Elsie Jane Wilson
When asked by interviewer Frances Denton to comment in the pages of Photoplay on the question of whether or not directing was “man’s work,” Elsie Jane Wilson exclaimed, “I should say it is!” (50). Repeating the anecdote in his history of early women directors, Anthony Slide goes on to argue that it has largely been in the shadow of her actor-director husband Rupert Julian that Elsie Jane Wilson’s profile is sketched in existing accounts of early cinema (Slide 1996, 49–51). This much seems fairly accurate, but the degree of Wilson’s sincerity in replying to her female interlocutor remains an open question. In context, the statement can be read as an ironic one, underscoring the very attitude that working in Hollywood caused some women to rethink. The same Photoplay article cites Ida May Park as saying that “It was because directing seemed so utterly unsuited to a woman that I refused the first company offered me” (49), and then it goes on to describe the directing successes of both Park and Wilson. Wilson’s affirmation of directing as “man’s work” also may reveal something about the dynamics of her marriage, as Slide’s reminder of her connection with Julian suggests. At the time, skepticism about women’s professional abilities often indicated nervousness about their supposed abandonment of domestic responsibilities. In any event, the fact that Wilson is credited with writing two and directing perhaps eleven films between 1916 and 1919 makes it impossible to take her answer to Denton’s question at face value.
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