Women Behind the Camera

Although women are of course most recognized and appreciated when they act onscreen in Hollywood, they have played integral if unrecognized role behind the scenes for much of Hollywood's history. The films of this watchlist demonstrate the behind-the-scenes work of two women in Hollywood: Mary Pickford and Frances Marion.

Although Mary Pickford was acclaimed for her work on screen, she was just as active behind it, serving as writer and producer of many of her own films and those of others. Frances Marion was another prolific woman working behind the scenes of Hollywood. Although she was American, she greatly helped the careers of Canadians Mary Pickford and Marie Dressler, writing, adapting, and producing films best suited to their skills. The intent of this list in to provide a foray into the work women did behind the Camera in Hollywood, centred around talent from Canada in particular.

DVD cover of "Stella Maris"

Stella Maris (1918)

Written by Frances Marion
Silent

In this dual-role performance recommended by film scholar Cari Beauchamp, Mary Pickford plays bedbound and sheltered youth Stella Maris and her doppelganger Unity Blake, away ward orphan taken in by John, a journalist friend of Stella's family. A love triangle soon develops between Stella, Unity, and John, leading to jealousies flaring, personalities clashing, and tragedy occurring. Mary Pickford exhibits her range as an actress in the film, flawlessly playing to contrasting yet powerful characters.
 
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Daddy Long Legs (1919)

Produced by Mary Pickford
Silent

This silent comedy-drama, produced by and starring Mary Pickford, sees her play the role of Judy, a young orphan who leads fellow younger orphans in asserting their freedom and peace from their abusive caretaker. As she grows to adulthood, she enters into a love triangle with a wealthy gentleman and a friend, while also navigating the opportunity to attend college, which of course is a huge prospect for an orphan. Throughout the film Mary plays Judy with spunk and strength, demonstrating herself as a leader of the unfortunate.
 
DVD cover of "Little Annie Rooney"

Little Annie Rooney (1925)

Written by Mary Pickford
Silent

In this comedy-drama, Mary Pickford plays the titular Annie Rooney, a young girl living her life causing mischief with youth street gangs. Her father, a police officer, disproves of her rough-and-tumble way of living, but when she finds herself falling in love with the leaders of one of the street gangs Annie is torn between two worlds of law and crime. In this role, Mary Pickford moves away from her famous feminine image in favour of a character who is more tough and street-smart, associating with lowly criminals and life in the streets.
 
DVD cover of "Their Own Desire"

Their Own Desire (1929)

Written by Frances Marion
Talking

This film follows a young woman who must navigate her feelings towards her father, his new wife, and a new love interest of her own who has surprising connections to her wider family dynamic. Norma plays Lally, the young woman who must navigate personal and familial love.
 
DVD cover of "Min and Bill"

Min & Bill (1930)

Written by Frances Marion
Talking

Marie Dressler won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Min, a fierce but loving dockside inn owner. In the film, Min must protect her surrogate daughter from the corrupting elements of prohibition-era underground America as well as unexpected visitors from their respective pasts. Marie conveys the persona of the lioness, caring and fiercely protective of her charge, willing to cross any line for her safety.
 
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Emma (1932)

Written by Frances Marion
Talking

In another of Marie Dressler's fierce yet motherly roles, she plays the titular Emma, an aging housekeeper to the Smith family. Written by Frances Marion, the film follows Emma as she becomes elopes with the father of the family, who dies shortly thereafter. When the spoiled Smith children accuse Emma of manipulating their father for his money, she must prove her innocence with the help of her favourite and the only of the children to believe her innocence, Ronnie. Marie embodies the selfless, motherly Emma wonderfully, creating a character who is sympathetic and engaging to watch.
 
DVD cover of "Secrets"

Secrets (1933)

Written by Frances Marion
Talking

In Mary Pickford's final acting role before retirement, she plays the daughter of a wealthy businessman fated for an unwanted marriage. The film, written by Frances Marion, follows Pickford's character Mary runs away from her overbearing parents to marry her truelove, and elopes with him to the Wild West. While there, the couple must brave the dangers of the frontier and their own family dramas.