Category Archives: Projects

Current and Past Projects

Helen Van Upp in Hollywood

I’m currently writing a short profile on Helen Van Upp for Columbia University’s excellent “Women Film Pioneers Project.” Here is an informative article from The Guardian that highlights the WFPP.

By the 1940s Helen Van Upp’s own early film career had largely been eclipsed by that of her daughter’s success – executive producer, Virginia Van Upp.  However, Helen had served as head of the reading department at several large studios, worked as an editor, scenarist, script teacher, and for a while she even ran her own production company. She was well known and liked in Hollywood’s small community right up until her death at the age of 93 in 1969. Over the course of her life Helen Van Upp witnessed the rise and fall of Hollywood’s studio system.

Sadly I don't have a better quality photo at this time. I have yet to find a physical copy of this edition of Moving Picture World.

Helen Van Upp in 1923. Sadly I don’t as yet have a better quality photo. I’m looking for a physical copy of this edition of Moving Picture World.



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Geek Moment: Film Footage of Virginia Van Upp at Rita Hayworth’s Wedding

So, I’m having a geek moment:

Below is the only piece of film footage I have found featuring Hollywood actress-screenwriter-producer, Virginia Van Upp. While Van Upp appeared in several early films as a child actress, many of these titles are now lost, or only exist as fragments. Although Van Upp was happy to swap acting for writing and producing, it seems she still retained some aspirations to act. She reportedly completed a screen test for one of the movies that she wrote entitled, Honeymoon in Bali (1939).  Van Upp also planned to appear as an extra in The Loves of Carmen (1948). In 1983, Van Upp herself was portrayed by actress Jane Hallaren in the television movie Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess.

Note on footage:

In 1949, Van Upp attended Rita Hayworths’s wedding to Prince Aly Khan in Cannes. I noticed Van Upp in the below Pathé newsreel at around: 32 seconds. During the wedding ceremony Van Upp is standing by the wall on the far right, wearing a large, bonkers black hat and black-and-white patterned dress. Van Upp also appears again standing outside the wedding venue. You really get a sense of how petite she was – something reporters would often emphasize.

Hayworth and Van Upp were close friends. Van Upp wrote the screenplay to Cover Girl (1944) and produced and wrote Gilda (1946)both are two of Hayworth’s most memorable movies. For various labor reasons Van Upp did not receive writing credit for Gilda; this greatly angered Columbia Pictures studio boss Harry Cohn, who thought Van Upp more than deserved full credit.

Thanks to Pathé for making the footage accessible to the public!


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To Wisconsin and back again: Film and History 2015

I had a great time last weekend at the Film and History Conference in Madison, Wisconsin. It was wonderful to meet up with old and new friends. Film and History is often referred to as one of the friendliest and most collegiate conferences in the Untied States and I’ve certainly found this to be the case.

My presentation was on the unique production history of Cover Girl (1944) written by Virginia Van Upp, and starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly and Lee Bowman. I’m extremely grateful to the panel organizer Deborah Carmichael and my fellow panelist Philip Sewell, both of whom gave insightful and meticulously researched presentations on local exhibition strategies. I’m also super appreciative for the advice I received in the Q&A session from the scholars who attended our panel. It’s so fabulous to come back from a conference and feel this inspired.

Below are a few of the PowerPoint slides I included in my talk.

I like to think of the below title slide’s background as ‘ironic pink.’ The movie employs the same pink satin background for its titles and credits.

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 7.54.11 PM

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The “Cover Girl” Issue

Publicity for Cover Girl

Publicity for Cover Girl

Oh, cruel irony!

I’m excited to be presenting a paper this Friday in Wisconsin on Columbia Pictures Technicolor musical, Cover Girl (1944) starring Rita Hayworth, Gene Kelly, and Lee Bowman. However, I just found out that MoMA will be screening the restored version of this movie at exactly the same time. The movie will be introduced by Grover Crisp, Executive Vice President of Asset Management, Film Restoration and Digital Mastering, Sony Pictures Entertainment.

At least I’ll get back to New York in time to catch the second screening of the film on Monday, but I’m terribly disappointed to miss Crisp’s talk.

The restoration was screened this summer at the Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Italy and by all accounts it is magnificent. David Bordwell described it as the best DCP rendering of Technicolor that he has ever seen.

For my presentation I’ll be employing the teletypes and story conference notes held at the American Heritage Center in Wyoming, to discuss the movie’s unique production history and elaborate nationwide exploitation campaign.


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The Long Career of Virginia Van Upp

When I’ve given presentations on movie producer Virginia Van Upp, I’ve discussed her 45+ year career in Hollywood as falling into four major phases. In my research I’m discovering that the final phase of Van Upp’s career is proving more complex and surprising than the current official narrative.

“Growing up with Hollywood” (1902-1934)

Before deciding on a career as a screenwriter, Van Upp held a variety of positions within the burgeoning movie industry of Los Angeles. These roles included: child star, director’s assistant, editor, script reader, casting agent, actor’s representative, and secretary to Horace Jackson. The knowledge she gained from these jobs (actor’s agent in particular), would significantly help Van Upp in the next three phases of her career.

“The Paramount Years” (1934-42)

“The Columbia Years” (1942-47)

“The Wilderness Years” (1948-1970)

After leaving Columbia, Van Upp spent several years trying to launch independent movie projects and wrote and produced three documentaries in Germany for the U.S State Dept. She also worked on a number of movies for which she is uncredited. I thought this final phase would be hard to find materials on, but my research to date shows that these years were some of the most interesting, prolific, and creative of Van Upp’s career.

I’m looking forward to visiting USC, UCLA, and Margaret Herrick Library in August and discovering more about Van Upp (and her mother, Hollywood scenarist Helen Van Upp).

Van Upp Meeting Luis César Amadori in 1945

Virginia Van Upp meeting with Luis César Amadori when he visited Los Angeles in 1945. On Van Upp’s desk are the script and costumes for Gilda (1946). Sourced from

Above is Virginia Van Upp meeting with (Italian born) Argentine director Luis César Amadori in 1945 at Columbia Pictures. The two filmmakers shared an interesting discussion about Hollywood cultural stereotypes and women working in the film industry. Upon leaving Columbia, Van Upp would travel extensively in South America and Europe, associating with dignitaries and filmmakers.

You can read more about the fascinating connection between Hollywood and Argentine film during the 1930s and 1940s here.

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Columbia Pictures, Rita Hayworth, and Virginia Van Upp

In my continued search for materials relating to Hollywood screenwriter-producer Virginia Van Upp, I was last week fortunate enough to visit the American Heritage Center (AHC) in Laramie, Wyoming, where I made some exciting discoveries.

The AHC holds an extensive collection of materials concerning the day-to-day operation of Columbia Pictures (1929 -1974). Van Upp worked at Columbia between the years 1941 – 1947. Her most successful movie at the studio was Gilda (1946), which she both wrote and produced. She briefly returned to work for the studio in 1951, assisting Rita Hayworth with the production of Affair in Trinidad.

The Columbia Pictures Collection at the AHC primarily consists of daily teletypes transmitted between the New York and Los Angeles offices. In these communications studio producers discuss particular films, publicity stunts, music rights, but above all else: Rita Hayworth! Discussions about Hayworth concern her films, contracts, clothes, travel arrangements, future productions, relationships….etc.

In addition to the teletypes, the collection also contains a few “Story Conference” transcriptions in which writers and producers discuss problems with various scripts and films. Among these records I found a few pages pertaining to the making of Gilda.

A big THANK YOU to the archivists at the AHC, all of whom are amazing.

My next port of call will be the Margaret Herrick Library in Los Angeles.



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California – Hawaii

After completing the school year I was more than ready to get out of New York for a couple of weeks.

I spent last week in Southern California mostly vacationing, however I did have the pleasure of lunching with, and interviewing Virginia Van Upp‘s step-daughter in San Diego. She shared some wonderful memories of her weekends spent on the Sonora ranch that her father, Ralph W. Nelson and Van Upp built together. Nelson also worked in the industry and is perhaps best known for his work on the Twilight Zone series. He and Van Upp collaborated on a number of projects in the thirties and forties. The relationship was tumultuous: they married, divorced, and remarried. The couple remained together until Van Upp’s death in 1970.

I hope to interview more of Van Upp’s family and visit the Sonora ranch when I return to California in August for a month-long research trip. I will also be visiting the American Heritage Center in Wyoming where some of Columbia Collection is held.

Right now I’m in Hawaii enjoying the scenery and preparing for the Film Theory comprehensive exam. I have chosen to focus on Feminist Film Theory.

Lots of exciting developments happening on the Harlem Theatre front – hope to have some good news soon regarding the movie’s  preservation and increased accessibility. The project has taken many surprising twists and turns!

Back in NYC next week.


P.S. I think Hawaii may be my spiritual homeland…also sales tax is 4.1%


Extreme Fishing

View from balcony, Paradise Pali Kai.  Extreme Fishing!


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About the Documentary HARLEM THEATRE (1968)

HARLEM THEATRE (1968) is a ninety-minute documentary that was made for German television by filmmaker Klaus Wildenhahn. The movie, filmed just after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., follows Harlem’s New Lafayette Theatre members as they rehearse for their upcoming season and run politically radical workshops in the community.

Founded by actor-director Robert Macbeth, the New Lafayette Theatre was a significant institution within the Black Power Movement. Ed Bullins, the theatre’s playwright-in-residence was the Black Panther’s Minister of Culture. In addition to recording the theatre’s workshops, the movie contains street interviews with Harlem’s residents, and scenes from the Black Panther fundraising event held at Fillmore East for Eldridge Cleaver.


New Lafayette Theatre 1968, Company Members: J.E. Gaines, Beverly   , Bill Lathan, Yvette Hawkins, Roscoe Orman, George Miles, Helen Ellis, Roberta Raysor, Gary Bolling, Sam Wright, Estelle Evans, Bette Howard, Whitman Mayo, Peggy Kirkpatrick, Kris Keiser, Robert Macbeth, Ed Bullins

The movie is a powerful political and historical document that speaks to today’s concerns regarding justice for black people, police brutality, and the instrumentality of art to bring about change. Today’s renewed interest in the Black Panthers also makes the film timely. To the best of my knowledge the film has never screened publicly outside of Central Europe. (16MM, B/W, English Language)

Here is a clip from HARLEM THEATRE in which Robert Macbeth discusses Black theatre as a subversive force.

This clip was transferred by a collector from a print of the film that has since been lost/destroyed. The only known of surviving ninety minute, English language print of HARLEM THEATRE exists in an archive. If you would like to find out more about this film please email me. Continue reading

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I Love My Radio

Here is a still from the animated short promotional film More Than Meets the Eye (1952) made by United Productions of America (the same company responsible for Mr. Magoo). In every domestic space someone is listening to a radio set.


Other films promoting radio sets, radio shows, and advertising airtime established the convention of presenting montages of white people enjoying domestic bliss with their radio sets. Sponsored telecommunication films 1935-1960. Continue reading

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Only Connect

Ad Man 1: How can we effectively communicate America’s growing communication networks?
Ad Man 2: Ooh, ooh, I know this one…
Promotional telecommunication films 1930-1960

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