On this day in 1929, the film The Wild Party was released in the U.S. The Wild Party has earned its place in film history for not only being Clara Bow’s first ever talkie, but also by being the film to skyrocket
lesbian director Dorothy Arzner’s career.
An original poster for the film used for its promotion in 1929 (x).
Dorothy Arzner was born January 3, 1897 in San Francisco.
She began her career in the film industry working as a script writer and editor
for Paramount Studios. After having been an integral part of over fifty films,
Dorothy threatened to leave Paramount for their rival studio, Columbia, if she
was not promoted. Paramount eventually gave in and Dorothy was promoted to
director. She made her directorial debut in 1927 with the film Fashions for Women, but it wasn’t until 1929
and The Wild Party when mainstream moviegoers became aware of Dorothy’s
Dorothy Arzner doing her thing and looking badass in all of her directorial glory (x).
The Wild Party
follows the character of Stella Ames, the most popular girl at her all-girls university,
as she enters into a relationship with one of her professors. Dorothy was not
shy about her lesbian sexuality (she was even rumored to have had relationships
with several famous actresses of the time, such as Alla Nazimova and Billie
Burke), and so The Wild Party’s
centering of women in all-women spaces was a goldmine for Pre-Code era
homosexual subtext. As the movie was released before the Hay’s Code was passed,
which severely censored how filmmakers were able to deal with the subject of
gayness in their work, Dorothy did not hold back from the fact that all-girl universities
were known to be safe havens for lesbians in America. Aside from paving the way for
lesbians in film both in front of and behind the camera, The Wild Party was the very first film in history to make use
of a boom mike, as well as the third top-grossing film of 1929. Overall,
the film is a prime example of lesbian excellence.
Marion Cahill was born on January
4, 1881 in Paterson, New Jersey. Little is known about her early years aside
from the fact that her father was an attorney and she was raised in an upper-middle-class household. In 1900, Marion married a man named Matthew A. Morgan and
became Marion Morgan. The two had ason named Roderick before separating in
1905. In 1910, Marion left New Jersey to have a fresh start with her son in Long
Island, California. She was able to find a job as a P.E. teacher at Manual Arts
High School in Los Angeles, which eventually evolved into a position as a
choreographer for the Orpheum Circuit, a popular chain of Vaudeville theaters, and then a studio of her own.
Marion first discovered her
passion for choreography when she was offered the position as a dance
instructor for a summer program at the University of California, Berkeley. From
there, she was hired by the Orpheum Circuit as a full-time choreographer and spearheaded
a troupe of 25 dancers. Marion traveled back and forth between Los Angeles and
New York City with her troupe performing interpretive dance routines that were
often based on Egyptian or classical Greek and Roman themes. She cultivated a reputation
for being very strict with her dancers; she required all of her dancers to be vegetarian
and would often require them to study classic literature so that they could
understand the source material for their routines.
Marion (right) photographed with her partner Dorothy Arzner in 1927 (x).
Marion first met Dorothy Arzner in
1921 on the set for the film Man-Woman-Marriage,
which the Marion Morgan dancers were featured in. Dorothy was one of the few
powerful women directors in Hollywood and she and Marion worked together often
on such films as Fashions for Women, Get Your Man, and Manhattan Cocktail. Her breakout film was 1929′s The Wild Party. Their business relationship eventually
blossomed into a romance and they became known around Hollywood as dedicated
partners. In her later years, Marion became involved in other areas of the
theater; she graduated from the Yale School of Drama in 1934 and wrote several
short stories and screenplays throughout her lifetime.
In the 1950s, Marion and Dorothy
retired and moved to Palm Springs and lived there together until Marion’s death
on November 10, 1971. Today, all of her dance archives are preserved at the
Jerome Robbins Dance Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing
America’s first “It Girl,” Clara Bow, was born on this day
in 1905. The possibly bisexual actress was one of the world’s first silent film
stars and, in her heyday, received over 45,000 fan letters a month!
It was Clara’s appearance in the 1927 film It that led to the creation of the title “It Girl” for which she is so famously remembered (x).
Clara Gordon Bow was born in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn on
July 29, 1905 in the thick of a summer heat wave that almost led to the death
of both newborn Clara and her mother Sarah. The Bows were a poor family who lived
in a working class English-Irish community; Clara’s father was frequently
out of work and her mother suffered from mental illness – diagnosed as “psychosis
due to epilepsy” at the time. Clara recalled her home life as being “miserable”
and found solace in athletics at school and by going to the cinema. By the age
of 16, she was already dreaming about becoming an actress. Her dream became a
reality in January of 1922 when a 17-year-old Clara entered and won Brewster
Magazine’s annual “Fame and Fortune Contest.”
After winning the “Fame and Fortune Contest,” Clara was cast
in her very first – albeit small – motion picture, Beyond the Rainbow. She wouldn’t strike it big until 1923 when she
was cast in her very first big Hollywood production, Maytime. It was with films like Maytime
and later Black Oxen that Clara came
to personify the popular archetype of “the flapper girl.” She later struggled
to tone down her Brooklyn accent with the rise of “talkies,” but was able to
land the hurdle with films such as The Saturday
Night Kid and Dangerous Curves.
Having dominated theater screens and gossip magazines alike during two
different film eras, Clara cemented her status as queen of Hollywood.
Clara Bow is photographed sitting on the lap of out lesbian director Dorothy Arzner, who eased American audiences into hearing Clara’s thick Brooklyn accent for the first time in her first ever sound film, The Wild Party (x).
Clara eventually married a fellow actor named Rex Bell,
retired from acting, and settled down at a Nevada ranch with her husband and
two sons. However, before she left Hollywood for the simply life, Clara was known
as a free-wheeling party girl who danced naked on tables and enjoyed sex with both men and
women. It was also rumored that Clara had a fling with director Dorothy Arzner,
who directed Clara in the famously lesbian-themed The Wild Party (which you can read more about here). Would Clara have identified
with the contemporary label bisexual? – the world may never know. After having
lived out both the glamorous acting career and happy home life she had always
dreamed about, Clara passed away on September 27, 1965 at the age of 60.