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

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In the Family Way: Early Female Stars and Parenthood
Tricia Welsch

Last modified: 2010-05-28


In 1920, after only eighteen months at the studio, Gloria Swanson was a major star at Paramount. The five films she had made with Cecil B. DeMille had been massive box office successes, often generating ten times their cost in revenues. Paramount was happily planning to transition Swanson smoothly (and less expensively) into work with another director. So the studio heads were stunned and appalled when Swanson announced that she was pregnant, and that she hoped to have a large family. The received wisdom at the time was that no woman with a child could portray a romantic lead on screen, and Swanson was cautioned to abandon her plans for a family.


This paper looks at how Swanson and other early Hollywood players considered their parenting options and how the public received the news that female stars were mothers. It considers in detail how Swanson—the first to pull off motherhood and return to romantic stardom—negotiated with the studio to survive the challenge of maternity. It also considers the strategies the studio employed to minimize its risk in using Swanson, including re-partnering her with DeMille for one more feature. Paramount chose the material for her first postnatal venture, The Affairs of Anatol, shrewdly. This paper draws on the extensive archival research that is the basis for the biography I am preparing of the actress, Gloria Swanson: Ready for Her Close-Up. 

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