Lois Weber - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, 1882. Family: Married Phillips Smalley, 1906 (divorced 1922). Career: Touring concert pianist, then Church Home Missionary in Pittsburgh, 1890s; actress in touring melodrama Why Girls Leave Home for company managed by future husband Smalley, 1905; writer and director (then actor) for Gaumont Talking Pictures, from 1908; teamed up with Smalley, moved to Reliance, then Rex, working for Edwin S. Porter; the Smalleys (as they were known) took over Rex, a member of the Universal conglomerate, following Porter's departure, 1912; joined Hobart Bosworth's company, 1914; Universal funded private studio for Weber at 4634 Sunset Boulevard, 1915; founded own studio, 1917; signed contract with Famous Players-Lasky for $50,000 per picture and a percentage of profits, 1920; dropped by company after three unprofitable films, 1921, subsequently lost company, divorced husband, and suffered nervous collapse; briefly resumed directing, late 1920s; script-doctor for Universal, 1930s. Died: In Hollywood, 13 November 1939.

Films as Director:

(partial list—directed between 200 and 400 films)


The Troubadour's Triumph


The Eyes of God ; The Jew's Christmas (co-d, sc, role); The Female of the Species (+ role)


The Merchant of Venice (co-d, role as Portia); Traitor ; Like Most Wives ; Hypocrites! (+ sc); False Colors (co-d, co-sc, role); It's No Laughing Matter (+ sc); A Fool and His Money (+ role); Behind the Veil (co-d, sc, role)


Sunshine Molly (co-d, role, sc); Scandal (co-d, sc, role)


Discontent (short); Hop, the Devil's Brew (co-d, sc, role); Where Are My Children? (co-d, sc); The French Downstairs ; Alone in the World (short); The People vs. John Doe (+ role); The Rock of Riches (short); John Needham's Double ; Saving the Family Name (co-d, role); Shoes ; The Dumb Girl of Portici (co-d); The Flirt (co-d)


The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (co-d, pr, role); Even as You and I ; The Mysterious Mrs. M ; The Price of a Good Time ; The Man Who Dared God ; There's No Place like Home ; For Husbands Only (+ pr)


The Doctor and the Woman ; Borrowed Clothes


When a Girl Loves ; Mary Regan ; Midnight Romance (+ sc); Scandal Mongers ; Home ; Forbidden


Too Wise Wives (+ pr, sc); What's Worth While? (+ pr); To Please One Woman (+ sc); The Blot (+ pr, sc); What Do Men Want? (+ pr, sc)

Lois Weber (left) with Billie Dove
Lois Weber (left) with Billie Dove


A Chapter in Her Life (+ co-sc)


The Marriage Clause (+ sc)


Sensation Seekers (+ sc); The Angel of Broadway


White Heat

Other Films:


A Cigarette, That's All (sc)


By WEBER: article—

Interview with Aline Carter, in Motion Picture Magazine (New York), March 1921.

On WEBER: book—

Heck-Rabi, Louise, Women Filmmakers: A Critical Reception , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1984.

On WEBER: articles—

Pyros, J., "Notes on Women Directors," in Take One (Montreal), November/December 1970.

Koszarski, Richard, "The Years Have Not Been Kind to Lois Weber," in Women and the Cinema , edited by Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary, New York, 1977.

"Lois Weber—Whose Role Is It Anyway?" in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), May 1982.

Ostria, V., "Lois Weber, cette inconnue," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1985.

"Lois Weber Issue" of Film History (Philadelphia), vol. 1, no. 4, 1987.

* * *

Lois Weber was a unique silent film director. Not only was she a woman who was certainly the most important female director the American film industry has known, but unlike many of her colleagues up to the present, her work was regarded in its day as equal to, if not a little better than that of most male directors. She was a committed filmmaker in an era when commitment was virtually unknown, a filmmaker who was not afraid to make features with subject matter in which she devoutly believed, subjects as varied as Christian Science ( Jewel and A Chapter in Her Life ) or birth control ( Where Are My Children ). Hypocrites was an indictment of hypocrisy and corruption in big business, politics, and religion, while The People vs. John Doe opposed capital punishment. At the same time, Lois Weber was quite capable of handling with ease a major spectacular feature such as the historical drama The Dumb Girl of Portici , which introduced Anna Pavlova to the screen.

During the 1910s, Lois Weber was under contract to Universal. While at Universal, she appears to have been given total freedom as to the subject matter of her films, all of which where among the studio's biggest moneymakers and highly regarded by the critics of the day. (The Weber films, however, did run into censorship problems, and the director was the subject of a vicious attack in a 1918 issue of Theatre Magazine over the "indecent and suggestive" nature of her titles.) Eventually the director felt the urge to move on to independent production, and during 1920 and 1921 she released a series of highly personal, intimate dramas dealing with married life and the types of problems which beset ordinary people. None of these films was particularly well received by the critics, who unanimously declared them dull, while the public displayed an equal lack of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, features such as Too Wise Wives and The Blot demonstrate Weber at her directorial best. In the former she presents a study of two married couples. Not very much happens, but in her characterizations and attention to detail (something for which Weber was always noted), the director is as contemporary as a Robert Altman or an Ingmar Bergman. The Blot is concerned with "genteel poverty" and is marked by the underplaying of its principals—Claire Windsor and Louis Calhern—and an enigmatic ending that leaves the viewer uninformed as to the characters' future, an ending unlike any in the entire history of the American silent film. These films, as with virtually all of the director's work, were also written by Lois Weber.

Through the end of her independent productions in 1921, Lois Weber worked in association with her husband, Phillips Smalley, who usually received credit as associate or advisory director. After the two were divorced, Lois Weber's career went to pieces. She directed one or two minor program features together with one talkie, but none equalled her work from the 1910s and early 1920s. She was a liberated filmmaker who seemed lost without the companionship, both at home and in the studio, of a husband. Her career and life were in many ways as enigmatic as the ending of The Blot.

—Anthony Slide

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