Sunday, 11 May 2014

For the Duration Only

Martha Sigall relates in her wonderful autobiography Living Life Inside the Lines that she bucked the system when she became a camera operator at Graphic Films during World War Two. You had to be a man to be in the Cameraman’s Union, period. But because of war-time shortages of men (who were called upon to serve in the armed forces), women were given work permits by the union for the duration and had to surrender them at the end of the war.

Martha wasn’t the first, though. The distinction went to one of her former co-workers at the Leon Schlesinger studio. Daily Variety first reported on it on October 8, 1942. I can’t get access to the full story, but a shorter version was printed in Weekly Variety six days later.

Lady Lenser
For the first time in Hollywood history a gal becomes a cameraman (or camera woman) at the Leon Schlesinger cartoon plant, where Verena Ruegg, who has worked up from a tracer's job, is lensing animations with full permission of the IATSE. Shortage of manpower, due to the war, is causing a general advance of femmes in all phases of the camera art.

For those of you who want to pick apart sentences, the earlier Daily Variety story made it clear that Ruegg was the first camera-woman in all of Hollywood, not just at Schlesinger’s.

Ruegg had made $1000 in 1939 as an inker.

I tried to find out a bit about her, and it seems she was an art collector. There’s a little biography at this web site, though it mentions nothing about her cartoon career (she was a registered nurse when she got married in 1926). The unsigned drawing you see on this posting came from her collection.

She was born on April 30, 1895 in San Francisco, where her father was a realtor, and survived the 1906 earthquake. She died in Los Angeles on March 7, 1973, an unknown pioneer.

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