Women Director Releases “HYPOCRITES”
Florence Lois Weber was born in June 1879 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania. A musical child prodigy, she did street missionary work and performed on tour in classical recitals until a piano key broke during a performance and she lost her nerve to perform music in public. She took up acting about 1904, and moved to New York City. She met and married a fellow actor, Wendell Phillip Smalley who came from a prominent family. She retired from the stage and while keeping their home, Weber wrote freelance moving picture scenarios.
In 1908, Weber was hired by American Gaumont Chronophones, a producer of singing movies. At the end of the 1908 theatrical season, Smalley joined Weber at Gaumont and soon Weber was writing scripts and directing at Gaumont. By 1911, Weber and Smalley were working for Rex Motion Picture Company where she acted in and directed her first silent short film, A HEROINE OF ’76. In 1912 Rex merged with five other studios to form the Universal Film Manufacturing Company and relocated to Los Angeles.
Rex continued as a subsidiary of Universal, with Weber and Smalley running it, making one two-reel film each week. Having established herself as an important figure in fledgling Hollywood, when Universal City was incorporated in 1913, Weber was elected it’s first mayor. Weber continued to make films including SUSPENSE(1913) which was the first use of a split screen. In 1914 she directed 27 films including THE MERCHANT OF VENICE.
It was during 1914 she made her first feature-length film, HYPOCRITES, a four-reel allegorical drama shot at Universal City that Weber wrote, directed, produced and starred in. It tells the parallel stories of a modern preacher and a medieval monk, Gabriel the Ascetic, who is killed by an ignorant mob for making a nude statue representing Truth, which is also represented by a ghostly naked girl who appears throughout the film. It is the first full-frontal female nude scene in movie history. It has faced difficulty with censors and has been delayed several months.
On January 20, 1915 HYPOCRITES is finally released. Although telling an uplifting tale and tastefully done, it already has some cities and moral guardians up in arms.
Lois Weber biography by National Women’s History Museum :