Like Pop-Up Video–one of the many things the movie-industry left never anticipated–ancillary factoids keep imposing themselves on Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner’s Radical Hollywood:
1. When the oft-dubbed “revolutionary” Lew Wasserman (longtime MCA mogul) died this past June 3, obit writers made the old archcapitalist sound like he’d been the happy end of a Bolshevik dream–the man who finally took the power away from the studios and gave it to the people (OK, very rich, well-placed people).
2. Wasn’t it Ronald Reagan–“FBI collaborator,” the man deemed “too dumb” for membership in Hollywood’s CP of the 1930s and the star of the blacklisted screenwriter Val Burton’s last movie (Bedtime for Bonzo)–who helped decontrol the studios’ ownership of movie theaters, i.e., the means of distribution?
3. Showing that memory is fleeting even among the most progressive-minded people, the Stockholm International Film Festival of 1997 jumped the gun on the Academy Awards and hosted a retrospective of work by friendly witness Elia Kazan–its organizers claiming, quite convincingly, that they were completely unaware of the then-raging (sort of) Kazan Kontroversy.
4. Showing that memory is as tenacious as the ego it’s attached to, Hollywood Ten member Ring Lardner Jr., honoree of the screenwriter-centric Nantucket Film Festival of 1998, still had the energy to rail against the system–although the preponderance of his outrage was not over his HUAC-imposed prison time but the liberties Joseph Mankiewicz and Louis B. Mayer had taken fifty-odd years before with his script for Woman of the Year.
If there are unwritten messages within Radical Hollywood, one might be that artistic vanity and general cupidity are neither exclusive nor native to a particular political persuasion, nor even the movie industry itself. And that nothing ever changes. Current cinephiles fear and loathe the fact that in today’s movie business, “business” takes precedence over “movies.” But by 1933, after the bankruptcies of Fox, Paramount and RKO, the money men had already taken over. (As the authors write, “Bankers were good at firing studio workers…but were notably untalented at making films.” Make it “lawyers” and it might be 2002.) Back in 1919, Charles Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Mary Pickford organized the first independent-of-the-studios Hollywood movie company, United Artists–the DreamWorks of its time. Last year’s threatened strike by the Writers Guild–which, together with the strike threat by the Screen Actors Guild, is still affecting studio production schedules–was largely about credits, because they translate into salaries; in 1933, meeting secretly, Hollywood’s leading screenwriters (including such leftist lights as John Howard Lawson, John Bright, Samuel Ornitz and Lester Cole) gathered to organize, largely over the issue of credits, and for the same reason. Variety, Hollywood “bible” and noted mangler of the English language, played the game with the mobbed-up craft union IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) back in Depression-era Hollywood. It plays plenty of games today.