Finding New England in Hollywood: Mayme Ober Peak’s Localization of Film Culture in the 1920s and 1930s

Thursday, January 2, 2014: 1:40 PM
Columbia Hall 1 (Washington Hilton)
Kathryn Fuller-Seeley, University of Texas at Austin
In 1926, journalist Mayme Ober Peak became one of the first female newspaper reporters assigned to cover the American film industry. Having spent five years with the Boston Globe posted to Washington DC to report on women’s issues and prominent women in politics, diplomacy and government, Peak was transferred to Hollywood to provide New Englanders with stories on popular performers, new films and studio happenings. Peak focused on geographic and cultural connections between her New England readers and the glamorous world of Hollywood, as she sought out performers who grew up in the Northeast or who had performed there in vaudeville and on the legitimate stage. Peak’s interviews frequently emphasized the particularly localized personal histories and continuing ties of film actors who were increasingly representing an idealized, national American identity to the rest of the nation – Mayme Ober Peak sought to make the mysterious, distant world of Hollywood seem to be an extension of the local world that was familiar to her readers. Peak founded and was elected the first President of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club. She charted the difficulties and challenges of Hollywood’s transition to talkies (especially for older performers) and promoted New Englanders as exemplars of national popular culture once sound films added the elements of regional accents to stars’ personalities. Remaining aloof from the politics that would make Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons powerful and feared gossip-mongerers, Mayme Peak capped her long career by being cited at her retirement as the “Number One Outstanding Screen Critic” by The Hollywood Reporter in 1940. This paper utilizes Peak’s scrapbooks and articles, and draws on recent scholarship that explores the production and circulation of knowledge about Hollywood by the women journalists, photographers, agents, and fan magazine editors who worked at the edges of the film industry.