Women Who Started Their Own Production Companies Before Marilyn Monroe

One of the most tiresome stories floating around says something akin to Marilyn Monroe became the first woman with her own production company when she formed Marilyn Monroe Products in 1955. Truly a laughable rumor, a plethora of women formed their own companies or partnerships (MMP was technically a partnership with Milton Greene) well before Marilyn was even born. Below you’ll find over 50 women who ran production companies in the United States. Most of them are from the silent era, but there are also a fair amount from the 30s, 40s and 50s as well. This list is in no way complete either; I’m constantly finding new women who started their own companies. Some of these companies did really well, some barely got off the ground, but all of these women at least formed their own companies.

All entries were sourced from biographies, newspapers or (predominantly) the Columbia’s Women Film Pioneer Project. I have linked to Columbia’s website as necessary.

I’ve opted to exclude women for the following reasons:

Those who never formed their own companies but worked for those of their spouse, including: Tsuru Aoki, Elsa Chauvel, Eloyce King Patrick Gist, Osa Johnson, Lillian Case Russell, Gertrude Homan Thanhouser or Maria P. Williams (I want to also note here that Gist, Russell and Williams, as African American women, were likely nearly barred from starting their own companies, dealing with both sexism and racism).

Rumors of considering starting them like Carole Lombard or Janet Gaynor. At least one primary source needed to state a company was actually formed.

International production company owners like the McDonagh sisters or Ellen O’Mara Sullivan (even though U.S. distribution or a production company branch was present)

Studio employees like June Mathis

Women who financed films with no known production company formed like Vera McCord and Ruth Bryan Owen

Women who worked primarily in television with their companies like Lucille Ball, Peggy Lee, Jane Wyman or Joan Davis

Women who formed their companies after 1955

Here is the list:

Leah Baird

Bessie Barriscale

Bessie Barriscale - photos and quotes - Bizarre Los Angeles

Constance Bennett

Constance Bennett (Creator) - TV Tropes

Joan Bennett

Noir's Hard Luck Ladies: Joan Bennett - Criminal Element

Madeline Brandeis

Madeline Brandeis Films - Collection - Harvard Film Archive

Doris Day

Doris Day | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

Marie Dressler

Marie Dressler, the First Female Star to Conquer Hollywood's Ageism (Make  Me Over, Episode 3) — You Must Remember This

Mrs. Sidney Drew/Lucille McVey/Jane Morrow

Mrs. Sidney Drew – Women Film Pioneers Project

Esther Eng

Esther Eng | Legacy Project Chicago

Marion Fairfax

ACADEMY COLLECTIONS | details

Flora Finch

Flora Finch - Hollywood Star Walk - Los Angeles Times

Cissy Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, Cissy, 1884-1941 | ZSR Library

Joan Fontaine

Joan Fontaine - Turner Classic Movies

Helen Gardner

Curtains: The Mystery of Helen Gardner

Gene Gauntier

Gene Gauntier – Women Film Pioneers Project

Angela Murray Gibson

Camerawoman Angela Murray Gibson Films Herself into History, 1921-1925:  Marsha Gordon and Buckey Grimm

Ethel Grandin

Ethel Grandin - Wikipedia

Corinne Griffith

Texas Guinan

Texas Guinan, 20th-Century Movie Star, Was the Original “Nasty Woman” |  Vogue

Alice Guy Blaché

Review: An Enlightening Doc About The First Female Auteur : NPR

Rita Hayworth

Rita Hayworth - Spouse, Gilda & Movies - Biography

Gale Henry

File:Gale Henry 2.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Helen Holmes

Helen Holmes (1891-1950) - Find A Grave Memorial

Helen Keller

Helen Keller - Family, Quotes & Teacher - Biography

Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr - Inventions, Movie & Spouses - Biography

Dorothy Lamour

What's Sarong with this Picture? The Development of the Star Image of Dorothy  Lamour – Senses of Cinema

Florence Lawrence

Florence Lawrence - Wikipedia

Marion Leonard

Marion Leonard - IMDb

Louise Lovely

File:Louise Lovely headshot ca. 1913.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Ida Lupino

Ida Lupino, Hollywood Renaissance Woman | Vanity Fair

Beatriz Michelena

Beatriz Michelena: Pioneer Latina Film Star | by Anne T. Kent California  Room | Anne T. Kent California Room Newsletter | Medium

Marilyn Mills

photo Marilyn MILLS

Maria Montez

Maria Montez - IMDb

Jane Murfin

Jane Murfin - Wikipedia

Mae Murray

Alla Nazimova

Alla Nazimova Society

Mabel Normand

Mabel Normand (Fake News: Fact Checking Hollywood Babylon Episode 5) — You  Must Remember This

Olga Petrova

Olga Petrova - Wikipedia

Mary Pickford

Mary Pickford - Wikipedia

Dorothy Davenport Reid

Dorothy Davenport: Her Life and Career | by Letícia Magalhães | Cine  Suffragette | Medium

Ginger Rogers

Ginger Rogers | Biography, Movies, Fred Astaire, & Facts | Britannica

Fanchon Royer

Former film actress Fanchon Royer Gallagher with her five children during a  divorce hearing involving her ex-husband, producer John J. Gallagher, Los  Angeles, 1939 — Calisphere

Jane Russell

Jane Russell Biography - Biography

Roz Russell

Rosalind Russell — CT Women's Hall of Fame

Nell Shipman

Nell Shipman - Wikipedia

Anita Stewart

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Gloria Swanson

Gloria Swanson | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

Constance Talmadge

Constance Talmadge Wearing A Dress by Edward Steichen

Norma Talmadge

Norma Talmadge - Wikipedia

Fay Tincher

Fay Tincher - Wikipedia

Lois Weber

Mae West

Mae West Vamped and Winked. She Also Blazed a Trail We're Still Following.  - The New York Times

Marion E. Wong

Clara Kimball Young

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