Women’s History Month

On the first day of Women’s History Month, a look back at the history of the early days of Women In Film in 1973. The following is an excerpt from the 2003 book Women Who Run the Show: How a Brilliant and Creative New Generation of Women Stormed Hollywood by WIF President Emerita (1981-82) Mollie Gregory:

“In March of 1973, the publisher of the Hollywood Reporter, Tichi Wilkerson-Miles, wrote a note to her columnist, Sue Cameron, ‘I think we have to start a group to help women … You call your friends, I’ll call mine, we’ll have a brown bag lunch in my office next week.’

“‘It is very hard to grasp now, but there was absolutely no place for women to meet,’ Nancy Malone says, ‘to talk about our ambitions or about improving our working lives. We had no center and no connections. We knew there were one or two women cinematographers or lighting designers, but we didn’t know where they were or how to reach them. When Sue Cameron called me about a meeting, I sprang at it.’

“At that first brown-bag meeting of nine women, they decided they first had to locate other women in the business. ‘The guys were helping each other,’ Malone says. ‘We all saw how the guys went into the men’s room and came out with a deal. How do we find a way to move up without using the men’s room? We decided to contact the women with professional profiles whom we personally knew and tell them a group was forming and ask them to bring another woman with credits to the next meeting.’

“The women who attended the first meetings remember making a commitment even though they didn’t know how to get it started or what was going to happen. They compiled a directory of women in film later in 1973, a few photocopied pages of about a hundred women. It was the only source in the industry that showed where women worked and in which areas. A novel idea, it had never been done before.

“According to Cameron, the embryonic organization would be ‘a small group of powerful women in the business who—if a studio was developing a project offensive to women—could pick up a phone and reach a studio production head. We wanted the organization to be a closed, hard-to-get-into lobbying group on behalf of women.

“‘By the second open meeting,’ Cameron says, ‘word had spread that a group was forming. At least fifty women were waiting in the lobby of the Hollywood Reporter. Tichi opened the meeting. “A common experience binds us,” she said. “If we get together, we can help each other.”‘

“Barbara Boyle, about to become CEO of Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, was at the meeting. ‘Until this organization, there were so few women in my professional life,’ she says. ‘Only four other women were in law school with me at UCLA. I was amazed to find that terrific women were working in the industry, because my whole world had been men. It was incredible to hear Renée Valente and Nancy Malone, two highly visible women at that time, describe their experiences and the kind of organization they envisioned forming. At that meeting, women were hollering and debating passionately.’ Patricia Barry, a well-known actress in Guiding Light and Days of Our Lives and a frequent series guest star, remembers that ‘women just stood up and said, “They won’t let me through the door.” It was so desperate. There’s really no way to describe today how dire it was then. That first group of women really fought hard. I don’t think it was unlike the women who fought for the vote.’

“It is impossible to communicate how isolated women felt at that time. Over and over in interviews for this book, women who met at guild committees, or at the nascent Women in Film meetings, described how wonderful and weird it was to talk with women about their work. Those conversations had almost never happened before. ‘It was wild to talk with women about the business we were all in,’ says Barbara Boyle. ‘I’ll always be grateful to Women in Film for that. Tichi made it clear that some of the older women—I’d worked in the business since 1960 and she meant me—had an obligation to contribute what we knew.'”

Tichi Wilkerson Kassell (1926-2004)