Lois Weber
By Carey Ostergard and Kim Worley


Lois Weber's story is one of rags to riches, with a life full of invigorating accomplishments and spirit-crushing disappointments (McFadden). Born on June 13, 1881, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Weber had always desired to study voice in New York, but her parents objected to her leaving. This only prompted her to run away to live a life of poverty that would later be reflected in her films. She soon began to work as a street corner evangelist doing missionary work such as preaching and singing hymns in New York and Pittsburgh (Acker "Lois Weber").

Weber sought after a much broader audience to share her feelings with, so she joined a traveling road show and became an actress. In 1905, she married the manager of the show, Phillips Smalley, who demanded she quit work and become a homemaker, an arrangement that only lasted for three years (McFadden). By 1908, Lois had taken a job under film director Herbert Blache, where she found the perfect platform for her evangelism. Her first film, "Hypocrites" was an extreme attack on political corruption, the church, and the business world (Acker "Lois Weber"). After "Hypocrites" were several films that all carried social themes and moral lessons, all causing outrage among the uptight society in which they were produced, and all attracting huge crowds at the box office.

After Weber achieved a status of a respected director, she was hailed as "the greatest woman director" by Moving Pictures Stories. In the following years she turned out five feature films for Paramount. In 1917, she had formed her own production company, but her success quickly began to fade. By the 1920s the popularity of her films faded when audience tastes changed and were no longer interested in being preached to on sensitive or difficult topics. By the middle of that decade, her life completely fell apart; she lost her company, divorced her alcoholic husband, and suffered a nervous breakdown. Her last silent film, "The Angel of Broadway" closed with bad reviews. She was then reduced to working as a script doctor for Universal. Soon after, in 1939, she died penniless, forgotten, and ignored by an industry she had helped to create (Acker "Lois Weber").


Lois Weber revolutionized the film industry by turning silent movies into moral and controversial statements. Her films, the majority between 1910 and 1925, exuded a social consciousness reflecting her powerful personality, and challenged the Victorian attitudes of the time (Larson). Weber's films carried several daring themes of her day, themes that still continue to generate debate today, including abortion, birth control, racism, capital punishment, prostitution, and promiscuity (McFadden). Weber used film as a way to communicate and provoke thought on these issues during a time when it was accepted to overlook and even ignore such problems.

Weber often focused specifically on the social problems that faced women, concentrating on her female characters' identities and points of view. Weber, being the highest paid director of the time, as well as female, tried to use her rare position of power to be associated with films with moral sustenance. Weber referred to her films as "missionary pictures," and she was not afraid to take artistic chances to reach her audience (Acker "Reel Women"). Because of her outlandish puritanistic style, she ended up influencing many of her contemporaries. Women filmmakers such as Frances Marion, Jeanie Macpherson, Cleo Madison, Lule Warrenton, and Ruth Stonehouse all blossomed in the wake of Lois Weber's blunt, visceral style (MacIntyre).

Weber made a deep mark on film history, and today she is considered an ideal filmmaker for study because of the timeless issues presented in her films. She is recognized as cinema's first female pioneer, and her passion and fire prevalent in her films are still inspiring to aspiring directors.

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