UCLA is currently hosting a film series highlighting the works of one of the most successful female film directors, Dorothy Arzner.

Their brochures for the event describe her this way:

“A remarkable and nearly unique figure in American film history, Arzner forged a career characterized by an individual worldview, and a strong, recognizable voice.  She was also, not incidentally, the sole female director in the studio era to sustain a directing career, working in that capacity for nearly two decades and helming 20 features—conspicuously, still a record in Hollywood.”

Still a record in Hollywood. That is amazing. But then again, it points to one of the benefits of the old studio system. People worked regularly.

Arzner started in the silent era at Paramount and worked right through at various studios until 1943, then mysteriously stopped. Some stories say it was health related. She did re-emerge in the 50s and 60s to direct commercials for television (her old pal, Joan Crawford may have been instrumental in her being hired by the agency which filmed the Pepsi commercials).

Then she taught film studies at UCLA. One of her students was Francis Ford Coppola, who said that she was a pivotal figure in his career. The photo above is her directing her last film. 1943’s First Comes Courage, with Merle Oberon.

Check out some of her films. One we find interesting is 1936’s Craig’s Wife, a film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize play by George Kelly. Arzner cast Roz Russell as the frigid, domineering wife who withholds sex to control her husband.

Dorothy Azner: A Retrospective runs through Sept. 18 at UCLA’s Film and Television Archive at the Hammer Museum’s Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles. If you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss it.

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