Jan 24, 2016

PICTURING LEE DICK: The Hunt Continues

by guest blogger Tanya Goldman  

When I submitted my preliminary piece on the career of nonfiction filmmaker Lee Dick for publication with Feminist Media Histories in December 2014, I called it “Picturing Lee Dick,” a nod as much to the endeavor of envisioning her career as it was to the irony that I had no confirmed photograph of my elusive object of study.

The photo of “Lee Burgess” from 1954 that I opted to include in the original article was an educated guess, for she peters out of the historical record nearly a decade earlier after her divorce from husband Sheldon and the end of production on a cycle of government nurse training films. Given that her maiden name was Burgess, she was a Midwesterner by birth, and that she had led the financial committee for the Association of Documentary Film Producers in New York, it seemed reasonable to infer that “Lee Burgess,” treasurer of the Sooner Chapter of American Women in Radio and Television, could be the filmmaker formerly known as Lee Dick. This remains speculative on my part.

While the contours of her post-1945 career are still waiting to be unearthed, I am happy to report that I recently found two confirmed photographs of Lee from 1933, accompanying engagement announcements published in the Omaha World-Herald and Chicago Tribune in April 1933. (She also, I learned, was better known in Omaha as “Pi.” Who knew?!) When the couple married the following month in New York City, their nuptials received brief mention in the New York Times wedding section. (I happened upon these photoson Thanksgiving while checking Ancestry.com on an unrelated inquiry; on a whim, I returned to Margaret Lee Burgess’ entry and voilà! It appears an anonymous distant relative uploaded these articles this past summer.)

I have also found two additional projects that the Dicks worked on during the early forties.

While researching a separate project at the National Archives this summer, I stumbled upon a March 1942 letter sent from filmmaker Joseph Losey to Arch Mercey, Deputy Coordinator of Government Films. In the letter, Losey pitches the production of a series of nonfiction films to be used for national defense. Dial Films Inc. -- the company founded by Lee and Sheldon Dick in 1940 for the production of sponsored film Day After Day -- is referenced as one of Losey’s available filmmaking units. In this letter, Dial Films is said to be working on a film for the Port of New York Authority. No word yet on if this film still exists. 

I also recently discovered that Sheldon directed film The Trimbles of Maple Street (1942) for the Office of Civilian Defense. The film is available online from Indiana University’s Moving Image Archive.

Happy viewing!

Original article citation: 
Tanya Goldman, “Picturing Lee Dick: A Nonfiction Film Pioneer,” Feminist Media Histories 1.2 (Spring 2015): 125-134. http://fmh.ucpress.edu/content/ucpfmh/1/2/125.full.pdf.

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Tanya Goldman is a second-year doctoral student in cinema studies at New York University. In 2015, she introduced a screening of Lee Dick's Men and Dust (1940) for the Orphan Film Symposium's annual screening at the Museum of Modern Art's To Save and Project International Festival of Film PreservationHer dissertation will focus on the career of independent film distributor Tom Brandon. Contact her: tlg260@nyu.edu.