Who was that Masked Woman?: Westerns and women’s labour, agency and credit, in Republic’s Zorro’s Black Whip (1944)

Smith, Phyll (2021) Who was that Masked Woman?: Westerns and women’s labour, agency and credit, in Republic’s Zorro’s Black Whip (1944). In: Lonely are the Brave: The Western and Postwar America, 2021-06-15 - 2022-02-17, UEA.

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Who was that Masked Woman?: Westerns and women’s labour, agency and credit, in Republic’s Zorro’s Black Whip(1944). Phyll Smith, UEA. (Phillip.Smith@uea.ac.uk) The 1940s saw a resurgence of female protagonists in movie serials, and an apparent ‘feminisation’ of the Western; coinciding with a push for women to enter the labour market during the war, and increased prominence and financial agency of female audiences, this is often seen as a reaction by producers to court, reflect or encourage these audiences, much as adventure Serial producers and critics of the 1910s/20s sought to link their agent heroines with newly emergent female labour forces, within the texts and in their audiences (Stamp 2000; Singer 2001). Zorro’s Black Whip, features a masked Linda Sterling in the role of vigilante hero, her mask concealing both her identity and her gender. Unlike Republic’s many other Zorro products, this one is a canonical text, credited to Zorro’s creator McCully, despite never using the name Zorro outside the title, having female hero (which never occurs in McCully’s stories) and being set in Idaho some 50-100 years after other Zorro stories and films. This text of emancipatory female labour was apparently produced by an all-male creative and technical team. This paper, in examining the studio contracting and title-credit production processes for republics Western and Serial units, reveals the structures, impulses and desires which allowed for the production of a female Zorro, revealing amidst the production’s paperwork that the scenario was written by a woman, the uncredited Ruth Roman, then an emergent actress. In a reversal of her onscreen heroine, Roman can be seen to perform adroit female roles as an actress, but her work as a writer is masked by (unionised and agent represented) male names. Admin documents show institutional structures which allow Roman to be excluded from the credits in favour of men with no input to the production; It compares the agency and equity of the lead character in Roman’s unpublished treatment with the final screenplay prepared by her male counterparts; It questions the impulses and social pressures behind presenting agent female western stars; and challenges assertions which demean the competence of women as action performers (and the plausibility of Stirling’s gender masking) against other, male Zorros; And reveals further uncredited labour of female stunt performers and riders Babe DeFreest and Helen Thurston and the use of these female action sequences in subsequent films to double for male action performers.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: western,gender,agency,credit,genre,serial
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Research Groups > Film, Television and Media
Depositing User: LivePure Connector
Date Deposited: 31 Aug 2022 14:40
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2023 10:02
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/87644

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