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Nobody's Girl Friday

The Women Who Ran Hollywood
Narrated by: Karen White
Length: 13 hrs and 34 mins
1 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

The first comprehensive history of Hollywood's high-flying career women during the studio era, Nobody's Girl Friday covers the impact of the executives, producers, editors, writers, agents, designers, directors, and actresses who shaped Hollywood film production and style, led their unions, climbed to the top during the war, and fought the blacklist. 

Based on a decade of archival research, author J. E. Smyth uncovers a formidable generation working within the American film industry and brings their voices back into the history of Hollywood. Their achievements, struggles, and perspectives fundamentally challenge popular ideas about director-based auteurism, male dominance, and female disempowerment in the years between First and Second Wave Feminism. 

Nobody's Girl Friday is a revisionist history, but it's also a deeply personal, collective account of hundreds of working women, the studios they worked for, and the films they helped to make. For many years, historians and critics have insisted that both American feminism and the power of women in Hollywood declined and virtually disappeared from the 1920s through the 1960s. But Smyth vindicates Bette Davis's claim. The story of the women who called the shots in studio-era Hollywood has never fully been told - until now.

©2018 Oxford University Press (P)2018 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books

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An excuse for a hatchet job on Katharine Hepburn

This book is 1/3rd phone directory, 1/3rd resume reading, and only 1/3rd story. I wish that were a joke.

I also wish that the actual story had been told better. I was intrigued by the promises of the summary, but it sadly fails to fulfil any of that promise. I was hoping to hear about the contributions of women in the film industry. I didn't care about their politics, nor whether they identified as a feminist (of whatever wave), and I certainly didn't care about the author's opinion about who was legitimately feminist and who wasn't. The first two chapters of the book is filled with, quite literally, readings of studio phone books. When the book does start to get into details, it mostly just relays a string of resumes of prominent women in various departments of filmmaking.

Rather unintentionally, it reveals that self-importance, as well as mediocrity, in Hollywood knows no gender. When it does refer to work quality, it's almost always in terms of box office and awards (naturally, filmmakers deciding on whom among themselves to glorify). I believe that I learned that women were responsible for an over-reliance on closeups, along with interminable music bridges to give the audience the appropriate cue on how they should be feeling. That may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part, but it does reflect the kind of outsized claims that the author makes.

But, where it really goes wrong is the dreadful hatchet job on Katharine Hepburn. Throughout the book (when it chooses to actually relate facts about women in Hollywood) there is a lot of condescension regarding who was not a feminist, who wasn't feminist enough, who was a 1st wave versus 2nd wave feminist.... And it culminates in a shameful takedown of Katharine Hepburn as self-serving and anti-woman, stopping just short of calling her a female version of an Uncle Tom. Even the tepid efforts by the author for redemption for Hepburn in later years, specifically in The African Queen, are ironically given in relief to her male co-star Humphrey Bogart, and later dismissing her as nothing more than Spencer Tracy's facilitator and flunkie. To make historical commentary, and perhaps feeling that the record is being straight is one thing. But this last chapter was mean-spirited, particularly when the woman is so prominently featured on the cover.

I was merely disappointed up to the last chapter. Mostly names and resumes, without much substance. A few notable actors, writers, editors, costume designers were given notice, and that was welcome. But too little to salvage it from the books ignoble ending.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful