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  • Writer's pictureEllen Cheshire

Film-making & Husband-stalking!

Updated: May 5, 2023

This month (February 2016) saw the publication of Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema by Supernova Books. I was thrilled to discover that the woman chosen for the cover was Margery Ordway, who I wrote about in my chapter on cinematogrpahers. Here's a short extract about Ordway from my chapter...

During the early silent period, technology and film production roles were often shared. With film in its infancy, the creative person behind the camera was usually also the director, with the technical work being carried out by a crank-turner or camera operator. But as technology evolved – the introduction of lighting, special effects, faster (more light sensitive) film stock - filmmaking roles transformed and it became standard for there to be a dedicated person who physically handled the camera and used it creatively.

By 1919 this role had become so integral and specialist that the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) was founded ‘to recognise the cinematographer's contribution to the art and science of motion picture making’. The following year it launched American Cinematographer magazine, which is still published today.

One of the ASC’s founding members was Homer Scott, who was its president from 1925-1926. Ten years earlier he was first cameraman for Hollywood star director William Desmond Taylor (probably now best known for his mysterious murder) at the Oliver Morosco Photoplay Co. In 1916, Photoplay visited the set of their five-reel feature film Her Father's Son (1916), an American Civil War drama.

However, it wasn’t the film’s star Vivian Martin that caught their attention but the film’s crank-turner, Margery Ordway. This image of Ordway is probably one of the most widely reproduced images of a woman working a camera from these early days of cinema - indeed it is on the cover of this book Silent Women: Pioneers of Cinema (from which this is extracted).

This striking photograph was first published in the October 1916 issue of Photoplay under the heading “This is the new fall style in camera ‘men’”, and is known as much for the image as it is for the extended picture caption beneath “Meaning, the style you could fall for. Nor is this a masquerade get-up. Margery Ordway, regular, professional, licensed union crank-turner at Camp Morosco, has gone into camera work as nonchalantly as other girls take up stenography, nursing, husband-stalking.”

However, other than this one image and caption – little else is known of Ordway’s Hollywood career. Perhaps she took up ‘husband-stalking’!

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