Friday, June 19, 2020

When Women Ruled Hollywood

Today I have my friend Brian Hannan back as a guest blogger. He has just published his latest book, the title of which says it all. 

When  I was interviewing him at the launch of his last book, he did mention that he was researching  a book of this title and there was a belief that a book on this subject matter might be very short indeed!

However,   the book arose from a series  of lectures Brian was giving at the university, which led to a series of lectures at universities in Europe. He was just about to go global with the lecture series when the pandemic happened so he has been, like the rest of us, getting to grips with zoom and  teams, rather than sitting in departure lounges sipping Martini on expenses.

So, it's out now and selling well,  so let's see what it is all about.


Why did you write this book?

By accident really. I had come across some information while researching a completely different subject that said Mary Pickford and Mae West were paid colossal sums. This was news to me. West, in particular, one year was the second-highest paid person in the whole of America. So out of curiosity really I started checking back and discovered to my astonishment that for a long time women were more highly paid than men.

Mary Pickford

How has it been accepted given that I, and many others, have a belief that women were very much used and abused in Hollywood?

The book grew out of lectures I’ve been delivering at Strathclyde University so I could get a fairly good idea of reaction to the notion there. Generally, at the start of a lecture people thought this was a load of old tosh but by the end they were all as amazed as me by what I had discovered.

How did my granny’s favourite actress Mary Pickford fair in all this?

Pickford was an astonishing figure. Certainly one of the cleverest people ever in Hollywood. She was the highest earner in Hollywood for over 70 years and even these days few people come close to her earning power – the equivalent these days of $46 million annually. A lot of actresses want the power to make the films they want. She took that power. She set up United Artists, one of the most famous studios. Other top names like Charlie Chaplin and her husband Douglas Fairbanks were involved but she was the driving force. 


Who is your favourite actress?

A few of the obvious ones like Joan Crawford and Elizabeth Taylor and Sandra Bullock but I also hold Jean Simmons, Maureen O’Hara  and Greer Garson in high regard.


                                                     A Douglas Fairbanks!

How are those who identify as female treated in Hollywood today? Do we still have women with that kind of power?

Well, stars, male or female, do have a certain amount of power. They can say no and getting them to say yes takes a huge amount of bucks and negotiation and they often have script and/or director approval. They can still trigger personal projects no matter how awful they turn out. Jennifer Lawrence put her heft behind two unusual projects but Mother was a stinker and Red Sparrow not far off being one.  Lawrence, in particular, makes project that appeal to her and has four on the go. But most actors have the same problem with power and unless stars are willing to dig deep into their own pockets to fund scripts, movies or production companies they won’t get power. Power costs money and involves risk. Stars always expect the actual studio to pay for the scripts they turn up that a writer has done on spec rather than commission the writer and paying them upfront. But there’s certainly no doubt women have at various points been treated badly by the industry.

                                                                    Greer Garson

Was it a difficult book to research compared to the others? Hitchcock's Greatest Film,  The Magnificent Seven. etc

Nothing is difficult if you love doing it. I enjoy research. Discovering something nobody knew like John Wayne being touted for Lawrence of Arabia is a great feeling. With other books I’ve written I’ve been accepted as the authority. For example, I am the recognized authority in areas like movie reissues or how films were released, arcane subject matter I know, but students quote me in their research. So I’d kind of become used to people accepting what I said as gospel. But for this book I’m getting journalists rejecting the idea as preposterous without even reading the book, as though this is some wild conspiracy.


                                            Mae West

What’s easier fiction or non fiction?  ( Brian is also a  pretty nifty  fiction writer and has an interest in writing a crime novel. I told him not to bother as I don't need the competition !)

Non-fiction for me because I know it’s going to get published. A non-fiction publisher just asks if a writer knows their stuff and can they string a decent sentence together. They are much more pragmatic about it. They don’t have to “love” the book in the way you hear fiction agents or publishers going on.  But for non-fiction you have to add “notes” – some of my books have 50 pages of that – plus an index so non-fiction is harder to complete rather than write. 


I remember when you were planning this book a mutual female friend said 'he’s going to get pelters for writing that.' Did you?   (Translated - you might not be popular!)

I have in some quarters but mostly from people who haven’t read the book. This is groundbreaking stuff but one radio programme presenter said it wasn’t groundbreaking even though she hadn’t bothered to read the book. On the other hand I did get invited to speak at a conference whose subject was “Women in Film.”  

And he got a big round of applause, not attacked with rotten fruit!!

Caro Ramsay


  1. What a fascinating idea for a book. Thank you for bringing it to our collective attention. May I ask where this book is available to buy? Is it available on Kindle and paperback and which version would you recommend? Do you have links to buy his other books?

  2. What fun info, Brian. I learned about Mary Pickford's power years ago, from a guide while touring the Hearst mansion in San Simeon. I think people knew of her pre-eminence while she was alive. Like a lot women's accomplishments, these facts were later ignored. Thank you for returning them to the light!!

  3. Brian comes across as a nice guy who knows his stuff. That makes him dangerous to we mystery writers, so let's hope he sticks to non-fiction. :) Considering my past, I can't wait to read the book.