1909 – 2002
Dorothy Spencer entered the film industry at age fifteen. She has seventy-five feature film credits during a career of more than fifty years and was nominated four times for an Oscar. As a member of the editorial department at Fox, Spencer edited My Darling Clementine and Stagecoach (co-edited with Otho Lovering) for John Ford, Foreign Correspondent and Lifeboat for Hitchcock, To Be or Not to Be for Lubitsch, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn for Elia Kazan, as well as many more films by those directors and others.
“When young cinema students ask me—as they often do—what it takes to become a film editor, I always tell them that patience is the first requirement. For example, there was a situation on Earthquake where we wanted to delete a scene, but I didn’t have enough material to cover the cut. [Director] Mark Ronson told me that I wouldn’t have the patience to solve the problem, but I said: ‘It’s a challenge, and I’ll lick it.’ I just insisted that there had to be a way of doing it. There’s always a way. Well, I found a way and he liked it. He just walked away shaking his head, but I thought it was fun.
Besides patience, I think you have to be dedicated to become a film editor. That’s always been more important to me than anything else. I guess my whole life has been made up of wanting to do the best I could. I enjoy editing, and I think that’s necessary, because editing is not a watching-the-clock job. I’ve been on pictures where I never even knew it was lunchtime, or time to go home. You get so involved in what you’re doing, in the challenge of creating—because I think cutting is very creative.”
“With most directors, you cut it exactly the way they want it, and there’s no room for editorial creativity. [But] Ford never told me anything and he never looked at the picture until it was finished.”
—Two excerpts from “Cutting to the Chase: Dorothy Spencer’s Action-Packed Half-Century in Hollywood” by David Meuel. The full text can be found in the Appendix.
“After a brief interlude with the advent of sound – when suddenly men became aware that it took more to a good edit than it met the eye – the studio golden age began. In those days a collaboration between director and editor was not the norm, and the director was not allowed a director’s cut – and most of the times not even into the edit room, giving the editor almost full creative reign. Dorothy Spencer worked on this environment, and edited what are today considered John Ford’s best films.”
—Excerpt from “‘A Tedious Job’ – Women and Film Editing” by Sara Galvão at Critics Associated.