Weigh­ing Tin­sel­town’s pol­i­tics

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

Most Amer­i­cans who pay at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics be­lieve Hol­ly­wood’s po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in Amer­i­can life and cul­ture is heav­ily weighted on the left. Steven J. Ross, a his­to­rian who teaches at the Univer­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, begs to dif­fer. He be­lieves the ev­i­dence shows that while “the Hol­ly­wood left has had the po­lit­i­cal glitz . . . the Hol­ly­wood right sought, won and ex­er­cised elec­toral power.”

In “Hol­ly­wood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped Amer­i­can Pol­i­tics,” Mr. Ross cites 10 iconic fig­ures to make his point. In the process, he pro­vides a very read­able and rarely dull nar­ra­tive. As a re­cip­i­ent of the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences Film Scholar Award, he ob­vi­ously knows his Hol­ly­wood.

Star­ring in this 500-page vol­ume are five house­hold names on the left and five on the right. The in­evitable is: Which side has re­ally been more suc­cess­ful in “selling ideas”?

On the right or “elec­toral” side:

Louis B. Mayer, the stu­dio mogul “who brought Hol­ly­wood into the Repub­li­can Party.”

Ron­ald Rea­gan, a suc­cess­ful gover­nor and twoterm U.S. pres­i­dent.

George Mur­phy, a oneterm U.S. sen­a­tor and long­time me­dia ad­viser to Repub­li­can can­di­dates.

Charl­ton He­ston, a highly re­spected is­sues-ori­ented “Moses” who, none­the­less, never sought voter ap­proval as he moved from left to right over the decades.

Arnold Sch­warzeneg­ger, the mus­cle­man star who also, the au­thor notes, was con­sid­ered a “failed” gover­nor. On the left or “glitz” side: Charlie Chap­lin, silent movie star. Though not a con­ven­tional com­mu­nist party mem­ber, he was quoted ex­claim­ing to the Com­mu­nist Daily Worker, “Thank God for Com­mu­nism.”

Ed­ward G. Robin­son, screen tough guy. He be­came so en­tan­gled in far-left causes that he pub­licly ad­mit­ted the Reds had made a “sucker” out of him.

Jane Fonda. She was never for­given by vet­er­ans groups for pos­ing be­hind North Viet­namese ar­tillery when Amer­i­can sol­diers were fight­ing that com­mu­nist coun­try. A show-busi­ness pro­fes­sional, she claims she did not re­al­ize un­til too late that the pic­ture would be used as en­emy pro­pa­ganda.

Harry Be­la­fonte, su­peren­er­getic ac­tivist. He, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Ross, was never a mem­ber of the Com­mu­nist Party, but lied when he de­nied know­ing the true rad­i­cal na­ture of com­mu­nist fronts with which he had af­fil­i­ated.

War­ren Beatty, long­time me­dia ad­viser to Demo­cratic can­di­dates. Per­haps more than most other ac­tor/pro­duc­ers cited in this book, Mr. Beatty used the screen to preach his lib­eral gospel.

Mr. Ross’ ma­jor vil­lain through­out is the House Un-Amer­i­can Ac­tiv­i­ties Com­mit­tee. Were HUAC treated any other way in this book, the pro­fes­sor prob­a­bly would have lost some friends at the Academy.

He is, or course, en­ti­tled to his opin­ion, though some dis­tor­tions tend to dis­tract from the schol­arly re­search the au­thor presents. The book in­forms us that “ev­ery­body” in Hol­ly­wood knew the un­friendly wit­nesses among HCUA’s in­fa­mous “Hol­ly­wood 10” were com­mu­nists.

Per­haps true, but quite be­side the point that not “ev­ery­body” among Amer­ica’s mil­lions of movie­go­ers was aware that some who wrote and di­rected what they saw on the screen were part of a group ded­i­cated in the Cold War to the vi­o­lent over­throw of the U.S. gov­ern­ment. The com­mit­tee even had their party mem­ber­ship-card num­bers.

How tol­er­ant would Hol­ly­wood have been of Nazi writ­ers/direc­tors pro­mot­ing en­emy pro­pa­ganda? The au­thor im­plies that when a chair­man was be­ing cho­sen for HUAC, Rep. Sa­muel Dick­stein, New York Demo­crat, was un­fairly by­passed. Dick­stein was born in Lithua­nia.

Not men­tioned is that a more re­cent re­port, “The Haunted Wood,” re­vealed Dick­stein was on the take from the Sovi­ets for what­ever use­ful in­for­ma­tion he could pro­vide. Who’s to say the FBI did not in­form con­gres­sional lead­ers of that?

The 1999 re­port was made pub­lic sev­eral years be­fore Mr. Ross wrote his book. It’s hard to un­der­stand how he would not have been aware of it.

The au­thor treats HUAC as a Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal toy, even though in 34 of its 38 years, the com­mit­tee was chaired by Democrats.

Wes Ver­non’s col­umn ap­pears reg­u­larly at Re­newAmer­ica.com.

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