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9 Of The Most Significant Women In Entertainment History

9 Of The Most Significant Women In Entertainment History

March marks Women’s History Month and today- March 8th marks International Women’s Day 2024! In the spirit of things, let’s go through some of the trailblazers of the entertainment worlds from film, music, books, and video games!


Mary Pickford Was A Pioneer Of The US Movie Industry And A founder Of The Academy

The golden statue-goings on this coming weekend are something that wouldn’t exist without Mary Pickford. One of the earliest film stars to be billed under her own name, Pickford was an actress, producer, screenwriter, and at one time considered to be the single most recognisable woman in history. Nicknamed “America’s sweetheart”, “the girl with the curls” and “Queen of the Movies”, she was one of 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1927, which is, of course, the organisation that brings us the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars. She also founded the Hollywood Studio Club, which was a chaperoned dormitory for young women involved in the movie industry from 1916-1975 as well as being the person responsible for the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund- a charity organisation that looks to assist those in the film and television. Plus, she, along with D.W. Griffith, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks founded the United Artist Corporation, a film production and distribution company that looks to allow actors to control their own interests as opposed to being dependent on studios. In 1976, she received an honourary Academy Award for her contributions to the industry.


Janet Gaynor Was The First Recipient Of The Oscar For Best Actress

Staying with the topic of the Academy, the first award ceremony was in 1929, lasted only 15 minutes and is the only Oscars event not to be broadcast in any way. Janet Gaynor won a single Oscar recognising three different performances- the only occasion on which this has happened, and the rule of multiple nominations in the same category was abolished after the third Academy Awards. The performances for which she won were in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. During her career which spanned initially from 1924-1939, she was one of the biggest box office draws of the era. She is also known for being the star of the original A Star Is Born in 1937, a film which has seen three remakes- the most recent of which stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga and like Gaynor before her, Lady Gaga received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.


Ella Fitzgerald Was The First Woman To Win A Grammy

In music- and getting in a final few award season references before its end this weekend, let’s talk about Ella Fitzgerald. The first ever Grammy Awards were held on May 4th, 1959. Among the nominees that year were Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra and Count Basie. Fitzgerald picked up two awards: Best Jazz Performance and Best Vocal Pop Performance for Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Irving Berlin Songbook, respectively. Beginning her career in the Chick Webb Orchestra, eventually taking it over when Webb died, her solo career began in the early forties. Whilst she was making jazzy rumblings and rising through the ranks on her own accord, a significant factor in her rise to prominence was none other than Marilyn Monroe. In an interview, Fitzgerald said “I owe Marilyn Monroe a real debt. It was because of her that I played the Mocambo, a very popular nightclub in the ’50s. She personally called the owner of the Mocambo and told him she wanted me booked immediately... After that, I never had to play a small jazz club again.” We love a good women-helping-other-women story!


Anna May Wong Was The First Asian Actor To Become An International Movie Star

Wong Liu Tsong, known as Anna May Wong, chose her stage name at a young age having always aspired to become an actress. Her first film role came at 14 years old as an extra in 1919’s The Red Lantern with her first starring role coming three years later in one of the first films made in colour, The Toll of the Sea. During a time when yellowface and stereotypes were running rampant, Wong was never afraid to speak out about the racism she endured in the U.S. She decided to take her acting chops and travel overseas to Europe in 1928, where her career really took off. She starred in several British productions over the following year including Piccadilly and The Flame of Love and split her time between the European and Hollywood scenes. She starred in films like 1932’s Shanghai Express alongside Marlene Dietrich, 1934’s Java Head and Daughter of Shanghai in 1937- a film in which two Asian actors played the lead roles, which was unusual for the time (looking at you, The Good Earth! And to think you were released the same year!). She also made history on television when her show The Gallery of Madame Liu-Tsong became the first ever U.S. TV show to star an Asian series lead. In 2022, she was chosen as one of the women to be featured in a special line of quarters commemorating significant women in U.S. history, also making her the first Asian-American on any U.S currency!


Theda Bara Popularised The ‘Femme Fatale.’

Femme Fatales weren’t always called femme fatales. The concept of an exotic, sexually dominating seductress first came about in film during the medium's earliest stages and was popularised by its early sex symbols, most notably Theda bloody Bara! Amidst my fangirling comes the information that early femme fatales were referred to as “vamps”- short for “zombies” (I’m obviously kidding, it was short for ghosts) and the first instance of the “vamp” character, credited in this instance fully as The Vampire, was by Bara in 1914’s A Fool There Was. Although the film, the play it’s based on nor the poem on which the play is based features a literal blood-sucking vampire, A Fool There Was is often cited as the first vampire movie. This in turn led to Bara (whose actual name was Theodosia Goodman) taking on a mysticism when she was promoted as an Egyptian woman (she was from Ohio and of European descent) interested in the occult. You know, before the internet and public knowledge of star’s lives made things boring! But, this led to her being typecast in vamp roles during the early portion of her career and struggled when trying to expand her roles into more versatile characters. Still going on to star in over 40 more movies including Cleopatra in 1917, the majority of her films were unfortunately lost in the 1937 fire at Fox’s storage facility in New Jersey, with only six of Bara’s films still existing in their entirety.


Connie Francis Was The First woman To Top The Billboard Hot 100

At the height of her career, Connie Francis was recognised as the most successful artist in multiple countries including Japan, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. A performer from a young age, she scored a role appearing on NBC’s Startime Kids during the early fifties. She signed with MGM Records after thar, but achieved little success and was dropped in October 1957. Her worldwide success came as the result of a song that she didn’t even like nor wanted to record in the first place. That being a contemporary cover of the popular 1923 song ‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ The song became a New Year miracle and had she not recorded it at the insistence of her father, we’re sure she’d be asking herself the very same question. When the song was played on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand on January 1st, 1958, Francis recalled:

I heard Dick Clark mention something about a new girl singer. So, what else is new? Another girl singer. "There's no doubt about it", predicted Mr. Clark. "She is headed straight for the number one spot". I began feeling sorry for myself and a bit envious, too. Good luck to her, I thought. And then Mr. Clark just happened to play a song called "Who's sorry now" - MY "Who's Sorry Now"! Well, the feeling was cosmic.”

‘Who’s Sorry Now?’ suddenly shot Francis to worldwide stardom and in 1960, her song ‘Everybody's Somebody's Fool’ became the first song by a female artist to top the Billboard Hot 100. Francis also recorded and released a German version, which became the best-selling single of the year in West Germany. Francis also recorded albums in multiple other languages including Italian Spanish and Japanese.


Aretha Franklin Was The First Woman Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

BBC One - Aretha Franklin: Respect

When it comes to women’s achievements in music, women’s achievements in entertainment, women’s achievements in general and trailblazers in women’s history, Aretha Franklin enters all of those conversations. If we asked you, your parents, your younger brother or sister or your dog to name an Aretha Franklin song, you’d all be able to name at least a few, or be able to hum a tune, or recognise it when it's played to you. My point is, Franklin’s nickname “The Queen of Soul” is not one that was given lightly: A chat-topping sensation, a record holder, 18-time Grammy winner, twice named the greatest singer of all time, her voice was deemed was deemed a natural resource for peat’s sake! And of course, on January 21st 1987, Aretha Franklin became the first woman to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to her achievements in music, she was also heavily involved in movements for civil rights and women’s rights, with her songs "Respect" and "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" (two of the songs that would’ve popped into your head earlier) became anthems for social change.


Selma Lagerlöf Was The First Woman To Win The Nobel Prize In Literature

Selma Lagerlöf is known for her vivid worlds, fantastical characters and wondrous imagination. Her works such as The Story of Gösta Berling (1891), The Invisible Links (1894), The Treasure (1904) have been adapted into more than 50 languages and despite their obvious popularity, were not without their critics.  At a time when Swedish literature was filled with realism, Selma’s works of gnomes, goblins and ghosts eating grapes and speaking Portuguese (not all at the same time) were slightly less realistic, and her Nobel Prize win, which was "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination, and spiritual perception that characterize her writings" was not without its controversy. She remained humble during her speech and was later granted a membership in the Swedish Academy in 1914, making her the first woman to do that too. But the avant-garde writer’s novels were not the only controversial practice that she took part in the early portion of the 20th century- Selma Lagerlöf was also close with fellow writer Sophie Elkan, who became her companion and strongly influenced her work, as well as a close relationship with suffragette Valborg Olander. There also appears to have been a strong rivalry between Elkan and Olander during their lifetimes. Damn, Selma! Although none of the women ever revealed any case of homosexual relations at a time when such a thing was illegal in Sweden, surviving correspondence between Lagerlöf and Olander does suggest it to be the case.


Carol Shaw Was One Of The First Women In Gaming

Women weren’t always behind the scenes of the gaming industry. But you can be Shaw that Carol was gonna change that! (It’s the last entry, leave me alone). In 1978, programmer and designer Carol Shaw got herself a job with Atari, where she spent the next two years creating several projects including the Activision shooter River Raid for the Atari 2600 along with 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe. Her career in the industry was short- she left game development in ’84 and retired in 1990- something she was able to do due to the great success of River Raid. Her contributions to the industry however and for women within it cannot be understated and have not gone unnoticed, for she received the Industry Icon Award in 2017 at The Game Awards. That same year, she donated her collection of gaming memorabilia to the Strong National Museum of Play in New York.

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