How Lois Weber and Claire Windsor's films shaped 1920s cinema

Dan Norman October 11, 2020
How Lois Weber and Claire Windsor's films shaped 1920s cinema
Photo by Apic/Getty Images

In this series we look at the past 100 years of cinema as seen through ten of the most fruitful actor/director partnerships. Today, we look at how Lois Weber and Claire Windsor’s films shaped the 1920s. It’s great to have work friends help you through the day.

A film set is a busy place and every movie relies on the efforts of many different people. On top of that, every time you begin work on a film you’re entering a new workplace. In those conditions, a familiar face can be a welcome sight.

There are plenty of reasons film-makers might reunite. There could be a mutual recognition they bring the best out of one another. It might make sense for the biggest action director to keep working with the biggest action star. It may be an order from the studio, believing the pairing is what the public wants to see.

Film history is littered with director-actor pairings that were more than the sum of their parts. It’s impossible to decide on the best but, in this series, we’ve decided to pick a pair for each of the past ten decades.

Each duo made at least three films together in that time, although some collaborations lasted longer. Put together, they tell a story of cinema during the past 100 years.

In this article, we go all the way back to the 1920s with two silent film pioneers…

Original Caption

How Lois Weber and Claire Windsor’s films shaped 1920s cinema

Films made: To Please One Woman (1920), What’s Worth While? (1921), Too Wise Wives (1921), The Blot (1921), What Do Men Want? (1921)

Lois Weber directed four films in 1921 alone – unthinkable today. They all starred Claire Windsor, who had only debuted the previous year, in Weber’s To Please One Woman.

Few directors were better suited to introduce a fledgling star to the public. Weber was one of the biggest directors of the silent era. She knew everything there was to know about film-making, with a long list of acting and writing credits to go with those earned as director.

She knew how to play the publicity game too. Decades later, Windsor would describe a publicity stunt cooked up by Weber, looking to fuel public interest in the budding actress.

When Windsor went missing at a party, Weber fuelled the gossip, roping Hollywood figures such as Charlie Chaplin into joining the search. After days of excited national headlines, Windsor re-emerged covered in bruises – later revealed to be the work of a professional make-up team.

Sadly, as with many films of the era, some of the collaborations are missing or incomplete. Plot descriptions seem to place them as romances, with Windsor the female lead in each case. Themes of infidelity and class inequality pop up more than once.

Although the two made no further films together after 1921’s punishing schedule, Windsor’s career continued to rise for a few years.

Weber, meanwhile, began to slow down and is credited as director on only five further films. As with so many of their contemporaries, both women saw their careers end with the emergence of the ‘talkies’.

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A screenwriter and sometimes a writer of other things, living in York.