1923. USA. Directed by George B. Seitz. With Pearl White, Harry Semele, Karen Kreen. Preserved print courtesy The Library of Congress. 4 min.
1917. USA. Written and directed by Grace Cunard, Francis Ford. Chapter 5 of the serial Purple Mask. With Cunard, Ford, Jean Hathway. Preserved print courtesy The Library of Congress. 13 min.
1915. USA. Directed by Helen Holmes, Leo Maloney. Chapter 13 of the serial The Hazards of Helen. Screenplay by J. P. McGowan, Holmes. With Holmes, Maloney. Preserved print courtesy The Library of Congress. 13 min.
Women Daredevils of the Silent Era: More than Pearl White
Pearl White was a wildly popular daredevil serial queen of the silent era, but she wasn’t the first. Gene Gauntier preceded her in 1909 with her Girl Spy series. Not only did White, Gauntier, and the other pioneering women in this program—Ruth Roland, Helen Holmes, and Grace Cunard—perform their own dangerous stunts, they also wrote, directed, and produced. Today we see in these “sensational melodrama” heroines the most liberated aspects of the New Woman, whose physical daring and intellectual prowess can still thrill audiences. Jane Gaines, a professor of film at Columbia University School of the Arts, and B. Ruby Rich, a critic and scholar, present two programs celebrating groundbreaking, multitalented women of silent cinema. These screenings mark the launch of the Women Film Pioneers Project, a collaborative compendium of essays, images, and archival material that will be published this year by Columbia University Libraries as an experiment in digital publishing.