http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/ ... 1803300143
Pennsylvania honors Lois Weber, a Pittsburgh film pioneer who helped shape early filmmaking
APR 2, 2018 6:16 AM
Many early 20th century filmmakers were visionaries who didn’t shy away from works with politically charged social themes.
One film icon, a Pittsburgher, was known for taking on abortion, wage inequity and drug abuse as well as for technical innovations. But her work has been lost in the shuffle of history— both figuratively and literally.
Lois Weber — born on Federal Street in Allegheny City, now known as Pittsburgh’s North Side — is among the people and places chosen for 16 new state historical markers by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. The new markers, selected from 51 applications, will be added to the nearly 2,300 familiar blue-with-gold-lettering signs along roads and streets throughout Pennsylvania.
As one of the first female director-screenwriters in the days of silent film, Lois Weber is considered a pioneer of early Hollywood, as she mastered superimposition, double exposures and split screens to convey thoughts and ideas rather than words on title cards.
“I love how she takes her god-given talents and uses those along with her social conscious,” said Lauren Uhl, curator at the Heinz History Center. Ms. Uhl submitted the application for Weber’s marker despite only hearing of her only a few years ago.
“For me, it was almost a personal thing,” she said. “I wanted to know how she got written out of history and forgotten locally.”
During her nearly three-decade career that started around 1905, Weber created around 200 films. Only a handful are still in existence. Many of her films touched on issues of human rights and social justice.
Weber also notably became the first woman to direct a full-length feature film in the United States with the 1914 silent-film adaptation of the William Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice.”
Some of her most popular productions include “The People vs. John Doe,” a film depicting a man convicted and sentenced to death on unsubstantiated evidence, “Hop, the Devil’s Brew,” a semi-documentary film highlighting drug abuse and “Shoes,” a tale of a woman who has to has support her family on only a few dollars a week.
Ms. Uhl said “Shoes” is probably her favorite Weber production for its modest but emotionally engaging take on urban poverty. Weber cast fellow Pittsburgher Mary MacLaren as the film’s lead.
“She doesn’t beat you over the head with it,” Ms. Uhl said. “But she tells the story in an engaging and dramatic way and you leave asking yourself questions.”
In her formative years, Weber spent much of her time cultivating a profound interest in the arts. A talented concert pianist in her teens, Weber —came from a deeply religious family — played for many church gatherings around the city.
“All the things that made her Lois Weber came from Pittsburgh,” Ms. Uhl said.
After moving to New York City in the early 1900s, Weber married her first husband, Phillip Smalley, with whom she wrote, directed and acted in many of her early films. The couple divorced in 1922. She remarried in 1926 to her second husband Harry Gantz and they divorced in 1935.
Weber released her final film “White Heat” in 1934. She died in 1939 at the age of 60.
Despite receiving widespread acclaim from audiences, critics and her peers, Weber was largely forgotten, Ms. Uhl said.
Mark Lynn Anderson, professor of films studies at the University of Pittsburgh, said as filmmaking went from a free-wheeling industry without corporate structure to the studio system, women were squeezed out of prominent roles.
Mr. Anderson said this was the case for women like Weber who had been critical to innovations in the film industry.
“The early film industry was less organized, therefore women were allowed to take all kinds of creative and executive work,” he said. “Weber is one of the central figures of question to the development of women in the film industry.”
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