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Heeding their voices

In a three-year project, the Museum of Television & Radio will honor some 150 pioneering women of broadcasting.

November 27, 2005|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

"SHE Made It: Women Creating Television and Radio," an ambitious three-year initiative of the Museum of Television & Radio, officially launches Thursday with the announcement of the 2005 honorees -- 50 women who were pioneers in broadcasting fields. Among them are Marlo Thomas (who is also co-chair of the initiative), Barbara Walters, Gertrude Berg, Ida Lupino, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lucille Ball, Agnes Nixon, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric and Oprah Winfrey.

"It is a way to look at the history of radio and television, but in a different way," says museum curator Ron Simon. "When we researched the lives of these women, it is amazing what impact they had on various genres of radio and television and how much of it isn't recorded in the official textbook. We are trying to show the whole breadth and the different genres of these women both as creators and executives."

Over the next year the museum will offer screenings of work in which the honorees were involved. There will also be clips from museum seminars that the women have participated in, and the museum's radio listening room will spotlight their work in that medium. Over the course of the initiative, approximately 150 women will be honored.

"By the time it's done, we will have 2,000 hours of film that has been created by women," says Thomas of the three-year program. "That's very important. All these women brought something new [to television and radio]. They were all pioneers."

Though several of the honorees are best known for their acting, "She Made It" focuses on women's contributions as producers, directors, writers and even heads of networks.

"We are looking at Lucille Ball as the first woman president of a television company [Desilu], and what did that mean," says Simon. "We are trying to gather as much information as we can on what her struggles were like when she took it over. It will give people a different perspective."

Ball, adds Simon, also directed episodes -- usually uncredited -- of her series "Here's Lucy," as well as several pilots. "That calls for more research in finding out the type of shows she chose and the episodes she directed. We want to work with her estate and maybe find some of these pilots in our collection."

The growth of community

UNTIL the 1960s, offers Simon, women tended to work independently as creators and journalists. "There wasn't a community there. But they paved the way for women to follow. When we get to the '70s, there are many different laws, especially decisions by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which allowed greater representation in the workplace."

Thomas recalls that when she began her classic ABC comedy series "That Girl" in 1966 there were only men on the creative staff. "There was a constant debate, a heated debate, of what I thought a girl would say and what they thought a girl would say," she says.

"The second year, Ruth Brooks Flippen came in as the story editor and my life totally changed. I had a little coalition. It was what I started telling young feminists: There is safety in numbers. You don't want to be the only girl in the room. There is safety in numbers because you are not the oddball out. One person is a pest, two people are a team and three people are a coalition."

Thomas hopes "She Made It" will serve as inspiration to young women today. "I think something like 'She Made It' is important," she says, "because they can find the threads of their own ambitions and the threads of their own creativity in these women who came before them."

The museum will hold seminar series on both coasts in support of "She Made It." On Dec. 8 in Los Angeles, the museum will feature several prominent women in TV, including Barbara Corday, the co-creator of "Cagney & Lacey," to discuss role models, gender issues and the challenges of women writing female characters.

On the Internet, www.shemadeit.org is an interactive site featuring biographies, photographs, webcasts and screenings celebrating the 2005 honorees.

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