Stenographers is an original podcast drama series set in Hollywood during December 1934.
A stenographer disappears after taking a fancy locket from a man she hardly knows. Co-workers in the steno pool try to find her and uncover a network of dangerous men.
Will they find her in time?
Meet the characters:
Terry Nolan (played by Clara Higgins) had planned on teaching literature, but soon learned that colleges weren’t interested in putting women at the front of a lecture hall. She fell back on her secretarial skills and opened the Nolan Executive Stenographers office.
Fiona Clarke (played by Jennifer O’Meara) comes from a family that raised horses. She worked as a stuntwoman in Hollywood, without receiving a contract or compensation when she broke her leg during production. Secretarial work pays the bills.
Margaret O’Donnell (played by Jeanne Sutton) gave up a job teaching at Katharine Gibbs, a prestigious secretarial school, to work for Hunt Stromberg in MGM. The studio grind took its toll, as did the lack of promotion.
Ivy Miller (played by Olympia Kiriakou) joined the U.S. Treasury department because they recruited women as ideal candidates for clerical positions, yet quickly discovered women could not advance beyond the steno pool.
Dolly DePeyster (played by M. Shawn) is a reporter with the L.A. Times. She rents desk space from Terry to get away from the lads in the bullpen, but also because she can’t type and relies on stenographers for meeting column deadlines.
Kay Carroll (played by Megan McGurk) believes every word she reads in fan magazines and romance stories. She wants nice clothes and a home to hang her apron.
Catch up with a three-part original podcast series about ambitious women in Hollywood.
Set in January 1934, the story opens in a dress shop on Sunset Boulevard. Designer Claire Delahunt has been asked by Frances Goldwyn to apply for a new role as head of the wardrobe department in her husband’s studio. Frances believes Claire will bring glamour to productions, which is sorely lacking, after she witnessed the Goldwyn Girls dressed in nothing but wigs for a scene in Roman Scandals. The only problem is Sam’s first choice is Dmitri Cosmo, a costumer in Monogram Pictures. Backed by her fitter Lois, and mannequins Helen, Gail, and Cash, Claire plans on beating the competition.
Part two opens three days before the screen test. Claire designed twenty costumes for the adaptation of the Broadway show It Pays to Sin. While the ladies take a lunch break, the costumes disappear from the shop. Claire is ready to throw in the towel, until loyal client Lilyan Tashman arrives and offers her wardrobe. Over the years, Lilyan has bought at least one of everything Claire designed. Meanwhile, Helen suggests they find out what Dmitri’s costumes look like for the Goldwyn test. Cash volunteers to pick him up. Lois and Gail help her look the part.
In the podcast series finale, set the following day, Claire recalls the first time she dressed showgirls for a nightclub act to create a glamorous ensemble for the screen test in Goldwyn’s. Helen and Gail sign up as extras in Monogram to get a look in the wardrobe department. A surprise visitor shakes things up in the dress shop. Lois wears a disguise to sneak on the lot over in Monogram. Will the cloak and dagger spy tactics help Claire win the contract?
Joan Crawford has her pick between a troubled veteran (Henry Fonda) and a smug married man (Dana Andrews). Does she want the man who has good lines (‘The world’s dead and everybody in it’s dead but you’) or does she stay with the same old masculine lines (‘It won’t be over til we’re dead’)? Crawford looks good in the back street as well as the sunshine, thanks to the poetic photography of Leon Shamroy, who believed that every light had to be justified ‘like words in a sentence’.
Career gal Joan has a cute flat, the freedom to lose herself in work, and a great wardrobe by Charles LeMaire. I’m not sure why she wants a husband, but my interest in woman’s pictures is always seeing a woman who gets what she wants.
Catch up with podcast episode 85 on Daisy Kenyon (1947).
If you’re looking for more podcast episodes on Joan Crawford, step this way—>
In episode 60, I talk about Sadie McKee (1934) , the gold standard Crawford picture. It has everything I desire: Joan absorbs the slings and arrows of unworthy men, triumphs over their low opinion, has the support of a dear friend (Jean Dixon), and parades in exquisite designs by Adrian. And it has a scene set in the Automat, which is what I use to centre my best intentions each time when I sit down to write. Joan has a few coins in her pocket, but fortified by a smart wool topper and hat, she uses great style as a shield against pity and misfortune.
For episode 50, I talk about how Joan Crawford just wants to be left alone in her beach house. She foils the plot of a rough trade grifter and his backers, sidestepping the fate of women of a certain age.
In episode 36, Joan stars in a fabulous spy caper to defeat the Nazis.
Matt Harris, archivist and fellow Joan Crawford obsessive, joins me for episode 20 to talk about Joan in Flamingo Road (1949) and in episode 66 for Queen Bee (1955).
In episode 77, I admire the way Adrian develops his signature metallic look for Joan Crawford in No More Ladies (1935). The picture evades the usual tropes about a woman driven witless by a cheating husband. Joan turns the tables on Bob Montgomery until he sobs in her arms and begs forgiveness.
In episode 4, I talk about how watching Joan Crawford in Torch Song (1953) as she tries to do nothing on a Sunday leaves me with white knuckles.
Although Louella and Hedda are more famous for their long-running feud than for the power they wielded in the studio system in Hollywood, they had a lot in common. Both women struggled as single mothers. Each woman forged a career in highly competitive fields when most women did not work outside the home. By telephone, their weapon of choice, Louella and Hedda could drag moguls out of bed, make producers sweat through a charvet shirt, and interrupt a star in the middle of filming a scene. When there were no less than 400 writers competing for stories in the film colony, Louella and Hedda had the largest readership for their daily columns. Their success inspired jealous hit-pieces and even physical attacks from men.
Louella and Hedda forged an indelible impact on celebrity journalism that remains visible today. Each time you read a profile on a film star, their imprint lingers in the subtext.
Catch up with my six-episode series:
Part One looks at Louella’s early dreams of being a writer, her rise as a film scenarist in Essay Studio, and her rise as one of the first daily film columnists. She gathered interviews from stars during train station layovers, and developed modern ways to market her skill set, pitching ideas to editors and publishers. The episode concludes when she nearly died of tuberculosis after she logged too many hours working for William Randolph Hearst in 1926.
Part Two covers Hedda Hopper’s early years as a workhorse in her father’s butcher shop, to runaway chorus girl, to wife of a Broadway star, and her success in silent pictures as the stylish dame who outshines the star. Hedda divorced a cheating husband and flourished in Hollywood, until she lost everything in the 1929 Crash.
Part Three traces the rise of Louella’s influence as a columnist in Hollywood. During the transition to sound, studios feared a negative item about one of their stars from Louella, and gave her a 48-hour exclusive. For more than a decade, she was the first to report breaking news on the stars. Louella made a splash in radio by booking free talent for the sponsors. The Screen Actors Guild mobilised against her power to get the stars to work without pay.
Part Four examines Hedda’s struggle to maintain a film career once MGM let her option expire. She became a Jane of all trades, in real estate, as a talent agent, as a beauty operator for Elizabeth Arden, and a voice coach–anything to pay her son’s tuition bill and keep a roof over her head. When Hedda was past 50 and considered a failure by everyone in the film industry, she reinvented herself as a columnist.
Part Five looks at Louella’s resilience when she lost her studio exclusive, and watch her rival catch the big stories, starting with Lombard and Gable’s wedding. After Hedda appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1948, Louella stayed in bed for days. But Louella closed the decade by breaking two of the biggest stories of the postwar era–Rita Hayworth’s Cinderella wedding to Prince Aly Khan and the truth about Ingrid Bergman’s love child with director Roberto Rossellini.
Part Six notes the accelerated speed of Hedda’s success as a daily columnist. She didn’t just cover the stars–she used her column as a platform to argue that Hollywood was unfair to women. Hedda called for the end of severe diets, and more women as screenwriters, producers, and directors. Hedda’s right-wing politics became an overwhelming preoccupation after the Time magazine cover. She encouraged the HUAC investigation, led boycotts against so-called pro-Communist sentiment in Hollywood, which inevitably led to the Blacklist.