Women in entertainment timeline


April 1896

Alice Guy-Blache becomes the first woman to direct a motion picture with "La Fee aux choux" (The Cabbage Fairy). Film historians consider it the first fiction film with a narrative.

April 1909

Releases "Confidence" and "Lady Helen's Escapade" endear Biograph Co. star Florence Lawrence to audiences, but the films are sans credits, so fan letters come addressed to "The Biograph Girl." Concerned that her increased popularity will require them to pay her more, the studio fights to keep Lawrence anonymous.

February 1919

Mary Pickford, the first actress to receive $1 million per year, joins forces with Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and lawyer William Gibbs McAdoo to form United Artists.

May 1921

Edith Wharton becomes the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for a novel with "The Age of Innocence."

January 1928

Queen of the silents Gloria Swanson forms Gloria Prods. to produce her own films. The enterprise is bankrolled by Joseph P. Kennedy.

November 1930

Frances Marion wins the Academy Award for writing achievement for "The Big House." She becomes the Academy's first female screenwriting winner.

March 1935

Leni Riefenstahl's controversial documentary "Triumph of the Will" opens in German theaters. The potent propaganda film fuels Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany's rise to power.


Shirley Temple is paid $15,000 per week to make "Poor Little Rich Girl." From 1935-38, she is Hollywood's biggest boxoffice attraction.

September 1936

Bette Davis sues Warner Bros. in order to work with other studios, and loses -- but also wins: She gets meatier film roles.

April 1938

Dorothy Arzner joins the DGA as its first female member; she is also the inventor of what is now known as the boom microphone and the crane.

August 1943

Olivia de Havilland sues Warner Bros. when a technicality allows the studio to keep her under contract. Her victory, after nearly two years, essentially liberates performers from the studio system.


Former child star and screenwriter Virginia Van Upp is promoted by Harry Cohn to second-in-command as vp at Columbia Pictures.

January 1953

An overwhelming majority of American TVs tune in to see Lucy Ricardo give birth to little Ricky on "I Love Lucy." It becomes the most watched television show of its day.

October 1959

Actress Betty Hutton helps end the Hollywood blacklist when she insists that blacklisted composer Jerry Fielding be hired to create the music for "The Betty Hutton Show."

February 1960

After working as a CBS News producer throughout the 1950s, Nancy Dickerson appears on camera as the first female network correspondent.

November 1962

Lucille Ball takes over as president of Desilu Prods. following her divorce. Under her leadership, the company produces legendary TV shows like "Star Trek" and "Mission: Impossible."

March 1964

"The Twilight Zone" episode "The Masks" airs on CBS. Directed by Ida Lupino, it is the first and only episode of the original series to be directed by a woman.

September 1973

With an estimated 50 million TV viewers watching, tennis champ Billie Jean King bests Bobby Riggs in three straight sets.

April 1976

Barbara Walters becomes the first female to anchor a network news broadcast when she joins Harry Reasoner as co-anchor of ABC's nightly newscast.

February 1977

Lina Wertmuller receives a best director Oscar nomination for "Seven Beauties," the category's first female nominee. She is also nominated for best screenplay written directly for the screen.

September 1977

As co-founder and president of the Madison Square Garden Network, Kay Koplovitz earns the distinction of being the first woman to run a national cable network. Three years later, the channel is renamed USA Network.

January 1980

Sherry Lansing is named president of 20th Century Fox, becoming the first female head of a major film studio.


The American Society of Cinematographers admits Brianne Murphy, its first female member, to its ranks.

June 1983

Betty White becomes the first (and so far only) woman to win a Daytime Emmy as outstanding host or hostess in a game or audience participation show for the short-lived "Just Men!"

September 1986

"The Oprah Winfrey Show" broadcasts nationally for the first time; its theme is "How to Marry the Man or Woman of Your Choice."

October 1987

Dawn Steel becomes president of Columbia Pictures, becoming only the second woman to helm a major motion picture studio.

January 1993

Lucie Salhany is named chairman of Fox Broadcasting Co. She is the first woman to head an American broadcast television network.

July 1994

Sylvia Rhone becomes the first woman to head a major music label as she assumes the position of chairman and CEO of Elektra Entertainment.

June 1996

Jamie Tarses becomes the first woman named head of a network entertainment division when she takes over at ABC.

February 1996

Nikki Rocco is promoted president of Universal Pictures Distribution, becoming the first woman to head a major studio distribution operation.

May 1999

Julia Roberts earns a $20 million paycheck for "Erin Brockovich" -- the first actress in screen history to command this milestone amount.

March 2002

A member since 1983, Martha Coolidge is elected as the first female president of the DGA.

February 2003

Oprah Winfrey makes Forbes' list of billionaires, making her the first African-American woman to appear in the magazine's annual report.

September 2006

Katie Couric moves from NBC's "Today" show to CBS, where she becomes the first solo female anchor of broadcast television's weekly evening news.