Tomboy of the Talkies
The biography of the spunky “Song a Minute Girl,” the first actress to have her spoken words censored
Winnie Lightner (1899–1971) stood out as the first great female comedian of the talkies. Blessed with a superb singing voice and a gift for making wisecracks and rubber faces, she rose to stardom in vaudeville and on Broadway. Then, at the dawn of the sound era, she became the first person in motion picture history to have her spoken words, the lyrics to a song, censored.
In Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies, David L. Lightner shows how Winnie Lightner's hilarious performance in the 1929 musical comedy Gold Diggers of Broadway made her an overnight sensation. She went on to star in seven other Warner Bros. features. In the best of them, she was the comic epitome of a strident feminist, dominating men and gleefully spurning conventional gender norms and moral values. So tough was she, the studio billed her as “the tomboy of the talkies. ”
When the Great Depression rendered moviegoers hostile toward feminism, Warner Bros. tried to craft a new image of her as glamorous and sexy. Executives assigned her contradictory roles in which she was empowered in the workplace but submissive to her male partner at home. The new persona flopped at the box office, and Lightner's stardom ended. In four final movies, she played supporting roles as the loudmouthed roommate and best friend of actresses Loretta Young, Joan Crawford, and Mona Barrie.
Following her retirement in 1934, Lightner faded into obscurity. Many of her films were damaged or even lost entirely. At long last, this biography gives Winnie Lightner the recognition she deserves as a notable figure in film history, in women's history, and in the history of show business.
Film buffs have waited decades for a biography of Winnie Lightner, one of the early talkies' biggest and most energetic stars, whose film career ended too soon. David L. Lightner has beautifully captured Winnie's early years in vaudeville, her elevation to revues, and her capturing of the very essence of talking pictures just as they dawned. Mr. Lightner also answers the long-standing questions of why Winnie suddenly left the screen and what she did during the second half of her life. Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies is an evocative and fascinating read that every fan of vintage films will enjoy.- Ron Hutchinson, founder of The Vitaphone Project
Winnie Lightner: Tomboy of the Talkies is the product of diligent research and is a valuable contribution to the history of vaudeville, theater, and film. Lightner is presented clearly and succinctly and in such a way that those interested in feminism and women's studies will be attracted, especially since in all likelihood her career will be new to them. There is nothing more exciting than re-discovering and recovering a notable figure who has much to say not only about her period but about ours.- Carl Rollyson, author of A Real American Character: The Life of Walter Brennan; Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews; Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, Revised and Updated; Confessions of a Serial Biographer