Friday, June 20, 2008

Of Mongrels and Commies

Book Review: Hollywood Party: The Untold Story of How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 30s and 40s, by Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley, New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2000

First of all, the book’s title is a bit of a misnomer. It should be titled, “How Communism Failed to Seduce the American Film Industry in the ’30’s and ’40’s but Succeeded in Doing So in the ’60’s and ’70’s,” for what Kenneth Billingsley presents is a rather surprisingly ineffective campaign on the part of the communists to have a major impact on the type of films Americans viewed. Plenty of screenwriters did become communists, but they never could bring themselves to write the communist propaganda that the Party demanded, mainly because the few propaganda pictures that did get into theaters bombed. Propaganda films were bad box office.

What Billingsley does document for us is the communist influence among Hollywood personalities in the 1930’s and 1940’s. It really is nothing different from what was going on at the universities at the time. The communists would seek out left-leaning liberals like Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart and get them to shill for nice-sounding organizations that were really communist front organizations. In fact, the majority of actors and writers at that time were to the left of center. Walt Disney, John Wayne, Adolph Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, and Ward Bond were notable exceptions.

The book is a “just the facts, ma’am” type of book. The author doesn’t draw any conclusions but does present the reader with enough information to draw his own conclusions. The book is advertised as the “untold story,” but the story has been told often by conservatives, albeit not as often as the leftist version is told by the liberals. Which is why this book is useful: it sets the record straight about the so-called bad old blacklisting days.

However, I must admit that the facts as Billingsley presents them led me to conclude that the House Un-American Activities Committee was one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived. The 1960’s and 1970’s witnessed a huge increase in mainstream communist propaganda films because anyone who opposed them was tarred with the same brush as the ineffectual House Committee and McCarthy.

The old adage that you either have to kill a rat or let it alone should be applied to communists. Either kill them or let them alone. But don’t give them an opportunity to claim martyr status for having suffered a few anxious moments before a toothless board of inquiry.

Quite revealing is Billingsley’s account of the treatment accorded ex-communists who talked to the Committee. Men like Edward Dmytryk and Elia Kazan were victims of an anti-anti-communist blacklist that was far harsher than any so-called right-wing blacklist. Indeed, as Billingsley shows, there was no great persecution. Blacklisted writers could use assumed names, and repentant communists were welcomed back into the fold by the film industry. Only Ward Bond, tough guy that he was, was against letting even repentant communists back into the film industry.

The liberals have turned the blacklisting era into a major propaganda triumph, but this book shows any objective reader that there were real communists in Hollywood during that era who tried to use the film industry to advance their agenda. That they failed was more a tribute to the ’30’s and ’40’s moviegoer who preferred the movies of Alfred Hitchcock (a man hated by the communists) and Westerns to commie propaganda films. Yet, sappy propaganda films did capture the popular imagination during the 1960’s and 1970’s, so perhaps the inability to appreciate a good story goes hand in hand with communism.

This book is valuable in what it can elicit from the reader. I would hope that thoughtful readers would ask themselves why so many actors, directors, and creative people are leftist, and why conservative views do not seem to inspire creative types. I would suggest it is because 20th century conservatives lack a metaphysic. In centuries prior to the 20th, there were always men of the right in the arts and in the military willing to champion the cause of God, King, and country. But no one with any poetic instincts wants to champion free markets and greed. Marxism is a delusion from which great poets such as Whittaker Chambers eventually walk away. But it has an enduring appeal to the lesser poets who quite rightly see nothing inspirational in capitalism.

There is no question the seeds of communist dissension were being planted in the 1930’s, 1940’s, and 1950’s, but the Christian morality of the American populace had not been sufficiently contaminated to produce tangible results. Two things were necessary to make Americans more tolerant of communism. One was a breakdown in sexual mores, which did indeed take place in the 1960’s, and the second was a major change in the United States immigration policies, which also took place in the 1960’s. White technocrats make up the communist elite, but the major resistance to communism also comes from white people. When a nation is mongrelized, there is no longer any resistance to communism.