The Woman Who Dared
The Life and Times of Pearl White, Queen of the Serials
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
Sales Date: 03/07/2023
In the early days of motion pictures—before superstars, before studio conglomerates, before even the advent of sound—there was a woman named Pearl White (1889–1938). A quintessential beauty of the time, with her perfectly tousled bob and come-hither stare, White's rise to stardom was swift; her assumption of the title of queen of American motion picture serials equally deserved.
Born the youngest of five children in a small, rural Missouri farm town, White first began performing in high school. She would eventually make the decision to cut her education short, dropping out to go on the Trousdale Stock Company. A bit player in the early years of her career, she was eventually spotted by the Powers Film Company in New York. She made her film debut in 1910 and soon set herself apart from her female colleagues with her reputation for fearless performances that often involved her own stunt work.
It was that same daring attitude that would put her on the map internationally as an actress. From flying airplanes to swimming across rapid rivers, to racing cars in serials like The Perils of Pauline (1914), White was undaunted by the demands of her onscreen career. She went on to star in popular serial classics such as The New Exploits of Elaine (1915), The Iron Claw (1916), The Fatal Ring (1917), and The Lightning Raider (1919). As active socially as she was professionally, White would also lend her audacious spirit to activism as she took part in the early feminist movement. Her bravery and mastery of her craft made her a positive role model for suffragettes who battled for women's rights in the United States.
The Woman Who Dared: The Life and Times of Pearl White, Queen of the Serials, is the first full-length biography of this pioneering star. In this study of film history and female agency, Drew delves into the cultural impact of White's work and how it evolved along a concurrent trajectory with the social upheavals of the Progressive Era.
1. Prairie Daughter
2. The Actress
3. On the Road
4. The Picture Player
5. Movie Star
6. The Perils of Pauline
7. "Elaine, My Moving Picture Queen"
8. The National Heroine
9. Love and War
10. The House of Hate
11. Farewell to Serials
12. The Year of Change
13. "Travelin' Around"
14. Fox's "Marvel of the Screen"
15. The Break-Up
16. The Darling of Paris
17. Farewell to America
18. One More Cinematic Adventure
19. Back on the Boards
20. A Gilded Exile
21. "The World's Her Oyster"
22. One More Journey
23. "The Reel Runs Back"
24. The Aftermath
I hadn't expected such intensive research. It is an astonishing story and should lead to the revival of the Pearl White films many of us thought had been consigned to the vaults for evermore.~Kevin Brownlow, film maker and film historian
Amazingly well researched The Woman Who Dared is a most welcome addition to the growing body of literature devoted to women's participation in film production during the 1910s and 20s. It is the first full-length biography of Pearl White and an astonishing document following White's life trajectory from her early career, the glamorous days of serials, the years after she left the film industry until her early death and even continues discussing her legacy in the years to come. Even though the volume provides much material of Pearl White as a star persona, the commitment of the author does not cease when White's days of stardom are fading but rather keeps the full focus at every step of her career, even when it comes to projects that were not realized. Apart from extra-textual materials the volume also includes analysis of films that are difficult to get hold on and even those that have not survived. The background/context of White's career gives a detailed account of the first decades of the American film industry and as such an invaluable contribution to Cinema Studies.~Marina Dahlquist, Professor of Cinema Studies, Stockholm University
A fascinating study of a fascinating woman who virtually defined the era of silent serial motion pictures. Comprehensive in its scope, meticulous in its research, accessible in its style, and immensely entertaining throughout, William M. Drew's masterful examination of serial queen Pearl White's life and times offers insights into an exciting period of American cinema history.~Barbara Tepa Lupack, author of Silent Serial Sensations: The Wharton Brothers and the Magic of Early Cinema
It is time that the contributions of the silent-era serial queens are fully recognized, and William Drew's thoroughly researched and wide-ranging study of Pearl White's life and career helps cement White's legacy as a groundbreaking action heroine and international film star. Film fans and scholars will find the details fascinating—everything from translated Soviet booklets about Pearl to the practicalities of filming her serials, to their reception and distribution. The Woman Who Dared captures the magic and mayhem of cinema's early years and the global influence of the new medium.~Radha Vatsal, co-editor, Women Film Pioneers Project
Author William M. Drew takes us on a fascinating journey in this biography of the most remarkable Pearl White, 'Queen of the Serials.' Renowned for her trailblazing adventure exploits on the cliffs of Fort Lee, New Jersey, Pearl White, like Pickford, Griffith, DeMille, Valentino, Gish, and Swanson, was a true original when movies began. The Woman Who Dared is rich in the history of the early silent film era. Pearl White's pictures and life were filled with adventure, daring do, and wonder. An astounding, lavish and lovingly written book, brilliantly researched, and comprehensively detailed... William M. Drew's brilliant The Woman Who Dared is a 'must read' for any motion picture historian and film buff. Highly recommended.~Stephen Michael Shearer, author of Patricia Neal:An Unquiet Life
Before Angelina Jolie could achieve fame as Lara Croft, Tomb Raider, and Scarlett Johansson could light up the screen as the Avengers' Black Widow, the silent film superstar Pearl White had to pave the way for public acceptance of a female action hero. White, best known as the heroine of the silent film era's popular serial franchise, The Perils of Pauline, was that rarest of women leads, athletic enough to perform her own death-defying stunts yet delicate enough to evoke the tenderest of emotions. As she captured the imaginations of moviegoers around the world, White's on-screen exploits were nearly eclipsed by her off-screen life. Tales of romances and marriages, international adventures and political activism were frothy fodder for the paparazzi and tabloid journalists of the day. In presenting the first full-length biography of this pioneering film star, Drew accomplishes the formidable task of chronicling White's personal and professional saga in microscopic detail, offering unrivaled access to the inner workings of the early-twentiethcentury movie industry. An essential resource for readers interested in silent films in particular and cinematic history.~Carol Haggas, Booklist
In the dawning years of cinema, actress Pearl White (1889–1938) was hailed as the Queen of the Serials. In this exhaustive biography, film historian Drew (Speaking of Silents) traces her life and career from her impoverished Missouri childhood where, at the age of 13, she began performing in local plays and in the circus. Leaving high school without graduating, she joined a stock company and toured for many years. A vocal cord injury compelled her to seek work in silent cinema in which she excelled. A scene where she rescued a woman and child from a burning building impressed her bosses, and she was soon cast in a succession of serials, including the wildly popular The Perils of Pauline, beginning in 1914. She performed many of her own stunts too. In 1919, she began to appear in more dramatic roles, before she retired from the screen in 1923 and lived the rest of her life comfortably in France. She died from liver failure at the age of 49 in 1938. VERDICT: Sometimes there's too much detail, but this is a well-researched biography that covers White's life and offers a good assessment of the silent-film industry.~Phillip Oliver, Library Journal
The Woman Who Dared will probably be the definitive biography of Pearl White, with 68 pages of notes and a six-page bibliography. Drew is a comprehensive researcher, and is transparent about any speculations he makes. He makes good use of Pearl's 1919 memoirs, Just Me, and gives us a side-nudge when he suspects Pearl was Embellishing her experiences. Even so, he quotes enough from her writings to give us a glimpse of a woman who was funny and brave, and didn't take herself too seriously.... Thankfully, we have this extensive biography to show us there were indeed important women in the silent era—and in action films before the magical year of 2012.~Silver Screenings
Not only is this biography the very definition of a flawlessly researched book, it's wildly entertaining and fun to read. It would make an extraordinary movie, actually but I'm at a loss for a current star who could rise to the charismatic station of Pearl White.~Hollywood Yesterday
William M. Drew's The Woman Who Dared: The Life and Times of Pearl White, Queen of the Serials is the first full-length biography devoted to White's life and career. While Drew showcases exceptional research in documenting the career and professional trajectory of White, he also succeeds in capturing the personal endeavors and priorities of this classic Hollywood star. White's story is one that is not explored often at all in comparison to her classic Hollywood counterparts, making this biography quite fascinating. Beyond the screen, White was also an activist, feminist, and suffragette, constantly working to battle for women's rights in the United States. The Woman Who Dared is not to be missed. It will definitely interest fans of early film as well as individuals interested in stunt work and the lives and careers of women in the nascent film industry.~Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood