The Actress-Manager and Early Film


I authored this special issue on 'The Actress-Manager and Silent Film', with Vito Adriaensens (Columbia University) because I was tired of seeing actresses discussed as 'only' actresses, or stars, or women who looked good but were not (it is implied) working as strategic business women. 

In this issue, we explored how female entrepreneurial engagement in new commerce, new markets and new forms of theatre might help us interpret the rich and productive relationship between theatre and film, in carefully chosen case studies from the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the United States, tackling actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt, Betty Nansen, Eleonora Duse, Helena Cortesina, and Marion Davies. Articles include:

Victoria Duckett and Vito Adriaensens

Ann Featherstone

Victoria Duckett

Vito Adriaensens

Maria Pia Pagani

Elena Cordero-Hoyo, Begoña Soto-Vázquez

Denise Mok

 I ask:

What managerial agency did Bernhardt enjoy in the entertainment industries? Beyond the more obvious choice of theatrical role, how did her status as a theatrical manager translate (if at all) into silent film? Given that this was a period in which "The emblem of commerce was the top hat, later a derby, but never a bonnet"[1], what does it mean to find a woman exploiting her celebrity trafficability not just in the theatre, but more generally across twentieth century entertainment industries?

These questions are urgent. They indicate that women from the nineteenth century stage were not only performers but creative agents in modern media industries.

[1] Tracy C. Davis, The Economics of the British Stage, 1800-1914, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 275.