As you know, I love lists of people assembled by other people for other purposes than my own. Lately I`ve been tabulating lists of Oscar nominees over the decades, which provide unanticipated insights into popularity, social approval, and accomplishment.
For example, we can use Oscar nominations for Best Screenplay to track the progress of women.
Over the last 10 years (2003 through the current 2012 nominees) women have earned 14% of the Best Adapted Screenplay nominations. This is up from 11% in the 1930s.
In the Best Original Screenplay, women have earned 15% of the nominations over the last 10 years. In the 1930s, women earned 15% of this category`s nominations, too.
My vague impression is that women screenwriters were particularly influential back in the silent movie era before the end of the 1920s. For example, Frances Marion wrote scores of movies from 1912 onward, winning Oscars in 1930 and 1932.
The coming of the talkies from 1927 onward, with their need for expertly-crafted dialogue, led to a large importation of New York playwrights. Herman J. Mankiewicz famously telegraphed Ben Hecht: “Millions are to be grabbed out here and your only competition is idiots. Don’t let this get around.”
The New York men brought with them the more patriarchal tradition of the stage, where the playwright is king. In contrast, film is, by nature, a more collaborative medium, encouraging less domineering women to play an important role.
In contrast, Oscar nominations for the Production Directions/Art Direction/Set Decoration category went 100% to men in the 1930s.
I`m not sure why that is, so I went to learn more about the leading set decorator, Cedric Gibbons of MGM, who received 39 Oscar nominations during his career. Wikipedia says about Cedric Gibbons:
He retired in 1956 with about 1,500 films credited to him: however, his contract with MGM dictated that he receive credit as art director for every MGM film released in the United States, even though other designers may have done the bulk of the work. Even so, his actual hands-on art direction may have been on about 150 films.
In 1930, Gibbons married actress Dolores del Río and co-designed their house in Santa Monica, an intricate Art Deco residence influenced by Rudolf Schindler. They divorced in 1941, the year he married actress Hazel Brooks with whom he remained until his death at the age of 67. …
Gibbons` nephew is Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist/vocalist for the rock band ZZ Top.
Well, that`s interesting. Makes sense, too: ZZ Top has a better sense of art direction than almost any other American band. In fact, Billy F. Gibbons is so expert at the business of show biz that I can`t find any copies of their famous 1983 music video Sharp Dressed Man online to illustrate my point.
The Wikipedia entry on the hirsute bluesman is a little more exact about the relationship between the two Gibbons:
Gibbons was born to Frederick Royal (Freddie) and Lorraine Gibbons in the Tanglewood suburb of Houston, Texas, United States. His father was an entertainer, orchestra conductor, and concert pianist who worked alongside second cousin, art director Cedric Gibbons, for Samuel Goldwyn at MGM Studios … . While attending Warner Brothers` art school in Hollywood, California, Gibbons engaged with his first bands including The Saints, Billy G & the Blueflames, and The Coachmen.
I`m reminded of singer Bonnie Raitt, who was famous in the 1970s and 1980s for her authentic blues style. I`d always sort of assumed she`d grown up the child of sharecroppers in East Texas. Bonnie, it turns out, is the son of Broadway musical star John Raitt, the star of the first production of Carousel on Broadway in 1945. He starred opposite Doris Day in the 1957 movie musical The Pajama Game.