Dorothy Arzner began her film career as a script typist, moving on to editing at Realart Studio – a subsidiary of Paramount – within just six months of starting. She edited 52 films for Realart before being called to Paramount’s main studio to edit their 1922 movie, Blood And Sand. Arzner was able to save Paramount thousands of dollars by shooting some scenes herself and intercutting them with stock footage. Her work caught the attention of director James Cruze, who went on to employ her as a writer and editor on several of his movies.
After gaining some notoriety, Arzner was spotted by Columbia and offered the chance to write and direct a film for them. Planning to take the offer, Arzner decided she wanted to make a point of saying goodbye to “someone important and not just leave unnoticed and forgotten.” She ended up in the office of Walter Wanger, the head of Paramount’s New York studio. It was here that she made her case for directing a Paramount movie instead. She got her way and in 1927, Fashions For Women, a comedy based on a popular play, became her first picture.
Arzner’s success in directing Fashions For Women saw Paramount quickly sign her up to direct three further silent movies, before giving her the chance to direct the studio’s first “talkie” in 1929.
A triumphant directing career followed, with Arzner becoming the first woman to become a member of the Directors Guild of America. She worked with the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Lucille Ball.
In the 1950s and 60s, Arzner began sharing her skills with a new generation of filmmakers, working as a teacher. During her time at UCLA School of Theatre, Film and Television, she taught Francis Ford Coppola.
Dorothy Arzner, whilst striving to keep her private life just that, never shied away from who she was. She often chose to dress in suits and was passionate about succeeding as a woman in a field dominated by men. Openly gay, she enjoyed a 40-year relationship with dancer and choreographer, Marion Morgan.
Dorothy Arzner died in 1979 at the age of 82.