The archive showcases Reagan the liberal before liberal became a dirty word. While the broad strokes of his Hollywood years are familiar—Warner Bros. star, SAG president, host of the hit CBS anthology series General Electric Theater—what specifically happened during that time is part of the little-known history of Reagan and even Hollywood itself.
The Hollywood in which Reagan worked was very different than the time portrayed in blacklist dramas like The Way We Were, The Front and Guilty by Suspicion. The Communist Party operated more like an underground cult than a political party, recalled the people I talked to, including some who never ended their party membership.
American Communists believed the Soviets represented the future. Today’s public perception is that Communists were merely liberals in a hurry. That’s because the Reds “wrote their own histories,” as screenwriter Richard Collins, a former Communist, shared with me. They erased the part about their connections to Moscow.
Just as Reagan was becoming a movie star at Warner Bros. (more than a dozen pictures in his first four years), Soviet spies Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey began operating in Hollywood. As the L.A. Times reported in 2009, the couple finessed their way into mingling with Hollywood’s elite—Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, even staunch anti-Communist Walt Disney. “Many famous people in Hollywood were in touch with the White House...and through them we got the information we needed,” the Times quoted the couple from their 2004 memoir.
And what has been typically portrayed as anti-Communist hysteria—for instance, that writers exploited their position for the party agenda—may be true after all, according to documents.
Congressional testimony from a screenwriter active in a Communist Party front group quotes party head John Howard Lawson lecturing at a La Brea Avenue school for actors: “It is your duty to further the class struggle by your performance. If you are nothing more than an extra wearing white flannels on a country-club veranda, do your best to appear decadent, do your best to appear to be a snob, do your best to create class antagonism.”
He would instruct writers: “Do not try to write an entire Communist picture. The producers will quickly identify it, and it will be killed by the front office. Try to get five minutes of the...party line in every script you write...If you can make the message come from the mouth of Gary Cooper or some other star who is unaware of what he is saying, by the time it is discovered, he is in New York, and a great deal of expense will be involved to bring him back and reshoot the scene.”
Radical ideologues certainly have a right to their soapboxes. However, when one considers Lawson was cofounder and first president of the then named Screen Writers Guild, his speech takes on a different light. An oral history by screenwriter and Communist Party member Paul Jarrico supplements the document in Brewer’s archive. “Oh, we were certainly involved in efforts to affect the content of films,” says Jarrico. “We were wide-eyed about the possibility of writing movies that would affect millions and millions of viewers.”
Ronald Reagan’s usual sunny disposition—he was after all, often called the happy warrior of politics—would change to fury when the topic turned to the troubles at the time he and Brewer were leaders in Hollywood. They thought it was a travesty that by the Vietnam era, Communist filmmakers had rehabilitated themselves as civil libertarians and blacklist victims. “The biggest fairy tale since Snow White,” Reagan would say. But it was the comrades who took to the streets who primarily steeled Reagan for what became the driving force of his life: the defeat of Soviet Communism.
In 1945, a strange battle erupted in Hollywood’s 42 craft unions that reflected the Soviet Union’s overarching goal of controlling the worldwide labor movement. Undercover Communists seized control of a painters’ union, formed a larger umbrella group with cartoonists, readers, secretaries and publicists and called a jurisdictional strike, with the goal of taking over other unions.
Archive documents—and court decisions from the 1950s—disclosed their goal: to create one industrial union for all of Hollywood. While the vast majority of the members would be rank-and-file laborers, the organization would be controlled by Communists. To succeed, they had to drive a wedge between labor allies and create chaos in the existing labor structure.
“Every place you turned, you found the bitterness, you found the hatred, you found persons criticizing one another,” Brewer said in a congressional hearing on labor, describing the environment in Hollywood. “A man was either with the Communists or he was isolated and smeared.”
Read the whole thing. Video on the link as well.
Last edited by EscapeVelo; 02-13-2012 at 11:39 AM..
Blessed is the man, who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly. - Psalms 1
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