Based on the novel Jewel: A Chapter in Her Life by Clara Louise Burnham, this film was the second time that Lois Weber had directed an adaption of that book. The first was 1915’s Jewel, which she co-directed with her husband Phillips Smalley. She went uncredited on that movie but this one, made shortly after their divorce, gave her full credit.
Somehow, within this mainstream film, the views of Christian Science are shown to win the day for young Jewel. She’s staying with her angry grandfather while her parents go overseas on business, but all the vitriol is easily fixed thanks to our heroine’s love and trust in others.
Lois Weber is an intriguing figure in film history and one worthy of study.
Born in Allegheny, PA, Weber was first a streetcorner evangelist before starting her career as an actress. She appeared in what experts consider the first narrative film, 1908’s Hypocrites*, and by 1911 was co-directing and starring in the film A Heroine of ’76.
By 1914, she was making 27 films a year. In the spirit of her early call to evangelism, she began directing, writing and then producing films dealing with the themes of abortion, alcoholism, birth control, drug addiction and prostitution.
One of her many innovations was the split-screen, which she used in 1913’s Suspense, as well as early experiments with sound. She also made the first adaption of Tarzan in 1918.
She wasn’t a novelty. She was actually Universal Studios’ top director and even had her own production company. Sadly, her career didn’t translate to talking pictures, but that isn’t because of her gender.
Lois Weber died after making only one talking film, 1934’s White Heat. By that point, she’d been forgotten by Hollywood, but more than 300 people attended her funeral, which had been paid for by Frances Marion, the most renowned screenwriter of the 20th century and someone who had been inspired by Weber. In 1960, she was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Kino Lorber has released A Chapter In Her Life and Sensation Seekers on blue ray, with 2K restorations by Universal Pictures. I was excited to see a clean-looking copy of this film, as well as to learn more about Weber’s life. It’s pretty astounding that she was a divorcee and a leading force in Hollywood at a time when both of those things were well outside the boundaries of normalcy.
*A film that features a full-frontal female nude scene.