When Hollywood Turned Left, was published last week. Derived from my earlier The Campaign of the Century (which won the Goldsmith Book Prize), with new material, it focuses on the wild response in Hollywood--then controlled by conservative Republicans--to leftwing author Upton Sinclair winning the Democratic primary for governor, leading a mass movement, in 1934. This included the creation of the first use of the screen for "attack ads"--thanks to MGM's Irving Thalberg. The rightwing attack was so outrageous it sparked liberals out there to organize and Hollywood has titled left ever since.
A few days ago, I posted an excerpt re: one of the most notorious aspects--almost all the studio chiefs docked their employees,
from low-level to top stars, one day's pay to go for the slush fund of
the Republican candidate, Frank Merriam. One of those who tried to
protest was the young screenwriter Billy Wilder, who had arrived in the
U.S. just recently. Now here's a more comical stunt: When the Hollywood moguls threatened to move their studios to Florida if Sinclair was elected. It opens in early September just after Sinclair had swept the Democratic primary.
Before visiting Nick in New York, Joe Schenck intended to spend a couple of
days with the Chamber of Commerce boys down in Miami, inspecting
real estate that might provide refuge for the studios after November 6.
Why Florida? Miami was sunny, it had palm trees and ocean, it was
relatively unsettled, and best of all, state officials promised to give the
moguls a tax break if they made the move.
Florida even had a town called Hollywood.
A few days later, in Miami a the airport, reporters crowded around Schenk's
traveling companion, famous actor Douglas Fairbanks, who declined to discuss
his stormy separation from his wife, Mary Pickford. Doug revealed that
he was thinking of remaking his classic silent film The Mark of Zorro
as a talkie, but doubted he would be able to "recapture the zest necessary
to carry it over." Then the autograph seekers enveloped him.
Joe Schenck made an announcement of even more serious conse-
quence. "Florida, if it is wide awake and offers tax concessions for a few
years," he declared, "will be the center of the moving picture business
of $150 million a year in the event Upton Sinclair is elected governor of
California. Sinclair's taxation plan will drive the industry out of Califor-
nia. Florida has everything the industry needs," Schenck explained.
"Conditions in this state have greatly improved since the time, several
years ago, when attempts first were made to establish part of the indus-
try here, and there is no handicap here now to be overcome."
Florida officials, anticipating this statement, had pushed through the
legislature a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, if
adopted by voters in November, would exempt the movie industry from
paying taxes on its property and products for fifteen years. The Miami
Herald and the Chamber of Commerce pledged to promote the move,
recalling that the city of Jacksonville had hosted fourteen small studios
early in the century until political interference drove them out of the
state. Perhaps California would make the same mistake, to Florida's
If the locals thought Joe Schenck was merely grandstanding for the
folks back home, they didn't show it. Neither, for that matter, did
Schenck, since he spent the better part of the day driving around with
Chamber officials, inspecting possible sites for his studio. One or two
properties might actually do the trick, he remarked afterward. Then he
and Doug Fairbanks climbed into an American Airways plane piloted
by Eddie Rickenbacker and flew north to Newark.
In a campaign address, Upton Sinclair expressed his reaction to Joe
Schenck's proposed move to Miami: "Think of what those big Florida
mosquitos would do to some of our screen sirens. Why, one bite on the
nose could bring a fifty-thousand-dollar production loss."
Thursday, April 3, 2014
When Hollywood Moguls Threatened to Move to Florida
is author of a dozen books (click on covers at right), including the new "THE TUNNELS: Escapes Under the Berlin Wall and the Historic Films the JFK White House Tried to Kill." He was the longtime editor of Editor & Publisher. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @GregMitch