Have you heard about the recent proclamation from Jeff Robinov, the president of production at Warner Brothers? Coming off the box-office disappointments of Nicole Kidman’s “The Invasion” and Jodie Foster’s “The Brave One,” Robinov has decreed: “We are no longer doing movies with women in the lead.” Apparently Robinov won’t even read any screenplays that feature women in principal roles. This story was first reported last week by entertainment writer Nikki Finke. I kept waiting for some kind of rebuttal or clarification from the Warner Bros. honchos. None came, and others have said that this report is an accurate accounting of the studio’s new policy. As a lifelong movie lover, I am so appalled by this asinine decision that I’m almost rendered speechless. Obviously, women are responsible for all the crappy Warner Brothers films in recent years, including Kidman and Foster’s latest bombs, right? As if either of those films came anywhere near portraying a three-dimensional female character. Needless to say, both of those turkeys were written and directed by men—I’m looking forward to Robinov's ban on male directors and screenwriters.
It seems particularly sad to me that such a statement would come out of Warner Brothers, a studio that came into its own by featuring strong women in leading roles. For years Bette Davis was called “the fourth Warner brother” because of her complete dominance in the studio’s box office. Other Warner Bros. dames who ruled the lot in the glory days included Olivia de Havilland, Joan Blondell, Ruby Keeler, Ida Lupino, Ann Sheridan, Alexis Smith, and Jane Wyman. Nice to know that had he been head of production back in the day, Robinov would have refused to make the following Warner Bros. films:
Arsenic and Old Lace
To Have and Have Not
Dial M for Murder
A Star Is Born
The Bad Seed
The Pajama Game
The Nun’s Story
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
My Fair Lady
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
Bonnie and Clyde
McCabe and Mrs. Miller
Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
Driving Miss Daisy
And that’s just a fraction of the Warner Bros. catalog that is dependent on its powerful female leads. Is it any wonder that most of the films coming out of mainstream Hollywood today are unwatchable? Strong well-written female characters are already so scarce, can you imagine even fewer of them making it to the screen? Does the American public really just want action movies starring brilliant actors such as “The Rock?” I fantasize about Bette Davis rising from her grave at Forest Lawn, trudging over to the gates of Warners in nearby Burbank, and screaming a paraphrase of Norma Desmond’s line from “Sunset Boulevard”—“TELL HIM WITHOUT ME THERE WOULDN’T BE ANY WARNER BROTHERS STUDIOS!”
Not that Warner Brothers was a bastion of feminist sensitivity in the 1930s and 40s—far from it. Many of the studio’s top actresses loathed the insufferable Jack Warner. Two actresses sued Warners, claiming that the studio’s control over their careers amounted to nothing short of slavery (Bette Davis lost her suit but Olivia de Havilland won in a landmark decision that sounded the death knell for the old studio system). But unlike Robinov, at least Jack Warner recognized that it made no sense to produce films that ignored slightly more than half of the human race.
Noted women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred has said that if Jeff Robinov’s statement proves to be true, she will call for a boycott of Warner Bros. films. I wouldn’t dream of spending good money on most of the crap that studio spews out today, but I don’t think I’d join an official boycott either. I’d just dial the clock back about 65 years and enjoy the best work the studio ever produced.