Dorothy Arzner

Director, Editor, Screenwriter
In the early days of Hollywood when women had few paths to choose from, Dorothy Arzner bucked the system and became a feature film director. Though her body of work remained uneven at best, Arzner nonetheless managed to ... Read more »
Born: 01/03/1897 in San Francisco, California, USA

Filmography

Director (2)

Dance, Girl, Dance 1939 (Movie)

(Director)

Christopher Strong 1932 (Movie)

(Director)

Biography

In the early days of Hollywood when women had few paths to choose from, Dorothy Arzner bucked the system and became a feature film director. Though her body of work remained uneven at best, Arzner nonetheless managed to rise from being an editor to directing her first picture, "Fashions for Women" (1927), a silent comedy that went on to box office success. After helming "Ten Modern Commandments" (1927) and "Get Your Man" (1927), she entered the talkie era with "The Wild Party" (1929) and quickly established herself as a director who made movies featuring fiercely independent women. Arzner typically cast appropriate actresses like Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford to ably play such roles, as they did in "Christopher Strong" (1933) and "The Bride Wore Red" (1937), respectively. Not shy about her sexuality, Arzner took to wearing skirt suits on set while gaining a reputation for pursuing her actresses, as she did with Crawford. Meanwhile, after directing "Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940) and "First Comes Courage" (1943), she fell ill with pneumonia and found it difficult to return to pictures. Instead, she taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Pasadena Playhouse, while Crawford helped pave the way for her to direct over 50 commercials for Pepsi. Though she slipped into obscurity before her death in 1979, Arzner re-emerged as a pioneering woman who managed to compile a body of work at a time most other women were given opportunities to do so.

Relationships

Louis Arzner

Father

Billie Burke Actor

Companion
had brief relationship c. 1932

Marion Morgan

Companion

Alla Nazimova Actor

Companion
had brief affair

EDUCATION

Westlake School for Girls

Beverly Hills, California 1915

University of Southern California

Los Angeles, California
dropped out(pre-med)

Milestones

1975

Feted in a tribute given by the Directors Guild of America

1942

Contracted pneumonia and was an invalid for more than a year

1942

Made last feature, "First Comes Courage"

1940

Steered Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball in "Dance, Girl, Dance"; film received belated attention in the 1980s and 1990s for its feminist overtones

1937

Was director of "The Bride Wore Red", starring Joan Crawford

1936

Directed remake of "Craig's Wife", starring Rosalind Russell

1934

Hired by Samuel Goldwyn to direct "Nana"

1933

Helmed "Christopher Strong", starring Katharine Hepburn; also written by Akins

1932

Ended full-time affiliation with Paramount Studios; freelanced for the rest of her career

1930

First collaborations with screenwriter Zoe Akins, "Sarah and Son" and "Anybody's Woman", both starring Ruth Chatterton

1930

Reportedly offered uncredited directorial assistance to Robert Milton on "Behind the Makeup" and "Charming Sinners"

1929

First talking picture, "The Wild Party", starring Clara Bow

1928

Used music and sound effects but no dialogue in "Manhattan Cocktail"

1927

Film directorial debut at Paramount with "Fashions for Women"

1924

Early screenplay credits included "The Breed of the Border" and "The No-Gun Man"

1922

Attracted attention at Paramount for her editing of the Rudolph Valentino vehicle, "Blood and Sand", particularly the bullfight sequence that used stock footage as well as reels of Valentino

1921

Appointed as chief editor at Realart Studios; cut and edited at least one film per week

1919

Began career as a stenographer at Famous Players-Lasky Corporation (later Paramount)

When Harry Cohn offered a contract as director at Columbia, B P Schulberg agreed to let her helm a film for Paramount

During WWI, worked as an ambulance driver

Trained as an assistant film cutter

Taught at UCLA for four years in the 1960s; among students was Francis Ford Coppola

Initiated first film classes at the Pasadena Playhouse

Hired at the suggestion of Joan Crawford (then married to the company's president) to direct more than 50 television commericals for Pepsi Cola in the 1950s

Directed instructional films during WWII

Bonus Trivia

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Sources are divided over the year of Arzner's birth. While most claim that she was born in 1900, her death certificate lists 1897.

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