“One of these days, men are going to get over the fool idea that women have no brains,” Cleo Madison told Photoplay magazine in 1916, “and quit getting insulted at the thought that a skirt-wearer can do their work quite as well as they can. And I don’t believe that day is very far off” (109). Such statements encourage us to imagine Madison in the vanguard of what must then have seemed a major trend. It is clear from the published record of Universal Motion Picture Manufacturing Company credits from 1912–1929 that, beginning in 1915, the company employed increasing numbers of women as directors, and by the end of 1919 it had credited no fewer than eleven women with directing at least one hundred and seventy titles (Braff 2002). Before 1915, Universal credited Grace Cunard, Jeanie Macpherson, and Lois Weber as directors. After 1915, the studio credited Cunard, Madison, Weber, Ruth Ann Baldwin, Eugenie Magnus Ingleton, Bess Meredyth, Ida May Park, Ruth Stonehouse, Lule Warrenton, and Elsie Jane Wilson. By 1920, however, none of these women directed for Universal, which promoted men to take their places. Most never directed again. Madison’s own directorial career lasted scarcely a year. It thus poses with particular clarity the mystery of why Universal’s attitude toward women directors changed so dramatically over such a short period of time. Madison’s case also reveals the instability of the facts contemporary scholars encounter when they begin to investigate silent era filmmakers in depth.
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