Dipartimento di Musica e Spettacolo - CONFERENZE, Women and the Silent Screen Conference

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Alice Guy-Blaché, Rose Pastor Stokes, and the Birth-Control Film That Never Was
Martin F. Norden

Last modified: 2010-05-12


The Universal company’s biggest hit of 1916 was Lois Weber’s pro-birth control, anti-abortion film Where Are My Children? and its enormous worldwide popularity prompted many others in the movie industry to develop films with similar themes.  Prominent among them was writer-director-producer Alice Guy-Blaché, who approached birth-control activist Rose Pastor Stokes (a colleague of Margaret Sanger) about collaborating on such a project.  The two women agreed to work together, and they eventually developed a script for a film on birth control tentatively titled Shall the Parents Decide?  They hoped to finish their film in time for a key event that was due to occur in the fall of 1916: the opening of the first birth-control clinic in the United States.  Margaret Sanger’s plan to establish such a clinic in Brooklyn was the country’s biggest open secret at the time, and Guy-Blaché and Stokes were convinced that their film would greatly benefit from the huge publicity that was certain to accompany that event.

Due to a variety of circumstances, however, Shall the Parents Decide? was never made, and this paper will explore the various reasons for its failure.  The research materials on which I will draw for this presentation include Stokes’ unfinished autobiography and a wealth of correspondence between Stokes, Guy-Blaché, and Guy-Blaché’s representative, Bert Adler.  The most important document by far is the unpublished script itself, which survives.  Running 50 pages, it is a typewritten draft by Guy-Blaché supplemented by numerous hand-written emendations by Stokes.  It offers a fascinating glimpse into the women’s collaborative process, particularly a nine-page documentary-like reconstruction of a meeting between Guy-Blaché and Stokes that serves as the script’s introductory scene.  The script gives an exceptionally clear and detailed account of the film that Guy-Blaché had hoped would be, in her words, her “crowning cinema achievement.”

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