Women Behind the Camera: Women as Directors
Lois Weber at her piano
Lois Weber at her piano, which she had played since she was a young girl.
Her first step into the life of the famous was as a singer and piano player,
which she had perfected in her church choir.
Library of Congress, LC-DIG-GGBAIN-32125.
Weber’s position as a woman played a large part in allowing her to make films about risky subject matter. Just as theater owners courted female patrons to legitimize their businesses, the film industry sought female directors to legitimate the very product of film. Movies directed by women automatically carried greater moral weight. Therefore, directors like Weber could explore controversial topics under the guise of moral and social reform. As a result, Weber could place nudes in her movies without fear of reprimand, while audiences watched such scandalous fare in the name of morality as opposed to mere titillation. Because Weber came from the middle-class, had a “religious background,” was part of a stable marriage, and embraced “maternalist reform,” she was lent a moral credence that similarly elevated her films in the eyes of moralizing audiences. Weber returned the favor, “hiring other women to write or perform other jobs within her productions.”9

In 1915 Weber joined Universal Studios, and in 1917 she established Lois Weber Productions, with Universal working as her distributor. Unfortunately, most of the films that Weber made while on her own did not find critical or commercial success, and when her husband and production partner Phillips Smalley left her, she closed her studio and returned to Universal. Weber’s career finally came to an end in the 1920s, with the advent of sound production.