Dr Ellen Wright

Job: Senior Lecturer in Cinema and Television History
Deputy Head of Programme for Film Studies
Student Representative Liaison
Third Year Personal Tutor

Faculty: Technology

School/department: Leicester Media School

Research group(s): Cinema and Television History Centre (CATH)

Address: 3.06E Clephan Building, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester LE1 9BH, UK

T: +44 (0) 116 257 7984

E: ellen.wright@dmu.ac.uk

W: dmu.ac.uk/cathi

 

Personal profile

Dr Ellen Wright’s work tends to focus on Hollywood cinema between 1930 and 1960 and examines female star personae and celebrity, film star scandals, gender and performance, costuming, censorship, fandom, youth audiences and moral panics, audience and critical reception and media discourse across British and US contexts, primarily through the use of extra textual materials. 

In particular she is drawn to denigrated forms such as the celebrity group ‘selfie’, pin-up photography, trash cinema, slash fiction and pornography as well as press books, promotional materials for films and TV shows, film fan annuals, film and photography magazines/pamphlets, syndicated radio plays, film star fiction, film star/celebrity endorsements and advertising tie-ups. 

She examines these resources with a view to interrogating wider notions of gender, sexuality, class, taste, nationality and consumption.

Amongst other things, she has written on the pin-up and Hollywood glamour during WWII, the swimsuit in Hollywood cinema, the marketing of the female detective in post-war film noir and star capital and celebrity group selfies.

She has a podcast and blogs regularly. Both can be found on her website: https://hereslookingatyousite.wordpress.com/

Research group affiliations

The Cinema and Television History (CATH) Research Centre

Publications and outputs 

  • ‘A Swirl of Red, White and Blue Flags and Chesty Swimmers with Their Chins Up’: Esther Williams, Americanness, the Aquacade and Sex
    ‘A Swirl of Red, White and Blue Flags and Chesty Swimmers with Their Chins Up’: Esther Williams, Americanness, the Aquacade and Sex Wright, Ellen Aquacades and swimming spectaculars enjoyed huge popularity and financial success in America during the first half of the twentieth century. They capitalised upon a cultural preoccupation with physical fitness and youthfulness and the increasingly common notion of leisure time, of freedom and abundance, whilst evoking the glamorous, sexualised spectacle of beauty pageants, the chorus line and the showgirl and the then prevalent iconography of mechanisation and modernity. It is perhaps not surprising then that Hollywood, with its hunger for the modern, impressive and the titillating, its need to maintain its appeal with young audiences with leisure time and disposable income, and its subsequent need to present its stars as desirable yet respectable enough to placate censors and more conservative audiences, took this form and stars to its bosom, creating its own kaleidoscopic Berkeley-esque spectacles and swimming adventures starring pin-up and beefcake Olympian swimmers such as Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. This chapter will focus upon all-American Williams, exploring discourse around MGM’s ‘Million Dollar Mermaid,’ and the promotional materials (posters, marquee displays, photographic pin-ups etc) for her and her films. This will be supplemented with a range of other contemporaneous materials that engaged with the American cultural phenomenon of the aquacade, such as pornographic comics, known as Tijuana bibles, satirical cartoons and promotional materials upon as well as archive footage of one of the most famous aquacades; Billy Rose’s Aquacade at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. The chapter will examine William’s star persona and its intrinsic ‘Americanness’ and explore common American understandings of the aquacade as a liminal space, and the swimmer as a desirable but ultimately disruptive figure. It will demonstrate how the iconography of the aquacade and the spectacular body of the swimmer were appropriated by the American film industry to evoke the aquacades’ sexualised connotations whilst ostensibly appearing to cinema censors and more conservative audiences, to be good clean fun.
  • Coming Attractions: Tijuana bibles and the pornographic re-imagining of Hollywood
    Coming Attractions: Tijuana bibles and the pornographic re-imagining of Hollywood Wright, Ellen; Smith, Phyll ‘Coming Attractions’: Tijuana Bibles and the Pornographic Re-imagining of Hollywood Historical understanding of early Hollywood stars by their audiences are rarely informed by the sorts of unofficial and uninhibited discourse that fan writing and slash fictions allow scholars of modern celebrity. ‘Tijuana bibles’–illegal, pocket-sized, pornographic comics of the 1920s-1940s–presented erotic narratives featuring recognisable film stars of that era and make historical (re)examinations of audience understandings of the gossip and scandals of Hollywood trade and fan press possible. Film fan magazines were key to the industry dissemination of carefully constructed star personae, mediating how little or much fans actually knew about their favourite stars, who were portrayed at turns as wholesome, virtuous, admirable and alluring, daring, exciting and glamorous. As stars were sex symbols, their fans craved further insights into, and confirmation of, star’s private lives and personas, beyond the studios’ official ‘line’. A semi-official gossip media of scandal and rumour emerged, with a culture of innuendo, veiled accusation and coded revelation. Tijuana bibles’ graphic sexual depictions work in symbiosis with the controlled revelations of these fan magazines and the uncontrolled enthusiasm of the fans. Highly illegal, little public record of these pornographic publications exist – the age, authors, and distributors remain essentially unknown – while their underground nature and the ageless value of pornographic imagery means these publications have been constantly reproduced, leaving an uncatalogued and uneven record of reprinted booklets, semi-legitimate books and incomplete collections and inevitable internet exploitation and interest – which both assist and confound the archivist and historian. This chapter examines how Tijuana bibles celebrate, denigrate and satirise their star subjects and their supposed/imagined peccadilloes; unhampered by the official studio ‘line’ or the threat of litigation or censorship, reflecting an unofficial discourse which could not have found its way into print or official record. It demonstrates a public understanding, outside of the coded rumours of fan magazines, which both subverted and recognised star-persona and industry-sanctioned gossip, illustrating the speculation of audiences beyond the boundaries of the Hay’s Office, decency or legality.
  • #TheyNeverClothed: A Peep at the Women of the Windmill Theatre
    #TheyNeverClothed: A Peep at the Women of the Windmill Theatre Wright, Ellen The engagement project itself currently comprises of a pop-up exhibition and a contextual round table discussion which will explore the politics of sexualised performance in contemporary and historic contexts. Both activities are scheduled to be initially held at the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival (HBBF).
  • I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar! Panel discussion of the politics of public female performance
    I am Woman, Hear Me Phwoar! Panel discussion of the politics of public female performance Wright, Ellen Part of my #theyNeverClothed #DMYEngage project. The engagement project itself currently comprises of a pop-up exhibition and a contextual round table discussion which will explore the politics of sexualised performance in contemporary and historic contexts. Both activities are scheduled to be initially held at the 2017 Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival (HBBF).
  • Book review of 'This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour'
    Book review of 'This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour' Wright, Ellen
  • Having her Cheesecake and Eating It: Performance, Professionalism and the Politics of the Gaze in the Pin-Up Self-Portraiture and Celebrity of Bunny Yeager
    Having her Cheesecake and Eating It: Performance, Professionalism and the Politics of the Gaze in the Pin-Up Self-Portraiture and Celebrity of Bunny Yeager Wright, Ellen Bunny Yeager was a pin-up model and photographer/instructor who appeared on TV and in exploitation films, whilst creating pin-ups and ‘art’ nudes for Playboy, coffee table books, and ‘how-to’ publications. She is currently experiencing a revival as part of a subcultural vogue for 1950s/60s Americana. In her images she was often subject and photographer and her self-reflexive pin-ups engage with issues of authorship, control and the sexualised gaze. This paper will examine Yeager’s portraiture, instructive writing, her representation in Bunny Yeager’s Nude Camera (1963) and the way she positioned herself when discussing her work, to demonstrate how she embodied a mode of professional and sexual agency that engaged with broader, progressive ideas pertaining to women’s labour and identity circulating in 1960s America as part of feminism’s second wave.
  • Burlesque and Feminism - public talk given to the Long Eaton WI
    Burlesque and Feminism - public talk given to the Long Eaton WI Wright, Ellen A 40 minute presentation on the history of feminism in burlesque performance since the form's emergence, in the 1860s to the present day. Concluded with a demonstration/audience participation activity based on the 'art' of glove removal in burlesque.
  • A Night at the Cinema in the 1960s
    A Night at the Cinema in the 1960s Jones, Matthew; Wright, Ellen; Chibnall, S.; Clarke, Alissa; Jordan, Kelly Using the findings and data of the AHRC-funded 'Cultural Memory and British Cinema-going of the 1960s' project, this immersive theatre performance recreated the experience of visiting a cinema during that decade. Bringing together 30 actors, 2 directors, 2 producers and 2 cinema venues, 'A Night at the Cinema in the 1960s' was performed twice, once at Phoenix in Leicester on 3 March 2016 and once at Picturehouse Central in London on 29 June 2016. As well as being an output of the AHRC project's research and a means of generating impact from that work, it also enabled the project's researchers to develop a new understanding of their materials.
  • 'A Travesty on Sex': Hawks, Gender and Performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
    'A Travesty on Sex': Hawks, Gender and Performance in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Wright, Ellen Book chapter
  • Book review of 'Recycled Stars: Female Film Fandom in the Age of Television and Video.
    Book review of 'Recycled Stars: Female Film Fandom in the Age of Television and Video. Wright, Ellen

To see a full list of Ellen Wright's publications and outputs click here.

 

Research interests/expertise

Hollywood cinema of the classical era

Representation

Gender and sexuality

Star studies

Photography and Hollywood

Discourse analysis

Erotica

Areas of teaching

gender and sexuality, taste, material cultures, film history.

Qualifications

BA (Hons) Film Studies

MA Film Studies

PhD

PGCert HE

Courses taught

Cult Film

Film and Material Cultures

Dissertation

Membership of professional associations and societies

Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA)

Projects

#DMUEngage project #TheyNeverClothed

Conference attendance

"A Glimpse behind the Screen: Tijuana Bibles and the Pornographic Reimagining of Female Film Stars." May 2016 Doing Women's Film and Television History Structures of Feeling Conference

”Every woman Should Glamour for Attention”: Hollywood Stars, Fan Annuals, Consumption and the Negotiation of Feminine Desirability in Austerity Britain.’ Nov 2015, Turning the Page conference, Ghent.

”Every Woman Should Glamour for Attention”: Rita Hayworth and Consumption in Austerity Britain.’ Sept 2015, The Look of Austerity conference, Museum of London.

‘Hollywood Confidential: Tijuana Bibles, Audiences and Film Stars in Classical Era Hollywood.’ June2015, HoMER Network ‘What is Cinema History?’ conference, Glasgow.

“Air Raid Warden to Glamour Girl”: The Windmill Girl and the Wartime Negotiation of Female Sexuality in Picture Post’. June 2015, Women and Girls in Print and Pixels conference, Oxford Brookes University.

‘Good Entertainment for a Certain Type of Film Goer: Cultural Distinction, National Identity and Betty Grable Fandom in WWII Britain’, Sept 2014, Fan Studies Network conference, Regents University, London.

‘Pool of Desire: The Aquacade, Hollywood and Swimming as Sexual Spectacle.’, Sept 2014, Sporting Females: Past, Present and Future conference, Leeds Metropolitan University.

‘Watch the Birdie: The Cultural Politics of Twitter and the Celebrity Group Selfie.’ June 2014, Celebrity Studies conference, Royal Holloway, University of London.

‘A Glimpse Behind the Screen: Tijuana Bibles and the Pornographic Reimagining of Hollywood.’ Nov 2011, Scandal in Culture: Taboo – Trend – Transgression conference, University of Wroclaw.

‘A Yank at the ABC: Betty Grable, Hollywood and ‘American-ness’ in Wartime Britain.’ July 2011 Second World War: Popular Culture and Cultural Memory conference, University of Brighton.

Ellen Wright 2016-main

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