Rachel note: delighted that Radha Vatsal took time to talk about cinema in the 1910s: Kitty Weeks' first adventure is one I loved ( it is very Jem and Merinda approved!) and I so appreciate Radha taking the time to visit A Fair Substitute for Heaven today.
Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, is a reporter for the Ladies’ Page of the New York Sentinel in 1915. She’s dying to report real news but that’s the prerogative of the men who work at the City Desk or in the Newsroom. Still, Kitty is inspired by the strong, active heroines she sees on screen in the movie theaters. These women—actresses like Pearl White, Kathlyn Williams and Helen Holmes—portrayed athletic, independent and intelligent heroines who were hungry for adventure and took matters into their own hands when necessary—and this was before women even had the right to vote.
I learned about the action film heroines of the silent era during my graduate studies at Duke University. The 1910s saw a spate of silent film serials released, all of which featured women playing the lead in action roles. These films showed women involved in mThe Hazards of Helen (1915).
I thought they needed to be put into a story and the way I did that wasn’t to make an action heroine the protagonist of my book, but rather, to make an action heroine, specifically Pearl White, Kitty Weeks’s inspiration as she pursues her journalistic investigations. In a later book in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series (A Front Page Affair is the first) I hope to have Kitty directly interact with Pearl or another silent-era film star. Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, for instance, were very influential in persuading ordinary Americans to support the country’s entry into World War I. Kitty Weeks will be there, watching it all unfold. You can read more about the forgotten silent-film heroines of the 1910s in an article I wrote for TheAtlantic.com, and see images about them and other aspects of life in the 1910s on the World of Kitty Weeks Tumblr.
Radha Vatsal is a writer based in New York City. She was born in Mumbai, India and has a Ph.D. from the English Department at Duke University. Her debut novel, A Front Page Affair, comes out this May from Sourcebooks Landmark. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend her on Facebook.