AFS Salutes Pioneering Golden Age Hollywood Director Dorothy Arzner with 3 Screenings

This month AFS Presents a series of three films directed by Dorothy Arzner, who made films in Hollywood during the studio system era as the only contracted female director since the silent era.

Films screened will be DANCE, GIRL, DANCE (1940) on June 12 & 14; MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932) on June 19 & 21; and WORKING GIRLS on June 23 & 28.

Here's a fascinating interview with Dorothy Arzner, conducted by Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary by mail in 1974. She gives an idea about the kinds of career opportunities a woman might be expected to have in Hollywood during that era. Her struggle to rise in the ranks and become a director is modestly recounted, but we can only imagine the kind of courage it must have required to make the stand she did.

An excerpt:

"... and I told him, I was leaving Paramount after seven years, and I wanted to say good-bye to someone important. “Come into my office, Dorothy.” I followed him, and when he sat down behind his desk, I put out my hand and said, “Really, I didn’t want a thing, just wanted to say good-bye to someone important. I’m leaving to direct.” He turned and picked up the intercom and said, “Ben—Dorothy’s in my office and says she’s leaving.” I heard Ben Schulberg say, “Tell her I’ll be right in.” Which he was—in about three minutes.

“What do you mean you’re leaving?” “I’ve finished Ironsides. I’ve closed out my salary, and I’m leaving.” “We don’t want you to leave. There’s always a place in the scenario department for you.” “I don’t want to go into the scenario department. I’m going to direct for a small company.” “What company?” he asked. “I won’t tell you because you’d probably spoil it for me.” “Now Dorothy, you go into our scenario department and later we’ll think about directing.” “No, I know I’d never get out of there.” “What would you say if I told you that you could direct here?” “Please don’t fool me, just let me go. I’m going to direct at Columbia.” “You’re going to direct here at Paramount.” “Not unless I can be on a set in two weeks with an A picture. I’d rather do a picture for a small company and have my own way than a B picture for Paramount.”

With that he left, saying, “Wait here.” He was back in a few minutes with a play in his hand. “Here. It’s a French farce called The Best Dressed Woman in Paris.

So, there I was a writer-director. It was announced in the papers the following day or so: “Lasky Names Woman Director.”