Viola Lawrence

Viola Mallory Lawrence (December 2, 1894,[1] New York City[2] November 20, 1973)[1] is considered by many to be the first female film editor in Hollywood.[1][2][3] She was nominated twice for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing: for Pal Joey (1957), with Jerome Thoms; and for Pepe (1960), with Al Clark.[3]


She began working at Vitagraph Studios in Flatbush, Brooklyn as a messenger at the age of 11.[4] At 12, she was holding title cards.[1] In 1915, she became the second female film cutter in cinema history, after Anna McKnight, who also worked at Vitagraph.[4] She married Frank Lawrence, her film cutting teacher at Vitagraph.[4][5]

In 1917, she moved to Hollywood and worked for Universal, First National, Gloria Swanson Productions,[4] and Columbia Pictures at various times.[1] She became Columbia's "head editor"[5] or "supervising editor"[1] in 1925. After director Erich von Stroheim was fired from the production of Queen Kelly (1929), star Gloria Swanson herself directed an alternate ending, with the help of cinematographer Gregg Toland and Lawrence.[6] Lawrence edited Samuel Goldwyn Studio's first sound film, Bulldog Drummond (1929).[2] She rejoined Columbia in 1934[4] and remained there for the rest of her career, ending with Pepe (1960).

Orson Welles biographer Charles Higham wrote that, when Lawrence was assigned to The Lady from Shanghai (1947), she reported to studio boss Harry Cohn that "the footage was a jumbled mess".[7] She also informed Cohn that Welles "had not shot a single close-up"; Welles reluctantly obeyed orders to add some.[8] Following poorly received previews, the studio had Lawrence make drastic cuts, over an hour of footage, shortening the film to 87 minutes.[8]

The California State University, Fullerton University Archives and Special Collections has a collection of material related to Lawrence.[9]

Complete filmography


  1. "Viola Lawrence". Women Film Pioneers Project. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
  2. "Viola Lawrence, Pioneer Woman Film Editor Dies". Van Nuys News. November 22, 1973 via
  3. "Deaths of notable persons". Traverse City Record-Eagle. United Press International. November 21, 1973 via
  4. Harold Heffernan (October 17, 1960). "Viola Lawrence, Famed Film Editor, Has Worked for Studios 49 Years". Milwaukee Journal.
  5. Mahar, Karen Ward (July 28, 2008). Women Filmmakers in Early Hollywood. JHU Press. p. 201. ISBN 0801890845. Retrieved April 6, 2015.
  6. Koller, Michael (August 2007). "Erich von Stoheim's Damned Queen: Queen Kelly". Senses of Cinema (44).
  7. "The Lady From Shanghai". Retrieved April 6, 2015.
  8. James Steffan. "The Lady from Shanghai (1948)". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
  9. "Viola Lawrence Film Editing Collection". Online Archive of California. Retrieved April 5, 2015.
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