Dorothy Arzner - Boom Microphone

Director Dorothy Arzner invented the boom microphone
Director Dorothy Arzner and Alfred Gilks, her cinematographer, survey a scene as they stand by a camera on the set of her film, Get Your Man. Arzner is leaning on the camera and holding a combination megaphone and viewfinder. Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Why is Dorothy Arzner Important?:

American film director, Dorothy Arzner directed the first "talkie" (a movie where you can hear the actors talking versus a silent film) for Paramount, invented the first boom microphone, and was the first woman in the Director's Guild of America (DGA). At the height of her career as a film director for a major motion picture company, Dorothy Arzner was the only such female director in America.

Invention of the Boom Microphone:

The boom microphone is a microphone that is attached to the end of the boom pole. It is used to hold a microphone out of the line of sight of the camera on a television or film set. The first use of a boom microphone occurred n 1929, invented by director Dorothy Arzner. Arzner used the boom microphone Paramount Studio's first talkie film called The Wild Party starring Clara Bow and Fredric March. Dorothy Arzner did not patent her boom microphone. However, in 1930, E. H. Hansen patented the first boom microphone complete with directional control.

Dorothy Arzner - Biography:

Dorothy Arzner was born in San Francisco, California, on January 3, 1897. Soon after her birth, the Arzner family moved to Los Angeles where her father owned a cafe in Hollywood. Arzner studied pre-med at the University of Southern California, intending on becoming a doctor.

Her studies were interrupted by the commencement of World War I, when Dorothy Arzner quit medical school to enlist and serve in the ambulance corps as a driver.

Paramount Studios

After the war ended, Dorothy Arzner decided against returning to medical school, instead she decided to pursue a career in the new movie industry that Los Angeles was home to.
She was hired by Paramount Pictures as a stenographer for director William C. DeMille. William was the brother of Cecil B. DeMille, one of the co-founders of Paramount Pictures. Dorothy Arzner did not stay long in the secretarial pool. She quickly moved up the ranks, becoming first a script writer, then a film editor within six months.

In 1922, she received her first assignment as a film editor working on Blood and Sand, starring Rudolph Valentino. Impressed director James Cruze continued to employ her as a writer and editor for many more of his films. In 1927, Dorothy Arzner directed her first film for Paramount called Fashions for Women that was a commercial success for the studio.

The Wild Party - Boom Microphone

In 1929, Dorothy Arzner directed Paramount's first talkie film called The Wild Party starring Clara Bow and Fredric March. It was during the filming of The Wild Party that Dorothy Arzner invented the first boom microphone. The boom microphone allowed the actress Clara Bow to move freely across the set while speaking her lines, and keeping the microphone out of view of the camera. Arzner's prototype boom microphone was a microphone attached to a fishing rod, however, boom microphones soon became standard equipment on all movie sets.

In 1932, Dorothy Arzner left her exclusive contract with Paramount studios to become a free agent working for several different movie studios.

She directed fourtent notable films including: Christopher Strong (1933) starring Katharine Hepburn, The Bride Wore Red (1937) starring Joan Crawford, and First Comes Courage (1943).

In 1936, Dorothy Arzner became the first woman member of the Directors Guild of America.

Later Life

In 1943, Dorothy Arzner retired from directing feature films but continued to direct commercials and stage plays. In 1960, she began working as a film professor at UCLA film school, until her death on October 1, 1979.