REVIEW: The Only Woman in the Room by Rita Lakin
Rita Lakin was a pioneer a female scriptwriter in the early 1960s when Hollywood television was exclusively male. For years, in creative meetings, she was literally “the only woman in the room.” In this breezy but heartfelt remembrance, Lakin takes readers to a long-forgotten time when women were not considered worthy or welcome at the creative table.
Widowed with three young children, she talked herself into a secretarial job at Universal Studios in 1962, despite being unable to type or take dictation. With guts, skill, and humor, she rose from secretary to freelancer, to staff writer, to producer, to executive producer and showrunner, meeting hundreds of famous and infamous showbiz legends along the way during her long and unexpected career. She introduced many women into the business and was a feminist before she even knew she was one.
The general public did not know her name, but Lakin touched the lives of millions of viewers week after week, year after year. The relevance of her personal journey charming yet occasionally shocking will be an eye-opener to present-day who take for granted the abundance of female creative talent in today’s Hollywood.
Dear Ms. Lakin,
One of our other reviewers loves to read “tell-alls” about actors and singers but your book interested me because it tells the story of behind the scenes in Hollywood from a woman trying to break into an almost all male world. And you did it without a trip to the casting couch. Like your fictional interviewer – used to quickly explain things – I doubt most people today realize how genderly insulated this world and time were.
“The Only Woman in the Room” is a step back in time to the 1960s when women didn’t work except if they had to, poor things. Instead, they were expected to be married by age twenty five or be Talked About – my own mother had this happen to her – and become happy mothers and homemakers. When the breadwinner arrived home each evening, the kiddies were bathed and ready for bed, dinner on the table, the wife was in her heels and pearls and had a martini ready to hand to her husband. Father Knows Best bliss.
You had to face life after the loss of your adored husband and without his job, somehow support yourself and three children in a world that viewed women as mainly secretaries, nurses or teachers. An English Lit degree, boredom and determination launched a career in an industry which honestly didn’t know how to deal with women behind the camera. Would women writers cry to get their way? The baffled men really didn’t know.
As the 1960s ended and the world flipped sideways into the 1970s, more sensitive topics and nuanced portrayals began to finally make it to the small screen among the “sex and violence sells” standard fare. Along with this, we see your evolution from a woman desperate to feed her family and pay the mortgage to someone with self confidence and savvy who fought for the class over crass. Your struggles through your second marriage highlight how this generation still viewed themselves – more independent than their mothers but sometimes defaulting back to “a man knows best.”
I think your career speaks for itself and your efforts on behalf of women and struggling newcomers are “solid” as one character you used to write for might have said. This is a page turning, eye opening and candid recollection of times which changed what America watched and how an industry accepted women.