erik lundegaard

The New Hollywood 10: How Stars on the Left are Punished; How Stars on the Right Punish Us

It's logical to assume there are more liberals than conservatives in Hollywood. Artists tend to be progressive, cities tend to be progressive, Hollywood is a city full of artists and artisans. And businessmen. The rub. But not enough of one.

But I've long argued that it doesn't follow that the product of Hollywood, particularly the movies, is progressive. Movies have almost always been conservative. You can sum up most action movies this way: a lone man using violence to achieve justice. You can sum up most romances this way: ...and then they got married. The movies are wish-fulfillment fantasy. That's why we go. And wish fulfillment isn't progressive; it's stagnant. It moves us but it doesn't move us.

Consider this a clumsy lead-in to a quick discussion of Steven J. Ross's book “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics.” Ross gives us nine chapters on 10 different stars and their involvement in the political scene, generally intercutting between stars on the left and stars and moguls on the right:

  1. Charlie Chaplin
  2. Louis B. Mayer
  3. Edward G. Robinson
  4. George Murphy and Ronald Reagan
  5. Harry Belafonte
  6. Jane Fonda
  7. Charlton Heston
  8. Warren Beatty
  9. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Hollywood may have more liberals than conservatives, but, certainly in the above scheme, it's better to be conservative than liberal.

Look what happens to those on the left: Chaplin is kicked out of the country, Robinson is blacklisted; Belafonte gives up his career for the civil rights movement and never gets it back; Fonda is pilloried for the rest of her life for a bad, 10-second photo op not of her own making; and Beatty, well, Beatty is the Hamlet of the group. He's the good actor who has trouble acting. He can't make a decision.

(All of these stars on the left, by the way, tend to be incredibly talented, and their legacy in the arts is long.)

On the right? Mayer ran the biggest studio in Hollywood's Golden Age and indoctrinated a few choice stars to the conservative cause. Heston became president of the NRA, Schwarzenegger governor of California, George Murphy U.S. Senator, and Ronald Reagan, of course, became the 40th President of the United States.

(All of these stars on the right, by the way, aren't very talented, and their legacy in the arts, Mayer notwithstanding, is puny.)

You could say the stars on the left were punished while the stars on the right punished us. Murphy, Reagan, et al., transferred the absolutist, wish-fulfillment fantasies of Hollywood to the political realm (“Morning in America”; tax cuts + increased defense spending = balanced budget; “my cold, dead hands”) and remade our society. But there's no Hollywood ending for us. At least not for the middle class. The bad guys win. We just don't see it.

Ross doesn't draw so stark a conclusion but it's there.

The saddest chapter may belong to Edward G. Robinson, who was a good guy, a solid liberal, an anti-Nazi, who was made to pay during the McCarthy era for being liberal and anti-Nazi. He was set up to serve as a warning to everyone in the community to shut the fuck up. I.e., If they could do what they did to Edward G. Robinson, what can't they do to you?

I could see a movie being made out of Robinson's chapter. Not wish fulfillment.

Edward G. Robinson

The dirty rats were in HUAC and Red Channels.


Posted at 07:48 AM on Thu. Oct 25, 2012 in category Books  
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COMMENTS

Eric Hanson wrote:

Worth noting: the only significant films about the Civil War? The General, GWTW, Birth of a Nation. All from the southern point of view.

A movie that was never made and should be made would tell the story of the Wall Street Coup that tried to depose FDR in 1933-34. HUAC investigated it, found it to be true, but didn't call the plotters to testify and subsequently buried the testimony. End of story. HUAC was persuaded to chase commies instead of fascists. (I'm working on a novel about this episode.) Here's the BBC documentary.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/document/document_20070723.shtml

Comment posted on Thu. Oct 25, 2012 at 08:14 AM

Mister B wrote:

Actually, I tend to think “Glory” is a significant film about the Civil War — and it's from the North side. Massachusetts, even. :)

Comment posted on Sun. Oct 28, 2012 at 01:57 AM

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