MEET DOROTHY ARZNER
American. 3 January 1897 – 1 October 1979
Dorothy Arzner made history when she became the first woman to direct a sound film, “Manhattan Cocktail” in 1928. Her directing career spanned the 1920s to the early 1940s. She launched the careers of many actresses including Katharine Hepburn and Lucille Ball. Later, in her teaching years at UCLA, she taught a young Francis Ford Coppola and gave him the confidence to become a film director. In honor of this free-spirited and independent woman we’re releasing a 3-year-old straight rye whiskey.
Dorothy Arzner was the only female director working in Hollywood’s Golden Age during the 1920’s to early 1940’s. She was a free-spirited, independent woman who lived a transparently lesbian life. She claimed that men never gave her any trouble and they were in fact more helpful than woman. Dorothy also stated that she was never desperate for work. “I was always ready to give the picture over to some other director if I couldn’t make it the way I saw it.” She directed 17 feature films, at Paramount, RKO, Columbia, and MGM, largely with a female audience in mind, starring female protagonists. Leading female actors included Clara Bow, Ruth Chatterton, Katherine Hepburn and Joan Crawford.
Arzner grew up in Hollywood. Her film career started in her early 20’s when Dorothy began typing scripts for what is now Paramount. After 6 months she was cutting and editing films at Realart Pictures Corporation, a subsidiary of Paramount. After two years and 52 cut and edited movies, she was called back to Paramount to cut her first major film ‘Blood and Sand’. It was during this movie that she began doing some of the camera work. Soon after, Arzner was writing scripts for independent companies including Columbia. Columbia offered to hire her as a director and that was when Dorothy says she got her first break at Paramount. The executives at Paramount asked her to direct for them instead. Arzner knew she was more than capable.
In her first assigned film: Fashions for Women (1927), she proved herself with attention to female detail and ability to showcase the beautiful star in the film. Paramount assigned her more films following the success of her first film, showing they had confidence in her abilities. After successfully directing several silent films, she was given the offer to direct the first sound film starring Clara Bow, The Wild Party (1929).
In 1932 Dorothy left Paramount to work freelance, but ultimately ended up working for other studios, each no longer than a year. It was during this time she made Christopher Strong (1933) with Katherine Hepburn. She made a total of 6 films in the remainder of her directing career.
After leaving Hollywood in 1943, Dorothy Arzner was teaching filmmaking at UCLA. It was here that she taught a young Francis Ford Coppola and encouraged him to stick with film making when he was so ready to quit.
Dorothy continued to teach at UCLA until her death in 1979.