Cari Beauchamp, a political adviser turned historian who documented the overlooked story of women in early Hollywood, when the film industry’s chaotic beginnings allowed them to assert a surprising amount of power, died on Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 74.
Her son Jake Flynn confirmed the death, in a hospital, but did not specify the cause.
Beginning with her 1998 book, “Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood,” Ms. Beauchamp (pronounced BEE-cham) set out to recover a lost part of film history, when women stood alongside men as some of the most prolific and influential figures in the industry.
By combing through the Library of Congress archives, Ms. Beauchamp discovered that about half of all copyrighted films between 1911 and 1925 were written by women, and that they produced and directed movies seen by millions of people worldwide.
Yet aside from a few names, like that of the actor and United Artists co-founder Mary Pickford, most of these women and their accomplishments were erased by the male-dominated studio system that solidified control over Hollywood in the 1930s.
Ms. Beauchamp’s avenue through the story is the life of Frances Marion, a screenwriter with more than 200 scripts to her name, two of which — “The Big House” (1930) and “The Champ” (1931) — won Oscars.
Between the mid-1910s and the mid-1930s Ms. Marion was the highest-paid writer in Hollywood, man or woman. And yet, until Ms. Beauchamp came along, no one had written her biography.
“Women are always in the footnotes,” Ms. Beauchamp told The Christian Science Monitor in 1997. Changing gender mores and the concentration of power in Hollywood by the end of World War II, she went on, made studio lots a man’s world.
“Rosie the Riveter went home,” she said, referring to the countless women who worked in factories during the war, “and so did women working in the studios.”
Aspects of Ms. Marion’s life paralleled those of Ms. Beauchamp. Both were well known and liked around Hollywood in their respective times; both were outspoken women’s rights advocates; and both raised two sons, largely on their own.
They slipped in easily among the rich and famous; Ms. Marion brushed shoulders with the actor Douglas Fairbanks and the press baron William Randolph Hearst, while Ms. Beauchamp chummed it up with the novelist Harold Robbins and the actress Judy Balaban. And Ms. Beauchamp seemed to take to heart one of Ms. Marion’s most famous lines: When asked why she wasn’t married, she replied that she was “searching for a man to look up to without lying down.”
Carol Ann Beauchamp was born on Sept. 12, 1949, in Berkeley, Calif. Her father, Blake, a police officer, moved the family to nearby Stockton when she was 6, and he later worked in insurance. Her mother, Catherine (Crisp) Beauchamp, was an administrator at the University of the Pacific, in Stockton.
She attended Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, Calif., then transferred to San Jose State University, where she studied political science and American history and graduated in 1972.
Ms. Beauchamp spent six years working as an investigator for the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara County while also becoming active in local and state politics.
She rallied for the Equal Rights Amendment; she was the first president of the National Women’s Political Caucus of California, an advocacy group; and in 1975 she helped run the winning campaign of Janet Gray Hayes, the first woman to be elected mayor of San Jose.
Such work brought her into contact with rising female politicians like Dianne Feinstein, the future Democratic senator, as well as Jerry Brown, the governor of California. She became his press secretary in 1979, and for the next three years she produced about 900 news releases — great training, she later said, for her future career as a writer.
Ms. Beauchamp continued her political work through the 1980s, even as she grew increasingly enthralled with Hollywood and film history. She became a regular at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1992 she and a friend, the French journalist Henri Béhar, wrote “Hollywood on the Riviera: The Inside Story of the Cannes Film Festival.”
Her first marriage ended in divorce. She married Tom Flynn in 1992. They later separated. Along with her son Jake, she is survived by another son from a previous relationship, Teo Beauchamp.
Ms. Beauchamp wrote and edited several more books after her biography of Ms. Marion, including “Anita Loos Rediscovered: Film Treatments and Fiction by Anita Loos” (2003), “Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary: Her Private Letters From Inside the Studios of the 1920s” (2006) and “Joseph P. Kennedy Presents: His Hollywood Years” (2009).
She wrote regularly about Hollywood for The New York Times and Vanity Fair, and also wrote a number of documentaries, including one based on her Marion biography that she produced, and “The Day My God Died” (2003), about child sex slavery in India and Nepal.
Ms. Beauchamp sewed a common thread through all her work, an ultimately hopeful message that in the face of rampant sexism and even gender-based violence, women could often rely on other women for support.
“I owe my greatest success to women,” she quoted Ms. Marion as saying. “Contrary to the assertion that women do all in their power to hinder one another’s progress, I have found that it has always been one of my own sex who has given me a helping hand when I needed it.”