A celebrated movie director’s determination to explore gender issues within the constraints of the studio system was the subject of a recent “MTSU On the Record” radio program.
Host Gina Logue’s interview with Elyce Helford, a professor of English, first aired Sept. 8 on WMOT-FM Roots Radio 89.5 and www.wmot.org. You can hear their conversation above.
Helford is the author of “What Price Hollywood? Gender and Sex in the Films of George Cukor.”
The book combines the story of Cukor’s career with a critical exploration of more than 25 of his films, including “The Women,” “The Philadelphia Story,” “My Fair Lady,” “Heller in Pink Tights,” and “Adam’s Rib.”
Cukor, a gay Jewish man, faced stereotyping as a “woman’s director” for his ability to work with some of the industry’s greatest actresses.
Famously, Cukor continued to coach Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland on the sly after he was fired from “Gone With the Wind,” allegedly because Clark Gable thought Cukor was giving them too much attention.
Helford, however, said Cukor continued to challenge societal norms and gender perceptions through the use of drag, camp and mixed genres, despite studio pressure and the restrictions of the Hays Code, the censorship rules that limited what filmmakers could depict in movies between 1934 and 1968.
She said Cukor, who was nominated for five Oscars and won the directing award for “My Fair Lady” in 1964, used drag both whimsically and more seriously.
“These range from bits, like in ‘Little Women,’ where Jo … dresses up as the villain when they do the play, examples like that which are childish and fun, to ‘Sylvia Scarlett,’ which is a film in which Katharine Hepburn is in drag as a young man for 90 percent of the film,” Helford said.
To hear previous “MTSU On the Record” programs, visit the searchable “Audio Clips” archives at www.mtsunews.com.
For more information about the radio program, contact Logue at 615-898-5081 or WMOT-FM at 615-898-2800.