Lois Weber – the “Wizard”

The Price
R: Lois Weber / Phillips Smalley. B: Based on the poem “Ostler Joe” by George Robert Sims. D: Lois Weber, Philips Smalley. P: Rex for Universal. USA 1911
Print: Milestone Film / EYE Filmmuseum (without music)

Lois Weber was the leading female director-screenwriter in early Hollywood. She began her career alongside her husband, Phillips Smalley, after the two had worked together in the theatre. They began working in motion pictures around 1907, often billed under the collective title ‘The Smalleys.’ In their early years at studios like Gaumont and Reliance, they acted alongside one another on-screen and codirected scripts written by Weber. Indeed, their status as a married, middle-class couple was often used to enhance their reputation for highbrow, quality pictures. In 1912, they were placed in charge of the Rex brand at the Universal Film Manufacturing Company, where they produced one or two one-reel films each week with a stock company of actors, quickly turning the brand into one of the studio’s most sophisticated. The couple increasingly turned their attention to multireel films, completing a four-reel production of The Merchant of Venice in 1914, the first American feature directed by a woman. Later that year they moved from Universal to Hobart Bosworth Productions where they were given more freedom to make feature-length films, among them Hypocrites (1915).”
Shelley Stamp
Women Film Pioneers Project

“Weber wrote a 1915 article for Paramount Magazine titled ‘How I Became a Motion Picture Director,’ and she returned to Universal that same year.  By then she was seen as a prominent director, and Carl Laemmle, head of Universal, allowed her to produce feature-length films — a privilege he had denied her prior to her Bosworth experience.  While at Universal, she made Shoes (1916), which some critics consider her best film.  The best known, however, was Where Are My Children? (1916).  A plea for birth control, it was akin to Hypocrites in bringing both controversy and censorship. Motion Picture Magazine featured her in its issue for July 1916, emphasizing the technically difficult aspects of her job with ‘Lois the Wizard.’  By 1917, she was sufficiently established to start her own studio, Lois Weber Productions.  Among the movies she made during this period were The Price of a Good Time (1917), For Husbands Only (1918), and What Do Men Want? (1921).

The last title may have hinted at personal problems:  when her 18-year marriage ended in a 1922 divorce, Weber suffered a nervous breakdown.  She recovered enough to make A Chapter in My Life (1923), and a burst of energy after a 1926 marriage to Harry Gantz led to The Marriage Clause (1926), Sensation Seekers (1926), and The Angel of Broadway (1927).
In a May 14, 1927 article for the then-popular mass magazine Liberty, Universal’s Laemmle said of Weber:  ‘She knows the motion-picture business as few people know it, and can drive as hard as anyone I’ve ever known.’  That work ethic may have been the cause of both a second divorce and of her long-term gastric ulcer.  She made her last film, White Heat, in 1934, and died of a gastric hemorrhage in 1939, when she was age 58.
Lois Weber was the most consistently successful female director in the early movie industry.  She had her own personal style, and as film history and criticism have evolved during the past few decades, she has regained her proper place as a pioneer.”
NWHM National Women’s History Museum

More Lois Weber films:

>>> How Men ProposeHypocrites SuspenseWhere Are My Children?