“The business of films is the business of dreams…but then dreams are scrambled messages from waking life, and there is true in lies too,” (America in the Movies, Michael Woods, 1975; p. 16).
Mary Pickford was Lilian Gish’s (The Birth of A Nation) first successor, and she soon became a star playing childish, virginal roles. Pickford starred in such family films such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and Poor Little Rich Girl. Unfortunately for her, audiences refused to accept her in more mature roles. She retired in 1928, after a lifetime of playing teenage virgins (Leish, 1974).
At the opposite end of the purity spectrum stood Theda Bara who debuted as a femme fatale in the 1915 production of A Fool There Was.
Bara became famous on screen as a femme fatale– known for her sexual wiles, and for destroying sucessful, gullible men.
Native Americans also made their debut shortly before the 1920s: as savages attacking White women and helpless settlers in covered wagons. Of course these weren’t real “Indians,” they were White performers in red face. Interesting enough, they appeared in films just as the radical pan-Indian movement of the 1920s was taking shape (draw your own conclusions). Zitkala-Sa (Gertrude Simmons Bonnin) a dynamic Sioux leader founded the the National Council of American Indians during this era. By the 1920s, Native Americans had drawn attention to the kidnapping of their children (“off-reservation schooling), to reservation disease and poverty (Amott & Matthaie, 1991).
Yet as films edged into the 1920s, the dreamweavers got raw. Indeed, the ’20s has been decribed as one of the most liberated of film eras. Let’s just take a peek, shall we?
Enter “Flappers:” wild thangs who liked living on the edge. These young women drank booze from silver flasks, rode with fast young in fast cars, and had sex–and plenty of it.
“The studios presented an endless stream of films about America’s flaming youth; movies in which flappers and boyfriends drove fast cars, used hip flasks and partipated in wild orgies…that lasted until dawn,” (Kenneth W. Leish, Cinema, 1974; p.45).
I know you’re asking “what’s the catch?” Did flappers die in car crashes, or wind up in poverty? Or were they cruel, heartless monsters (like Bara) who filmically sucked the life’s blood of innocent men?
The answer is none of above.
To be continued…
Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers-Thompson, Valjeanne Jeffers 1997, 2012 all rights reserved.
Excerpts from The Story of Eve have been published In PurpleMag 2010