In the 1950s and 1960s, studios downsized planning departments by transforming executive-level positions to freelance, middle management, or crew jobs with reduced cachet and increased service components. Predictably, men abandoned these fields, and women streamed in to fill the void. And so, by the 1970s and 1980s, while women like Elaine May, Amy Heckerling, Paula Weinstein, and Sherry Lansing were (re)paving the way to elite creative fields, women who had begun as negative cutters, secretaries, “script girls,” and casting assistants were fighting their way into mid-level jobs as junior story executives, production coordinators, editors, casting directors, and publicists. On entering these fields, women faced the same implicit gender-related expectations they had faced in their old jobs, where it was presumed certain tasks came naturally to them as women: that on top of their official responsibilities, they add value by “giving good phone,” ordering the sandwiches at lunch time, charming and socializing with clients, cheering male colleagues and superiors on, and framing their own workplace contributions with acts of conspicuous, performed femininity so as not to be perceived as bossy, mannish, or bitchy—the worst possible sins for a woman. If women succeeded, it was as part of the team, and credit for their individual contributions was often assigned elsewhere. This was the price of entry into what had been male-dominated positions, paid in exchange for tolerance of women’s presence in a workplace that men understood (and often still do) as theirs.
Women were never absent from film history; they often simply weren’t documented as part of it because they did “women’s work,” which was—by definition—insignificant, tedious, low status, and noncreative. In the golden age of Hollywood, women could be found in nearly every department of every studio, minding the details that might otherwise get in the way of more important, prestigious, or creative work (a.k.a. men’s work). If film historians consider the classical Hollywood era’s mode of production a system, we ought to consider women this system’s mainstay, because studios were built on their low-cost backs and scaled through their brush and keystrokes. Simply put: female workers, so often segregated and devalued under the studio system, should not suffer the same fate in media history by being considered only for what they could not do as casualties of unjust gender politics. Examining the types of work women could and did do in the wake of sex segregation reveals their agency—both in their own careers and in their industry’s history—and helps frame an understanding of contemporary gendered labor. The stakes—pay, credit, workplace identity, and so forth—are too high to leave the past in the past. And anyway, for women, the past is always present—a reality reflected in every chapter of this book.
Adapted from Never Done: A History of Women’s Work in Media Production. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016. Copyright © 2016 by Erin Hill. Reprinted by permission of Rutgers University Press.
[i] Edison colorists: Charles Musser, Before the Nickelodeon: Edwin S. Porter and the Edison Manufacturing Company (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991), 41. “American Mutoscope: The Art of Moving Picture Photography,” Scientific American, April 17, 1897, 248–250; “deft-fingered girls”: “Selig’s The Great Moving Picture Plant of the West,” Moving Picture World (hereafter referred to as MPW) 5, no. 8 (August 21, 1909): 248; “Girl operator”: Melvin Riddle, “From Pen to Silversheet XIV—The Film Laboratory,” The Photodramatist 4, no. 9 (February 1923): 6, 38. “Sample copy room”: Edward Dmytryk, It’s a Hell of a Life but Not a Bad Living: A Hollywood Memoir (New York: Times Books, 1978), 5.
[ii] Greer photograph: Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz, Gone Hollywood: The Movie Colony in the Golden Age (New York: Doubleday, 1979), 69. “Embroidery”: Ronald L. Davis, The Glamour Factory: Inside Hollywood’s Big Studio System (Dallas, TX: Southern Methodist University Press, 1993), 216; Beth Day, This Was Hollywood: An Affectionate History of Filmland’s Golden Years (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1960), 128–129. Disney/“the nunnery”: Patricia Zohn, “Coloring the Kingdom,” Vanity Fair. (March 2010), http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2010/03/disney-animation-girls-201003.