It’s good to see my old friend Upton Sinclair back in the news again amid the raves for the new film, There Will Be Blood, very loosely based on his 1927 novel Oil!. Well, I’m not quite old enough to have met the famed muckraker, although I did interview his son for my book The Campaign of the Century on Sinclair’s amazing 1934 race for governor of California. Even though Uppie earned a nod in many of the articles and reviews of the film, which stars Daniel Day-Lewis, few have commented on the original source material.
So here’s one tidbit: The novel, one of Sinclair’s finest, was “banned in Boston,” as Catholics there objected to sexual passages, references to abortion and other heresies. Truth be told, this did not displease the author, as it provided a big boost for sales. After he journeyed to Boston, photographs of him hawking copies of the book wearing a signboard that promoted what he called the “Fig Leaf Edition” of the book appeared in newspapers around the country. Talk about manipulating the press!
But Sinclair’s most lasting contribution to modern politics came seven years later when the former socialist ran for governor of California as a Democrat and nearly won. As another campaign year begins in earnest next month, it is worth looking back at how the modern political campaign -- run by consultants and "spin doctors," with an assist from Hollywood --began, and I will do that in coming weeks. Meawnhile, here's the movie trailer: