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Essays

Sada Cowan

Bajar, Daniela; Bloom, Livia

“He told me I’d better make my living with my brains [rather] than any beauty I thought I had,” writes Sada Louise Cowan in 1932, remembering her first interview with Cecil B. DeMille. An established playwright, Cowan had little experience with motion picture work. So when DeMille gave Cowan a studio pass, she started to visit the set regularly. “I made myself a complete nuisance,” she says, recalling that she learned about angles by standing behind the cameraman and asking the cutter millions of questions. It was Ruby Miller, supervisor of the “girls who copied scripts,” who helped her by showing her the best continuities, until one day on the set DeMille barked, “Tell that girl with the Japanese name to come over here.” He gave her a chance to work on the continuity of Why Change Your Wife? (1920) on which she is credited with the more experienced Olga Printzlau and William deMille. She began at twenty-five dollars a week, and director DeMille demolished her work, berating her as a failed writer whom he didn’t expect to succeed. Then, she goes on, one night after he had been so hard on her that she was left “limp and exhausted,” he apologized by raising her salary to sixty dollars a week. Cowan never thought of herself as part of the Famous Players-Lasky scenario department that included top writers Jeanie Macpherson, Clara Beranger, and Beulah Marie Dix. She explains in 1932 that even if she had a twenty-one week contract there, she still worked freelance (8). In Hollywood, however, it was well known that Cowan eventually became one of the highest paid writers for Cecil B. DeMille, as the Los Angeles Times reported in 1939 (A11).

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Film
Libraries
Series
Women Film Pioneers Project
Published Here
October 15, 2019