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Monday, October 28, 2013

79 Years Ago This Month: Hollywood Took Its First All-Out Plunge Into Politics

How did Hollywood get so "liberal"?  It all started when author and ex-socialist Upton Sinclair swept the Democratic primary for governor of California in 1934, as I explore in my book and ebook The Campaign of the Century, winner of the Goldsmith Book Prize and finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.  Hollywood's response, including the creation of the first "attack ads" for the screen by none other than Irving Thalberg--you can watch excerpts below--destroyed Sinclair but also led to the rise of the "liberal" movie industry we see today.

MGM chief Louis B. Mayer  responded to Sinclair's upset victory--he had inspired one of the greatest mass movements in U.S. history--by promising in the movie trades to do everything possible to defeat him.  Fellow mogul Joseph Schenk landed in Florida, and  threatened to move the entire industry to that state if Sinclair won (well, it already had a city named Hollywood).  That threat was spready widely and wildly by the conservative press--meaning newspapers almost everywhere in the state. 

Later, nearly all of the studios docked employees, including top actors, one day's pay, to go to Sinclair's GOP foe  (Jimmy Cagney,  rebelled, but Katharine Hepburn and others went along with it).  Finally, MGM produced three fake newsreels, using shots from old movies and Hollywood actors, that sparked riots in theaters.  Thalberg (left) later admitted producing the newsreels.  "Nothing is unfair in politics," he explained.  Sinclair supporters, including Charlie Chaplin and Dorothy Parker, vowed revenge.

Indeed, outrage over the abuses in 1934 sparked a massive surge for the actors' and screenwriters' guilds--and the new activism played a key role in Democrats electing a governor in 1938.  As I explore in my book, virtually all of the techniques that make up the modern political campaign (such as putting "spin doctors" and advertising wizards in charge) were invented in the wild anti-Sinclair effort.  It was the birth of modern politics.  Here's the Thalberg shocker:

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful progressive history. Thank you!

Hugh Jee From Jersey said...

Before FOX News and Rupert Murdoch there was MGM and Louis B. Mayer.

Very interesting stuff.....thanks much!

JD Moore said...

I see Ed Bernays and that crowd didn't waste any time in manipulating public opinion. First, it was bacon and eggs, then B. O., then who knows what. It was so easy to do between 1925-1945 with a naive public. Good thing some of the kids in the 1950s started seeing through this, I being one. Too bad too many of them still naively thought this information to be true and authoritative. We are still laboring under such superstitions to this day.

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Maybe Obama could inspire us if he stopped caving in to the big lobbyists. Today I hear he will give the rich a tax cut with borrowed money.

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