While Griffith labored on his epic films, other figures, both in the United States and abroad, were making their mark in the industry. Lois Weber, in particular, deserves attention. Born in 1881 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Weber was a child prodigy, touring as a concert pianist until the age of seventeen. Before she became an actress and director, she worked as a social activist. She began writing for early motion pictures at Gaumont, where she was known Lois Weber on the set (in hat, center), directing one of her many by her married name, Mrs. Phillips ms. Smalley After writing screenplays,
she began acting in films with her husband at Gaumont, starring in a number of films directed by Herbert Blaché (husband of Alice Guy). Weber also directed many films, including early sound-on-disc shorts produced at Gaumont. She rapidly became one of the highest-paid directors in the industry and was associated with Edwin S. Porter, Carl Laemmle, and Hobart Bosworth in her business dealings. She was one of the first American women directors to head her own production unit, Lois Weber Productions, in 1917. In her own time, she was as well known as D. W Griffith and Cecil B. De-Mille, but she was subsequently consigned to an insignificant footnote by film historians seeking to create masculine heroics in the industry’s narrative history.
Her many films as director include The Troubadour’s Triumph (1912), The Jew’s Christmas (co-director, Phillips Smalley, 1913), Hypocrites (1915), The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (co-director, Phillips Smalley, 1917), The Blot (1921), and What Do Men Want? (1921). Although the bulk of her work was done in the silent era, she continued directing until 1934, helming the talkie White Heat (not to be confused with the 1949 Raoul Walsh film with James Cagney). In all her films, Weber dealt with social issues that she felt were of great importance—for example, birth control in Where Are My Children? (1916) and the plight of the poor academic class in The Blot. Weber’s use of the camera shows great attention to little details, like the worn sofa in an in-
Lois Weber’s social-problem drama The Blot (1921), with Claire Windsor and Louis Calhern. Digent professor’s living room, or a meager snack of weak tea and crackers served to impress a guest; her search for realism extended to her use of natural-source lighting for exterior sequences and the use of actual locations, instead of sets, for establishing shots. Weber’s characters are fully developed personalities rather than stock, instantly readable figures. In her early Universal/Jewel productions, she also experimented with color, using expressive blue, green, red, or yellow tints to enhance pictorial values.