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‘Hollywood Left and Right’ by Steven Ross

Neil Rosen reviews a book on the impact of Hollywood activists


This book could have been reviewed by Simon Campion Brown as its as much about politics as films . In it, Ross assesses the impact of 10 activists , 9 of which are Hollywood legends, Republican, Democrat, Independent . Though he does not impose his own ideology he states that the Republican actors were more successful, in politics then the Democrat ones.

The ten are Charlie Chaplin, Louis Mayer, Edward G Robinson, George Murphy, Harry Belafonte, Ronald Reagan, Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The only surprising omission is Clint Eastwood. The less known name is George Murphy who danced with Shirley Temple and became a senator and advisor to Dwight Eissenhower.

There are a number of similarities whether right or left. When personal ideology meets box office the latter dominates. On the democrat side, Warren Beatty and Jane Fonda were extremely successful financially. Jane Fonda whilst advocating that her work out made women feel good about themselves made $18 million from it and $300m for her production company. This made Nine to Five which had a feminist element but all the films were always mainstream. Shampoo maxed Warren Beatty’s virile image, he is said to have bedded 12000 women, but to be fair he made the politically left Reds too.

hollywoodRoss admirers Reagan most of all. He had a vision that dismantled the New Deal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and offered Americans 4 policies: security against its enemies which led to the destruction of the communist bloc; less government and intervention; reduced taxes; and the development of the individual. In this country its fashionable to denigrate Reagan as a buffoon, but he was an astute political thinker who became more popular during his Presidency which you cannot say of many of the White House incumbents.

One of the most interesting is Charlton Heston. He led the march on Washington with Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King in 1968 but moved to the right as an indefatigable champion of NGA the gun lobby. In both camps he was much sought after for his image as Moses the Lawgiver.I was also impressed by Harry Belafonte a close friend of King who was a diplomat of the cause when he was already a huge star: his records outsold Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Warren Beatty recognised a home truth that whilst he was a magnificent fund raiser that there was a quantum difference between successful electioneering and governance so he never ran for office though he rescued the campaigns of George McGovern and Gary Hart. Arnold Schwarzenegger who promised himself by 30 he would be a millionaire, actor and marry into a rich family, his wife was Maria Shriner a Kennedy ,was a gubernatorial failure. as he did not recognise this home truth.

Personally I admire the political commitment of these 10. Chaplin challenged the myth of Hitler in The Great  Dictator with his satire on the Fuhrer which was not appreciated at the time. Hitler was a huge movie fan. Its said he had such a veneration for the British empire after watching the Bengal Lancers that it influenced his decision not to wipe out the the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk. The Great Dictator  is now recognised as the courageous classic it was but not at the time . Poor old Edward G gave to every liberal cause going and was summoned three times before the Unamerican House Activities Committee who attacked Hollywood with a virulence and his career never recovered

I can only think of 2 British activists Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson who made any impact and that was minimal. My father railed against Andrew Faulds a small time bearded actor who starred in Cleopatra  became a labour MP who dad always reckoned was an anti Semite . I can remember dad in his braces, vest ,pipe and trousers seeing Faulds acting in Maigret and shouting at the black and white Bush tv ” you bloody anti semitic mumsa ( Yiddish for bastard) .”

I admire these guys who got stuck into politics and for having the courage in every sense of their convictions in an age when political commitments happened and mattered.

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About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts