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Kickstartable: 50 Years of Broad Ambition: Ladies of the Barbizon

This week’s Kickstartable feature is one that has fascinated me. 50 Years of Broad Ambition: Ladies of the Barbizon features the history of this glamorous women’s hotel and the career girls who lived there.

I asked creator Melodie Bryant, what her inspiration was for this project.

I’m a native New Yorker, and my mission as a documentary filmmaker is really to document the New York I grew up with, as it’s disappearing frighteningly fast and the individuality and the institutions that made it so interesting are giving way to chain stores, banks and condos.

So my interest in the Barbizon initially sprang from that desire. As I got further along in my research, I discovered other institutions that had grown up in the Barbizon as well: The Tobe Coburn Fashion School, really the first of its kind, the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School which rented four floors there ““ and the Mademoiselle Guest Editors ““ among them Sylvia Plath ““ who won a national contest which brought them to the Barbizon for one month to put together the College Issue.

Tell us about a bit the alumnae of the Barbizon.

I don’t know where to start with the alumnae ““ they have all resonated with me. First of all ““ and I have mentioned this only in passing on my Facebook page ““ The Barbizon was built to attract young women going into the arts. And the alumnae list is stellar: Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Edit Beale, Sylvia Plath, Joan Didion, Gael Greene, Elaine Stritch, all the top Ford Models ““ shall I go on? I could do a documentary on them alone ““ and I do plan to interview some of the current celebs who lived there. But equally important to me is the history of the place, so the non-celebs are just as important.

As for the alumnae I’ve interviewed so far, to touch on just a few:

1. Sylvia Plath’s best friend (“Betsy” in The Bell Jar) because she was able to verify personally every event Plath documented in the book that occurred at the Barbizon.

2. Joan Gage because she could speak to the dress codes (having been busted wearing “slacks!”) and also about the different experiences she had in the workforce: starting out as a Mademoiselle Guest Editor ““ a position of high respect ““ vs. when she went out looking for a job in the “real world,” and was warned at Time/Life by a woman there, not to apply for a job at Time/Life because she’d only ever be a researcher, never get a by-line ““ and be expected to sleep with the writers when they traveled

3. Arlene Englander, now a psychotherapist, who talked about how staying at the Barbizon in the’ 70s was a relief because in an era where the slogan was “If it feels good, do it,” that was one decision she didn’t have to make at a time in her life when so many decisions had to be made.

4. Janet Burroway, who wrote home every single day during her time as a Guest Editor and truly brought me ““ and will bring the viewer ““ into what it was like to be young, working at a top magazine, wined and dined; and what it was like to fall in love in those heady surroundings. Amazing.

My last question was my standard, “How will this project contribute to society?”

I think what this film will contribute to society is a living document of what it meant to live in a women’s hotel at the height of glamour and excitement in New York City. It will also serve as a snapshot in time of an era when smart, independent women had many fewer choices than today, yet still managed to succeed and even thrive in the most amazing ways.

The Barbizon began admitting men in 1981, and became a condo in 1996.

50 Years of Broad Ambition: Ladies of the Barbizon is eligible for funding through June 6, 2013.

Disclaimer: Please do not take this review or my personal endorsement of this project as investment advice. I am a lady blogger on the Internet, not an investment adviser, nor am I an angel investor myself.

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