25 August 2014

Dear Mr. DeMille

I had never heard of Lois Weber before today. A little ashamed am I to admit it, as she is one of the most important female directors the American film industry has known (film historian Anthony Slide even calls her the most important American female director ever). And not only was she a director, she was also an actress, screenwriter and producer. A filmmaker during Hollywood's silent era, Weber has often been mentioned in the same breath as her renowned colleagues Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffith. She was a true pioneer, being the first American woman to direct a full-length feature film, the first woman to own a film studio, one of the first directors to experiment with sound and also one of the first to catch the attention of the Hollywood censors (she didn't shy away from controversy; her "Hypocrites" (1915) was the first film to contain full nude scenes). Her films were extremely popular and at one point she was even Universal's best-paid director. In 1960, because of her contribution to the film industry, Weber was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Although Lois Weber continued to make films in the early 1930s, her greatest successes are from the 1910s and 1920s. In 1939, when she was no longer making movies (her final film "White Heat" came out in 1934), Weber was eager to make a comeback. In a letter to Cecil B. DeMille dated 24 June 1939, she told him of her plans to make a new film ("If this is as good as I think, it will make a sensational success"). The film, however, was never made. Later that year, on 13 November, a penniless Weber died of a bleeding ulcer at the age of sixty.

Lois Weber with Cecil B. DeMille

Transcript: 

June 24, 1939

Dear Mr. DeMille,

In the days of my successful picture making, whenever I struck a winner for the screen something 'clicked' in my consciousness. 

I'm asking you to read the enclosed brief story outline because that has once more happened in this case.

If this is as good as I think, it will make a sensational success.

Will you please read it personally before anyone in your organization even knows that it is in your possession?

There is a real reason for such a request bearing directly on the peculiar nature of the idea and your individual reception of it.

With deep appreciation, regardless of your favorable or unfavorable reaction, I am 

Sincerely yours,

Lois Weber (signed) 

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