Lois Weber is a name that should be remembered by film scholars as one of the most successful female directors and screenwriters in Hollywood’s early days. Weber and her husband, Phillips Smalley, left the theater for motion pictures around 1907. Soon the couple had a stock company of actors, turning out dozens of one and two-reel films in which they also appeared. Known for their tasteful, intelligent work, The Merchant of Venice (1914) would be noted as the first American feature film directed by a woman. Weber would soon turn her camera to controversial subjects like abortion, contraception and capital punishment, believing that films could “have an influence for good on the public mind.”
In 1916, she was the only woman elected to the Motion Picture Directors Association and would remain so for years. With her own production company and keen business sense, Photoplay magazine noted that Weber was briefly the highest paid director in Hollywood. She made fewer films in the decade following her 1922 divorce from Smalley, a time when the public’s taste moved away from serious topics into lighter fare. After her death in 1939, Weber’s work was rediscovered by critics and has appeared at film festivals worldwide.