How Men Propose & Too Wise Wives (1921)

In the years prior to her movie career, American director Lois Weber was a concert pianist, charity fundraiser, and stage actress. While appearing in a stock company production of +Why Girls Leave Home, Weber met her future husband, actor Phillips Smalley. Both Weber and Smalley entered films in 1905, joining the Gaumont company, where they wrote, acted, and directed in several primitive “talking” pictures. In 1911, Weber and her husband took over the Rex Film Company from Edwin S. Porter; it was here that both husband and wife excelled as creative, innovative filmmakers. Among Weber’s most significant directorial credits during the World War I years was The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916), which served as the screen debuts for both Anna Pavlova and Boris Karloff. As often as possible, Weber tried to inject social consciousness into her films, beginning with her delicately handled birth-control tract Where Are My Children? (1916). In 1917, Weber set up her own studio, where she continued turning out films distinguished by provocative themes, revolutionary camera angles, naturalistic acting, and cleverly written and designed subtitles. At the beginning of the 1920s, Weber was signed for a series of films by Famous Players-Lasky (aka Paramount); among these was her best-known work, The Blot (1921). Unfortunately, the films proved unsuccessful at the box office, and Weber was dropped from her contract and was never able to regain her career momentum. Her output became more sporadic as the 1920s rolled on. By the time talkies arrived, Weber was considered washed up; she directed only one sound film, the Poverty Row “east meets west” melodrama White Heat (1934), then spent the rest of the 1930s working as a “script doctor” at Universal.