Emily Carman’s new book Independent Stardom: Freelance Women in the Hollywood Studio System is a real eye-opener. Most of us are under the impression that in Hollywood’s formative studio era, movie stars, and especially female ones, had no say in their careers and utterly lacked independence. But Carman shows that’s not the case at all in her heavily researched book.
Given recent headlines about women in Hollywood such as Jennifer Lawrence not getting the same pay as men, it’s quite a shock to find out that, 80 years ago, female stars like Carole Lombard, Barbara Stanwyck, and Irene Dunne were leveraging their box office draw and successfully challenging the patriarchal film industry by working on a freelance basis to take control of their careers. Carman’s book is a fascinating read, revealing a previously undocumented chapter in the history of women’s labor.
Emily, who lives in downtown Santa Barbara and commutes to Los Angeles to teach film studies at Chapman University, became obsessed with movies and actresses from the 1930s in the fourth grade, when she chose to write a book report on Katherine Hepburn. Most weekends you will find Emily buoyantly excited about taking in all of Santa Barbara through her long hikes. She’s particularly fond of Franceschi Park.
Here, she answers the Proust Questionnaire.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Movie stars count as historical figures, right? I find Carole Lombard one of the most fascinating American women. She was an entrepreneur, talented actress, athlete, animal lover, and consummate hostess! All things I identify with and admire.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Signature Emily phrases include “cultivate,” “at any rate,” “just saying,” “pay the price!”, among others. I would love to resurrect the term “on the level” from 1930s/’40s American parlance. It’s my favorite phrase from Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire.
Who do you most admire?
Natalie Merchant. I have been a dedicated fan of her music for over 20 years, but it is her activism, talent, and modesty that has provided an example for me to aspire to in my own life.
What do you like most about your job?
I love sharing my passion for film history with my students and seeing them get more interested in older, classic films as a result. My favorite aspect of my job is the travel class that I lead each summer for a group of Chapman film students to the Il Cinema Ritrovato Film Festival, the world’s leading film restoration festival. Film history comes alive there, and my students become total cinephiles.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Watching Ernst Lubtisch’s Trouble in Paradise on nitrate film in an Art Deco theater. Being on the beach in Sardegna, Italy is a close second.
What is your greatest fear?
Disappointing those I love and respect. I do not like letting anyone down.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Cheese, wine, and dessert!
What is your current state of mind?
Relief and gratitude. The fall semester has ended, so I can relax a bit.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Excitement! Maybe it’s because I get really enthusiastic about activities I enjoy and from the people in my life. I love it when I meet friends and people who are excited about something — food, a movie or music, an event, leisure activity, their passion is infectious and gets me equally animated!
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Those who are quick to judge others.
What do you most value in friends?
Reciprocity. It’s what nurtures friendships in the long run.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Loyalty. I am incredibly loyal to my family, friends, and loved ones. A close second might be my enthusiasm, as previously mentioned, I get pretty excited about things great and small!
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano and/or the guitar, and actually play them well.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I have always wished I had naturally thick and long eyelashes! Otherwise, I would like to worry less, but I am actively working on that one day at time. Exercise, yoga, and the movies help on this front.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Thus far in my life, I would have to say completing my Ph.D. at UCLA as well as completing my recent book, Independent Stardom, which took several years to write and bring to publication. These are two achievements that I never imagined that I would accomplish when I was a kid, not even a pipedream, so I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself I actually did this!
Where would you most like to live?
I already do live in my favorite place! I love Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara, for its early Hollywood history. It’s like living in an infinite, unconscious museum! What’s more, I love California, especially its mountains and diverse landscape, incredible food, and plentiful sunshine.
What is your most treasured possession?
My paternal grandmother’s Art Deco engagement ring from 1939, my favorite year of Hollywood cinema.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My husband, Michael Albright.
What is your motto?
Little by little. Have patience and work on things, little by little, they will get done.
On what occasion do you lie?
When telling the truth will hurt someone’s feelings.