from the film industry as the inevitable result of a transhistorical sexism or as an effect of a broadly cultural revision of gendered work roles. Drawing on a range of historical and sociological approaches to studying corporate institutions, Cooper examines the relationship between institutional organization and aesthetic conventions during the formative years when women filmmakers such as Ruth Ann Baldwin, Cleo Madison, Ruth Stonehouse, Elise Jane Wilson, and Ida May Park directed films for Universal.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Series: Women and Film History International

title page

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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Grants from Florida State University allowed me to conduct the research for this book, which would not have been possible absent the resources of numerous archives and the amazing professionals who staff them. I thank the Margaret Herrick...

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Preface: A Puzzle, Some Premises, and a Hypothesis

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pp. xiii-xxix

This book describes how institutions transform the possible into the all-but impossible. It tells the story of how the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, arguably the most enthusiastic employer of women directors the U.S. film industry has ever known...

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PART ONE: Possibility

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pp. 1-8

To understand how and why Universal made it possible for women to direct in significant numbers, we might start by considering what, exactly, the Universal Film Manufacturing Company is. What does “Universal” name? To understand this corporate...

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1. Universal's Names

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pp. 9-24

Although the feat of naming scarcely registers as an issue in most of the social-scientific and humanist literature on institutions, those who give corporations names have seen clearly the connection between organizational identity and descriptive habit. The field of corporate-identity design did not establish itself as a profession...

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2. Universal's Organization

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pp. 25-44

Universal’s names interpreted its constituent parts for its personnel, its customers, and its competitors. In this way, they indicate something of how the company organized production internally as well as how it addressed the competitive field in which...

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3. Universal City

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pp. 45-90

A December 1913 Universal Weekly headline proclaimed the company’s West Coast facility a place “Where Work Is Play and Play Is Work,” and a subhead amplified, “Universal City, California, the Only Incorporated Moving Picture Town in the World, and Its Unique...

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PART TWO: Impossibility

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pp. 91-98

In February 1919, Carl Laemmle proclaimed Universal to have come “back from hell.”1 Thanks to investment in quality features, he maintained, the company had rebounded from the collapse of its shorts program and from the twin economic blows,,,

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4. Genre: A Category of Institutional Analysis

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pp. 99-109

As an analytical category, genre explains how filmmaking institutions decide and what it means for them to have done so. This is a lesson that might be derived from reading recent approaches to film genres in tandem with a few key sociological studies...

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5. Serials: The Foreclosure of Collaboration

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pp. 110-127

Universal premiered the first episode of Lucille Love, the Girl of Mystery, in late April 1914. The studio doubtlessly hoped that this, its first, serial would allow Universal to catch up with Selig, which had hit with The Adventures of Kathlyn early in the year, and...

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6. Gender and the Dramatic Feature

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pp. 128-172

By the end of 1917, Universal had institutionalized an interpretation of the serial that valued hierarchical supervision above professional collaboration. Beginning in November of that year, the studio scaled back and reorganized production. Feature-film dramas...

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pp. 173-186

This book began with the puzzle of Universal’s promotion and subsequent elimination of women directors. I limned premises about the key terms in this puzzle, including gender, historical change, and institutions. I proposed that Universal reached a decision...


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pp. 187-220


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pp. 221-233

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090875
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252035227

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Women and Film History International