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Ann Kathleen Otto

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Aviatrices of the Silver Screen

April 27, 2017

Actors in the silent era appeared in aeroplanes, but pioneer aviators Harriet Quimby and Blanche Stuart Scott were both actors and script writers. Once the public saw photos of them flying, it didn’t take the movie makers long to discover that they could draw crowds by appearing on film or writing scripts about their experiences.

Script writers of the early silent shorts were paid between $10 and $30 per scenario. The films typically ran 18 minutes. The scripts were approximately thirty pages long, and narrative in style with vague plot details. The quotes below from Yours in Hurry suggest that the work wasn't always glamorous.

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“Harriet looked in the hallway mirror. Her eyes were puffy. She was glad that her friend arrived from Los Angeles late the night before to help her with the scenario she owed Biograph Studios. Linda Arvidson was recently separated from D.W. Griffith. The pretty blonde was shorter than Harriet, and at this point in the morning, better functioning.”

Harriet began her career as a stage actress in California with her friend, Linda Arvidson and Linda’s soon to be husband, David Wark Griffith. Harriet quickly learned that writing was a better career for her than acting. She excelled as a journalist in California and later New York City.

Griffith was later known as D. W. when he became a popular American director, writer, and producer. But he didn’t forget Harriet, and in 1911, she is credited with seven Biograph scripts including Fisher Folks, in which Linda starred, and Harriet made a brief appearance. Others are: The Broken Cross; His Mother’s Scarf; In the Days of ’49; A Smile of a Child; The Blind Princess and the Poet ; and, Sunshine Through the Dark. Film historians report that only one of these films still exists, a copy of His Mother’s Scarf, and it’s at UCLA.

Harriet never mentioned her script writing in any way, and she sometimes used an alias. It’s thought she felt it would harm her credibility as a legitimate journalist for Leslie’s Illustrated WeeklyHarriet appreciated the stage and films, and wrote in 1909, "The Value of moving pictures as an aid to historians can not be overestimated." (Leslie's Illustrated Weekly) 

Blanche Stuart ScottTomboy of the Air

"Lee plays the aviator and Bill the auto driver," Blanche explained. "Can you believe? Many of my friends call me Betty, as I'm not keen on Blanche. My character's name in the story is Bertha—worse yet."

Blanch Stuart Scott ended her piloting career  at the start of World War I. She was disappointed at being refused the opportunity to fly in the war. She also realized that women wouldn't be given the opportunity to be engineers. After a stint as a test pilot, she left for Hollywood where she had earlier made two movies, starring as an aviatrix in both:  The Aviator’s Success and  The Aviator and the Autoist Race for a Bride.  Over the years, she worked as a script writer, film producer and radio broadcaster in Hollywood, California.

And she didn’t stop there. In the 1930s Blanche worked as a scriptwriter for several major studios. She also wrote, produced and performed on radio shows aired in California and in Rochester, her girlhood home where she retired.

Both Harriet and Blanche were naturals for moving pictures. They were self promoters and knew how to excite an audience.

Photos: Library of Congress

Sources:

The Early Birds of Aviation CHIRP newsletter, January, 1971, Number 7

The Harriet Quimby Scrapbook, Giacinta Bradley Koontz, 2003

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blanche_Scott

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