March 08, 2010: This coming Saturday evening Author Chris Enss will present a program on the images of women of the West in film and in real life, kicking-off the Lone Pine Film History Museum’s part of the “Celebrating Women of Eastern California” exhibit organized through the Eastern Sierra Cultural and Heritage Alliance (ESCHA).
The exhibit is actually distributed throughout the area from the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest to the museums in the snow (whose exhibits will open later in the spring.) ESCHA has involved most of the local museums and interpretive centers in the project. To see the entire exhibit you need to visit all of the participating institutions. The exhibit will be on display through the fall and will have many events and speakers associated with the theme during that time.
The Lone Pine event starts at 6:30 with a “meet and greet” period with liquid refreshments. At 7:00 pm, Chris Enss will do her presentation with slides in the Wild West Theater. Afterwards she will answer questions and sign some of her books that will be on sale in the Museum Gift Shop. The event and refreshments are free.
Enss is an award-winning screenwriter who has written for television, short subject & feature films, and standup comedians. She is the author of “Hearts West: True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier;” “How the West Was Worn: Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier;” and “Buffalo Gals: Women of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show”. Two of her books about Roy Rogers and Dale Evans: “The Cowboy and the Senorita” and “Happy Trails,” were co-authored with film producer Howard Kazanjian.
Some other titles by Enss show the diversity of her subjects and the diversity of the role of women in the settling of the west, a partnership often overlooked in the B westerns of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many films in this genre were shot locally. Her titles in women’s history in the West include: “Buffalo Gals: Women of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show;” “Gilded Girls: Women Entertainers of the Old West;” “Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order;” “Love Untamed: Romances of the Old West;” “Pistol Packin' Madams: True Stories of Notorious Women of the Old West;’ “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon: Women Soldiers and Patriots of the Western Frontier;” and “The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West” among others.
The Museum’s exhibit is subtitled “Women of the Reel/Real West” and explores the images of women in westerns made here and compares these images with real women who lived and worked in our area. Some of the local pioneer women will be familiar to locals.
“Western films until after World War 2 reduced women to several stereotypical roles in films. They were often ‘set decoration’ looking beautiful but with little real things to do,” explained Chris Langley, the Museum film historian.
Occasionally women were ranch owners, usually left a ranch by a dead brother or father, and usually unable to actually take charge or protect the herds. That’s when the hero would ride in and save the day. We see clearly in the images of the women of our area that they were not so much ‘cowgirls’ but instead equal partners with their husbands. Not only did they work alongside them, especially during busy times of year, but they cooked, gardened, raised the kids and also did many handicrafts like quilting. Although women in the West started to gain the vote before it was won on the national stage, they worked as hard or harder than men with few of their rights guaranteed.”
The exhibit explores these facts in terms of images both on and off the screen. It is really only in the last forty years that feminist western historians have fully explored the role of women in settling the West. “With Annie Oakley played by Gail Davis and Dale Evans on the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show on television in the 1950’s that girls in the audience were given consistently competent and powerful images on women on the western Frontier in films and popular media,” Langley concluded.
The exhibit will be on display during the summer and fall.