Before the Hollywood novel emerged as a well-established literary genre in the early 1920s, various American authors were writing novels about moviemaking in both serial and book form. Not unlike the preclassical Hollywood movies of the 1910s, these “proto-Hollywood novels” were more than simple antecedents. Many were set in New York City and took their cues from novels about the theater world. Others were set in the Far West, including California, but before Hollywood had assumed its mythic identity. Of particular interest: most of these novels were feminist in their rhetoric and narratives. Some engaged issues of sexual harassment that would be picked up a century later by the #MeToo movement. This article focuses on the works of two male writers associated with the radical magazine The Masses—Robert Carlton Brown and James Oppenheim, and two women who were involved in screenwriting on the West Coast—B. M. Bower and Margaret Turnbull.
The Proto-Hollywood Novel: Feminism, Media Convergences, and Genre Formation
Charles Musser is a Professor of Film and Media Studies, Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies at Yale University. His books include The Emergence of Cinema: The American Screen to 1907 (1990), which received that year’s Katherine Kovacs Prize for the outstanding book on Film and Television, and Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s (2016). His film Before the Nickelodeon: The Early Cinema of Edwin S. Porter (1982) debuted at the New York Film Festival and was hailed as one of the best documentaries of the year by Carrie Rickey of the Village Voice. Most recently he completed Our Family Album (2019), a feature-length documentary that reflects on the construction, nature, and meaning of family photography. With Jackie Stewart, he cocurated the 5-DVD set Pioneers of African American Cinema (2016), which received the Film Heritage Award from the National Society of Film Critics. In 2020 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Career Achievement Award from the Society for Cinema and Media Studies.
Charles Musser; The Proto-Hollywood Novel: Feminism, Media Convergences, and Genre Formation. Feminist Media Histories 1 July 2023; 9 (3): 50–78. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2023.9.3.50
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