The Changing Role of Women in Film

Note: Only words in quotation marks are quotes.

June Wilkinson of Batman, Linda Harrison of Planet of the Apes and Anne Lockhart of Battlestar Galactica addressed the issue of the changing roles of women in films.

The actors made opening statements to the effect that women now have much more influence in the film and TV business than they had in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. There is even one female studio head, Sherry Lansing. Women in Hollywood are no longer thought of as “bimbos or second class citizens.”

What was your favorite role?

June: Her favorite role was in a play.

Anne: Battlestar Galactica and a recent movie about a cancer patient.

Linda: She has not played it yet; it is in the future.

What do you think is the major criterion for casting—acting ability or looks?

June: “Acting ability. Looks are boring without it.”

Linda: “It also depends on the part.”

Anne: “A pretty face and body will get you in the door, but if you can’t ‘do it”, you won’t last long.”

Did your mom have anything to do with getting you started in show business?

Anne: “Of course!” Anne is the 4th generation of her family to be in show business. Her mother worked 36 weeks a year on Lassie. Her grandfather, Gene Lockhart, also had a large influence on her, even though he died when she was four. She grew up watching his movies.

Please comment on male stars who are working with actresses 30 or more years younger than them?

Linda: For the most part, they are healthy men in their 50s or 60s.

Anne: She has a problem with this. Age doesn’t matter when you are really in love with someone, but these woman actors in their 20s are not dating men that old in real life. Hollywood is not effectively utilizing the female actors over 40, even though many of them work in so-called “women’s movies.” She hopes Hollywood does not pass these women by.

Linda: “You don’t see young women actors dating old men…” Linda also told a story about a woman who wrote and acted in a comedy called Felicity. When she came to work she showed up in pigtails and “passed” for 18. She worked for them as an actor and a writer for over 10 months. One of the studio brass had insomnia one night and saw a rerun of a movie she had made when she was a teen. She was most interested in the writing aspect, but she was fired when the producers found out that she was 35. . The reason given? She was “too old” to write for the current generation.

June: At least the casting couch is no longer used. Even the producers’ jobs are too insecure. They can be hot today and gone tomorrow.

What are some of the other changes?

Linda: The character of the film industry changes in cycles. Right now strong women actors are getting good parts. Others, such as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, had good parts in the past and were very strong.

Anne: “Women are a greater economic force today. Filmmakers need to attract the money, which is their bottom line.”

Are older women actors going to impact on the popularity of younger women actors?

Anne: The baby boom is ok with her. They will retire soon and will go to more movies.

Linda: I feel stronger personally. We can now set our own goals.”

June: “People can get better as they get older.” She couldn’t do at 18 the level of work she can do now. She is also hoping for more roles for mature women.

Aren’t many of those roles in the genre of “women’s pictures?”

Anne and Linda both thought that a good script is a good script, and they are very hard to come by in Hollywood.

What is the most complimentary thing a fan has said to you?

Linda: “A fan said to me, ‘I saw you and you had a [positive] influence on my life.’”

June: ” I am happy if they really enjoyed my work and if I thought it was good.”

Anne: “People have said to me that I influenced their lives, particularly when I was playing Lt. Sheba. During that time, I was always conscious of the image I was projecting. I was the first woman on TV to be in a combat situation on a weekly basis.

Linda: “Film as a whole is influential in many homes.”

Did any particular events or people influence the changes in Hollywood for women?

June: “Very strong women with determination, talent, and perseverance are now doing well, such as Sherry Lansing. A lot of ladies were not given a chance to do more. Men often looked at wives as less able, and now, men are more likely to view their wives as equals and be proud of their achievements. There are many more women in the film business now, as production staff and technical staff. Ida Lupino was one of the first women directors in the early 50s, doing a lot of TV programs with no budget at all and being very successful at it. She directed westerns and other shows and was a real pioneer for today’s women.”

Linda: “The industry reflects society very much. Also, when a woman in Hollywood has earning power, she has influence, as power = money. Earning power is a factor that is changing for all minorities, not just for women. In the old days, studio heads were in the business to tell stories. Now it is a corporate world and the bottom line rules.

June: “Harry Connick said the way he could tell if a movie was good was to sit through it; if his butt got sore, it was bad….”

Linda: “Audiences are a lot more sophisticated now. There is a HUGE demand for product. Time is crucial. Less is available because of the high demand on cable and satellite stations.”

June: “Men on the set can demand more from staff, and they are called MEN, great… if a woman makes similar demands, it is …problematical.” This is still an inequity.

Can each of you tell us something that was personally difficult for you?

June: She has had no problems. She had a positive attitude toward her work because of the way she was raised by her mother.

Anne: “I never really thought there was anything I couldn’t do.”

Linda: She came to Hollywood as Miss Maryland and was signed to a seven-year contract with Darryl Zanuck. She later married, and even later divorced, Richard Zanuck. In her marriage, doors were actually closed to her as a member of that family, which didn’t see her role in the family as a working person.

Do you feel that being an actress helps you explore other possibilities?

Anne: “Yes, recognition helps. You can raise the impact of a charity by lending your name. The name lends credibility to the charity.

Linda: She is not currently involved with charitable work, but hopes to do so in the future.

What are your plans now?

June “I would like to just do my best, whatever I do. Right now I am doing a pilot for TV.”

Anne: She has done a lot of voice work. In March she did a Christmas movie called A Dog’s Tale, which includes a little boy named “Timmy.” She is producing the film. Anne is also beginning a new film with a well-known male actor whom she won’t name.

Linda: She has a cameo appearance in the new Richard Gere film, Runaway Bride, the sequel to Pretty Woman. She plays herself, the actress who was “Nova” in The Planet of the Apes. The film opens July 29.

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