What Liberal Hollywood? postsSaturday July 27, 2019
HUAC: ‘All We Are After...’
Rewatched this doc on the original Hollywood moguls the other night. Their lives should be a miniseries. Or you could make a good feature film out of it, maybe focusing on one mogul, maybe Louis B. Mayer, but keeping the same theme: fleeing pogroms in Europe for America, rising to fame and fortune in the nascent movie industry, creating stories that reflect that—full of American ideals and “the American dream”—while subsuming your entire Jewish background, only to face the pogrom again in the form of HUAC, which was led by a virulent anti-Semite and bigot, Rep. John E. Rankin of Mississippi. Then knuckling under. Then the sad final years. Mayer even thought about converting to Catholicism in the end. Did he lose himself? That's the question. Or a question.
We hear the following, by the way, as HUAC begins its investigation into communist infiltration of Hollywood:
The Committee has determined that the hearings shall be fair and impartial. We have subpoenaed witnesses representing both sides of the question. All we are after are the facts.
Not so much, it turns out.
Taylor wasn't the target.
The original 1968 “Planet of the Apes” movie was co-written by Michael Wilson, who also wrote “A Place in the Sun,” “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Lawrence of Arabia,” and who had been blacklisted during the 1950s, so he didn't get initial proper credit for the original “Bridge” or even “Lawrence.” Born and raised in Oklahoma, Wilson was a U.S. Marine during World War II. After HUAC declared him an unfriendly witness, he moved with his family to France. About the nicest fallback position you could imagine.
I didn't know any of this until I began reading “Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002.” In the beginning of that book, authors Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner argue that, in “Planet,” Dr. Zaius cross-examining the chimpanzee scientists Cornelius and Zira is a kind of HUAC moment. Cornelius finds the ancient human civilization, Zira determines there's no physiological reason for humans to be mute, and Zaius wants these discoveries discredited. Taylor (Heston) is his excuse to do so. His target isn't Taylor, in other words, but the scientists and science generally.
“Your case was preordained,” he says to Taylor. “You made it possible for me to expose” the chimpanzees.
This is the part that really knocked me for a loop:
In Wilson's inner narrative, then, there was another warning accompanying the larger one against nuclear war contained in Serling's famous ending, when Taylor finds the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. The inner warning was addressed to the liberals of the Cold War: you may think they are after Communists, but in fact they are after you.
I'd always thought liberals like Edward G. Robinson getting entrapped and having to beg for redemption from the likes of Ward Bond, and often not finding it, was a bug of HUAC and the blacklisting system; according to this insight, it was a feature. That road, discredited though it was by the 1960s, eventually led to the “liberal Hollywood” attacks of today. The Breitbarts of the world don't need the communist cover anymore.
What Liberal Hollywood? Part 101
“We‘re just so divided right now. Even in the identity of Hollywood as being the liberal place, when you’re in Hollywood, you know that's not all true. In fact, if you look at Ronald Reagan, he was not liberal, Clint Eastwood not liberal, Arnold Schwarzenegger not liberal. If you look at most action stars, in fact, they‘re not liberal. And they go on to politics.”
Peter Farrelly, director of “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary,” speaking to The Daily Mail at the Golden Globes ceremony, where his latest film, “Green Book,” won best comedy/musical, even though it's neither.
I‘ve been saying it for years from a product (movies, TV) perspective. And it’s true of the community itself, too? Jesus. BTW: Farrelly says it, the Mail, a dirty, conservative rag, repeats it, but conservatives will still push the “liberal Hollywood” meme because there's too much money and divisiveness in it for them not to. In a way, they want both. They want the scapegoat, and they want Hollywood to be theirs.
Fear of a Blacklisting
Patrick Radden Keefe's must-read piece in The New Yorker, “How Mark Burnett Resurrected Donald Trump as an Icon of American Success,” is, as you gather from that title, mostly about how we wouldn't be in the precarious situation we‘re in without the Mark Burnett-produced reality show, “The Apprentice,” which restored and burnished the career and the image of the oft-bankrupt Donald Trump. Hell, in some ways, it created that image. And, god, the lengths they had to go to to make him seem like an intellilgent and intelligible human being. Reading, you think, it’s not just “sad”; it's a fucking crime.
And I didn't even mention Trump's mobsters reference yet.
Anyway, amidst all that, there's the following quote that made me flash back to all the whiny conservative complaints about how they can't be all whiny and conservative in Hollywood for fear of a “liberal McCarthyism.” Never mind Jon Voight, never mind Kelsey Grammer. Never mind that the real blacklist in Hollywood in the 1940s/50s was the result of collusion between right-wing and often anti-Semitic forces in the U.S. Congress (HUAC), the FBI, Hollywood (the MPA) and business (Red Channels); these guys feel bad because they can't wear their MAGA hats to a table reading for “Fresh Off the Boat.” Cry me a river. If you want to make America great again, learn some fucking history.
Here's what made me think of that. Is Burnett, the man who gave us Donald Trump, and who is still a Trump friend, on the outs in Hollywood? The opposite:
He had now achieved such a level of power that, even in reflexively liberal Hollywood, his association with Trump was discussed mostly in whispers. Many people who spoke to me for this piece would not do so on the record, citing fears of being blacklisted.
I assume they mean blacklisted by him and his shows and his production company. Only a few, like Tom Arnold and Jimmy Kimmel, have spoken up or out. It points out the lie of “liberal McCarthyism.” There's no collusion, per the real Hollywood blacklist of the ‘40s and ’50s; there's just individual tastes, and everyone is worried about stepping on the toes of the powerful—whether they‘re on the left or the right.
It’s not criminal, it's just sad.
Fox Family Values
This is the latest Fox-News anti-Hollywood piece. It's in reaction to Robert De Niro cursing out Trump at the Tony Awards. De Niro said “Fuck Trump” twice and got a standing ovation. So this.
Fox counters De Niro with Zachery Ty Bryan, which is a little like countering John Updike with me. Who's Bryan? He played the non-heart-throb child of Tim Allen on the 1990s sitcom “Home Improvement.” He's now a producer.
On air, Bryan seems like a decent sort, but he raises two problematic points. The first is apparent from the headline:
Former Sitcom Star: There Are 'A Lot More' Conservatives in Hollywood Than You'd Expect
Meaning Hollywood isn't as liberal as we think? So it‘s not liberal Hollywood? Fox gets a lot of mileage out of calling it that. Indeed, that’s most of their Hollywood coverage. So do they need to stop now? And if these conservatives are so numerous, aren't they a bit cowardly for not “coming out” sooner?
A lot to unpack there.
The second problematic point occurs at the end, when the female host brings up how great “Home Improvement” was. She says it wasn't political, it was just about “family values” (“Tool Time Girl” notwithstanding), and “what so many families go through: the ups and the downs.” She wants TV to do this more. “Just take it back to family. Just being a family.” Bryan agrees:
We need to start getting back to our traditional values. Because we've lost that. And a lot of things happening in the world are because of losing that family background.