Partner Marion Morgan

Queer Places:
Hoffman Café, 215 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90012
2249 Mountain Oak Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90068, USA
Avenida Obregon, La Quinta, CA 92253, Stati Uniti

Emma Dorothy Arzner[1] (January 3, 1897 – October 1, 1979) was an American film director whose career in feature films spanned from the silent era of the late 1920s into the early 1940s. She has been romantically linked to Joan Crawford, Ona Munson, Alla Nazimova, Billie Burke, Marion Morgan. Dorotht Azner tried to be an independent woman, not to mention lesbian, ina club run by old straight boys.

Arzner was the only female director working in the 1930s in the United States.[2] She was one of the very few women who established a name for herself as a director in the American film industry during this time.[3] Dorothy Azner's collaboration with Zoe Akins on films offered surprisingly feminist messages.

Born Emma Dorothy Arzner in San Francisco, California, on January 3, 1897, she was the daughter of Louis Arzner and Jenette Young. Louis had been born in Munich, Germany, emigrating to the United States in 1882; Jenette was born in Scotland. Dorothy lost her mother early. After the disastrous earthquake and fire of 1906, Louis moved his motherless children south to Los Angeles, where he remarried Mabel Gorsuch. Dorothy was raised by her step-grandmother, Lizzie Holmes.

Dorothy grew up in Los Angeles, where her father, Louis Arzner, owned the bustling, popular Hoffman Café at 215 South Spring Street in downtown L.A., frequented by many Hollywood celebrities. In 1911, Mabel Arzner, concerned that her stepdaughter was becoming too much of a tomboy, enrolled Dorothy at the prestigious Westlake School for Girls.

by Arnold Genthe

2249 Mountain Oak Dr, Los Angeles, CA

After finishing high school in 1915, she enrolled at the University of Southern California with hopes of becoming a doctor. She even went as far as spending two years as a pre-med student at the University of Southern California.[4] During World War I, she joined a local southern California ambulance unit with the hopes of going overseas, but never left the country. [5]By the time the war ended, she decided against returning to her medical studies and, after a visit to a movie studio, decided to pursue a career as a film director. "I remember making the observation, 'if one was going to be in the movie business, one should be a director because he was the one who told everyone else what to do,'" she said, according to What Women Want: The Complex World of Dorothy Arzner and Her Cinematic Women.[3]

Through connections with director William C. DeMille, Arzner got a job as a stenographer in 1919 at Famous Players-Lasky Corporation, which later became Paramount Pictures. She was taught and encourage by fellow typist named Agnes "Mike" Leahy, "a large red-haired girl", who helped her keep up until she became proficient. In fact, it was Mike Lehay who had a contact among Nazimova's company and who helped Arzner secure the script-girl position on the Stronger Than Death set. Arzner moved on to be a script writer, was promoted to film editor within six months and quickly mastered the job. Her first assignment as an editor was in 1922 for the renowned classic Blood and Sand, starring Rudolph Valentino. She was soon receiving accolades for the high quality of her work. It's fitting confluence that Dorothy Arzner began her career as a script girl to Alla Nazimova: the most famous lesbian of the silent era mentoring the young woman who would go on to become the "sole distaff-side director" of Hollywood's Golden Age. Arzner had an affair with Nazimova during the making of Stronger Than Death in 1919. Gavin Lambert, Nazimova's biographer, believed the story to be true. He sourced George Cukor, who was friends with both Nazimova and Arzner, and who scrupulously "separated falsehood from truth before passing on a story."

Arzner had been linked romantically with a number of actresses, including Alla Nazimova and Billie Burke,[13] but lived for the last 40 years of her life with her companion, choreographer Marion Morgan.[14] They met in Hollywood while Marion was choreographing a dance routine for Allen Holubar's film Man Woman Marriage (1921).

Arzner was trained as a cutter by Nan Heron, a veteran: "I watched her work on one reel and she let me do the second, while she watched and guided every cut. On Sunday I went into the studio and assembled the next reel. On Monday I told her about it and she looked at it and approved. I finished the picture under her guidance." Impressed with her young charge, Heron got Arzner a job both cutting and holding script on another picture. She would cut 37 pictures in one year. Arzner was the cutter for The Covered Wagon (1923), with J. Warren Kerrigan. Impressed by her technique, director James Cruze employed her as a writer and editor for several of his films, including Old Ironsides (1926).

Arzner achieved a great deal of clout through this, along with her work on over fifty other films at Paramount. She eventually threatened to move to rival Columbia Studios unless given a directorial position. Paramount conceded in 1927, putting her in charge of the film Fashions for Women, which became a financial success.[6] It's become Hollywood legend that Arzner would forever need to battle the male hierarchy of the studios, a contention perhaps confirmed by her friend, the screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen, who much later wrote to a friend how he "resented Dorothy being pushed around professionally because everybody knew she was a lesbian." Marion Morgan choreographed the fashion show for Fashions for Women. She repeated the duty for the next several Arzner films; in Manhattan Cocktail, she choreographed a dance right out of her own troupe, the tale of Theseus and Ariadne.

At Paramount, Arzner directed Clara Bow's first talkie, The Wild Party (1929). To allow Bow to move freely on the set, Arzner had technicians rig a microphone onto a fishing rod, essentially creating the first boom mike.[6][7] She did not, however, take out a patent. One year later one was filed for a very similar sound-recording device by Edmund H Hansen, a sound engineer at the Fox Film Corporation.[8] Although not the first to patent the boom microphone, Arzner is still credited with its invention.[4]

The Wild Party was a success with critics and was the third top-grossing film of 1929. The film, set in a women's college, introduced some of the apparent lesbian undertones and themes often cited in Arzner's work. According to film scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, the film "carefully articulates what happens when women stray from the confines of the safe all-girl environment" when they are "subject to the sexist advances of drunk, aggressive men."[9] Her films of the following three years were strong examples of Hollywood before the Production Code. These films featured aggressive, free-spirited and independent women.

In 1930 Arzner and Morgan moved into the home on Mountain Oak Drive they'd share for some 20 years before moving to Palm Springs. They christened it "Armor", the way Pickford and Fairbanks had called their home "Pickfair".

During the 1930s, Morgan frequently traveled to the East Coast and Europe and in 1934, she graduated from the Yale School of Drama. George Brendan Dowell, a classmate of Marion's, would recall Dorothy's visits, particularly one night when they all went to see Billy Rose's "Jumbo" at the Hyppodrome in New York. "You were in a lovely relaxed mood and Marion was so anxious that you see and do everything! I can hear you saying now, "Dearie.""

In Hollywood, they weren't part of the crowd at the Vendome or the Brown Derby, but correspondence reveals they did socialize with a chosen few: the actor David Manners and his male partner; George Cukor; the landscape gardener Florence Yoch. There were others, too, obsviously lesbian: after Marion's death, one couple, Beth and Ann, wrote they could appreciate Dorothy's grief "knowing what anguish it would be if one of us were to lose the other."

Arzner left Paramount in 1932 to begin work as an independent director for several of the studios. The films she directed during this period are her best known, including her 1940 film Dance, Girl, Dance. Judith Mayne has credited the film as helping to break down the conventions of the Hollywood narrative while also noting that it fit a standard mold of storytelling. Mayne goes on to note that the main character, Judy O'Brien (Maureen O’Hara), is an aspiring dancer stuck in a role as a stooge in a burlesque show. Night after night, the crowd (of mostly men) watches her dance and ridicules her pure, virtuous aesthetic. By the end of the film, Judy confronts the audience and tells them how she sees them, which Mayne opines calls out the crowd's patriarchal gaze and highlighting the objectification of women.[10]

Arzner launched the careers of many actresses, including Katharine Hepburn (Christopher Strong (1933), written by Zoe Akins), Rosalind Russell, Sylvia Sidney and Lucille Ball (Dance, Girl, Dance). In 1936, Arzner became the first woman to join the Directors Guild of America.[11] She was also the first woman to direct a sound film.[12]

In 1936, The Hollywood Reporter noted that Arzner was staying with Billie Burke, one of her favorite and most frequently used actresses, while her own home was being remodeled. At fifty, Burke, the former wife of Florenz Zigdield, was still youthful and pretty; Glinda the Good Witch, her ticket to immortality, was still a few years in the future. Rumors of her preferences for women had been rife for years. Andrew Stone, a fellow director at Paramount, said years later he was aware that Arzner and Burke were having an affair. In a fascinanting Screen Snapshots short subject from that same year, the two women are seen arriving together at a movie premiere in Palm Springs. But when Burke spots the newsreel camera, she hastily retreats from Arzner's side.

Marion Morgan died in 1971. Marion's friend George Brendan Dowell would write to Dorothy: "You understood her, you loved her so dearly. What a monument to your own love was that princely house, Armor is marked in the cornerstone and you shared so much of its beauty with others."

Arzner died, aged 82, in La Quinta, California.[15] Her ashes were scattered by the Chapel of the Desert over her home at 49-800 Avenida Obregon in La Quinta.[16]

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