‘LADY BEWARE’ HAS BEEN THIS DIRECTOR’S LEGACY
In July, Karen Arthur will go to Pittsburgh to direct her third feature film, “Lady Beware.” It has taken her only eight years to get the project off the ground!
“I started ‘Lady Beware’ at Universal in 1978 when ‘The Mafu Cage’ (her second feature) came out,” Arthur recalls. “Since then, it’s had 100 homes, 17 drafts and eight writers.”
Had Arthur chosen to make a teen sex comedy, she undoubtedly would have completed it long ago. However, the 44-year-old director wanted to make a movie about psychological rape. And that--in her experience--is a subject male studio executives don’t understand.
“The purse holders are men,” Arthur observes, “and they attempted to make ‘Lady Beware’ a violent picture. I’m not interested in making a picture where a woman gets beat up. I want to show how a woman deals with this kind of insidious violence. A policeman can’t help.”
A new U.S. production company, Scotti Bros. Entertainment, finally agreed to finance and distribute “Lady Beware.” “This is the first time people have said, ‘Make your movie.’ No one is asking for blood, sex and gore.”
While “Lady Beware” languished, Arthur solidified her directing career. The first four years, 1978-82, she spent making development deals. “You earn enough to live on,” she observes. “It’s beneficial, but you’re not saying ‘Action!’ Eventually I, threw my hands up and said, ‘No more.’ I called my agent and said, ‘Let’s do TV.’ ”
Through persistence, Arthur had already directed a bit of television. “After I finished ‘Legacy’ (her first independent feature, released in 1975), I tried to get a directing job,” she recalls. “ ‘Surely now that I’ve done a feature film, they’ll let me direct,’ I thought. All I got were pats on the head.
“Finally, I went to Michael Gleason, an old crony from my theatrical days, who was producing ‘Rich Man, Poor Man II.’ I told him I had to get into the DGA (Directors Guild of America), so he looked at ‘Legacy’ and tried to get me a job directing one episode.”
After considerable falderal, Gleason succeeded. When Arthur appeared for work that first day, she remembers, “A lot of the technicians told me, ‘You’re the first woman director we’ve seen on this stage since Ida Lupino.’ ”
In 1982, when Arthur returned to television, women directors were slightly more welcome. One reason: “Actresses like Tyne Daly, Sharon Gless and Stefanie Powers were saying they wanted women directors.” Last season, Arthur won an Emmy Award for a “Cagney & Lacey” episode and directed Richard Crenna’s Emmy-award-winning performance in “The Rape of Richard Beck.” She also became the first woman to direct an American miniseries (“Crossings”).
“I’m beginning to hear names of women I don’t know who are directing the occasional ‘Dynasty,’ ” she says. “But other women I know cannot get work. I’ve watched them pound doors and write scripts. One friend has made several movies on her own. Why is she not allowed to direct an episodic piece? It’s stupid.”
Arthur has always spoken her mind, occasionally to her detriment. “I’m sure in the beginning I was offensive to people,” she admits. “I was adamant about what I wanted to say. I didn’t realize I didn’t have to conquer every meeting. I’ve learned a great deal about when to fight and when not to.
“Unless they have mothers in business, women haven’t been raised in terms of how to work in a business parameter. More of my women friends have trouble in fighting than my male friends. I was forever winning battles and losing the war. For a long time, I didn’t realize the difference.”
Arthur grew up in Florida, and joined the Palm Beach Ballet Company. “My father left us when I was born,” she says. “My mother was an interior designer, and she loved what she did. It never dawned on me that I couldn’t do anything I wanted.
“I made up my mind that I was going to be an artist, and I geared my life toward that. I knew I’d never have any children. I never wanted any. In those days when I was building a role model for myself; I didn’t know many dancers who had kids. Of course, there were plenty, but I never fed that information into the model.
“Dancing was fun, but I got much more excited by choreography. The chance to dream and put my dreams on the stage was just awesome to me. Then I became an actress, but the idea of directing plays was more interesting. How long can you sit around with false eyelashes on?
“When I got interested in film, I went to UCLA and took a crash course in how to hold a 16-millimeter camera. That was 1971. Penelope Spheeris was a teaching assistant. She said, ‘Kid, you got talent. You’re going places.’ ”
Six weeks after finishing the course, Arthur had completed a 15-minute short. Then she went to work putting together her award-winning feature, “Legacy,” for $70,000.
“I never minded beating on doors,” she says. “Guys know they’ve got to do this, but with very few exceptions women don’t. . . . Whenever I’m starting a new project, I get lots of calls from young film-maker types. Nine out of 10 women who call are totally unprepared. They’ll say, ‘I want to be a director.’ I’ll ask them, ‘How could you work on this project?’ They’ll say, ‘I don’t know. I’ve visited a set a couple of times.’
“The males will say, ‘I want to be a director, but I’ll be happy to work as your production assistant or your secretary or do whatever I can to help.’ ”
Arthur looks for that same initiative she herself has. “No one is ever going to give it to you,” she cautions. “I remember cleaning clapperboards and loading magazines at 3 a.m. so I could get into the cameraman’s local. You’ve got to be dogged.”