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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

And then there were none

There is more than a little cosmic irony in the fact that, virtually, as I was keyboarding my previous missive, the last of the Hollywood 10 should die.

I was mulling over the fact that most big Hollywood stars seem to be political liberals. I have no idea if this is actually true, but I feel safe in saying at least that most stars who speak out publicly on politics certainly seem to be liberals, or at least Democrats. I further suggested that these people have their hearts precisely in the right place, but I also pointed out the paradox that they should mostly be supporting a fairly conservative Democratic ticket against a somewhat moderate Republican ticket by railing against a true liberal, Ralph Nader (and not without good cause, as it turned out).

The conclusion is that liberal Hollywood isn’t really so much pro-Democrat as anti-Republican. Being anti-Republican is by no means inconsistent with being a liberal. But, as the passing of Ring Lardner Jr. reminds us, there are deep historical reasons why this should be so.

Lardner carried a very prominent name in 20th century American literature. His father was a beloved baseball writer, humorist and short story writer. Ring Jr. grew up around the likes of Heywood Broun, H.L. Mencken and Dorothy Parker. But the younger Lardner made a name for himself in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, winning a pair of Academy Awards that neatly bookended his career—the first for Woman of the Year in 1942 and the second for M*A*S*H in 1970. In between those two movies, his career had its rocky patches, to say the least. In the 1930s he joined the Communist party. In 1947 he and other Hollywood writers, directors and producers were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Ten, who refused to disclose whether they or anyone they knew were members of the Communist party, were sent to federal prison in 1950 for sentences ranging from five months to a year. For many years afterward, these men could work in Hollywood only under pseudonyms, when they could work at all. This was the infamous Hollywood blacklist.

Half a century later, passions still run deep in Hollywood over the scaremongering and victimizing that some Republican politicians (the most notorious being Senator Joseph McCarthy) engaged in, largely to further their own careers. The old animosities still flare up once in a while, as a couple of years ago when director Elia Kazan was given an honorary Oscar, which was clearly deserved on the merits, for his lifetime of work. Kazan had been a member of the Communist party but broke with it under bitter circumstances. He ended up naming names before the committee, and many people will never forgive him for it. Kazan attempted to portray what the pressures he was under from both sides felt like in his classic film, On the Waterfront.

So, political principles aside, it’s easy to see why people who identify with the left would consider all Republicans guilty by association, and why that party will always be “the bad guys” in the great Hollywood screenplay of life. And for many, this history will override almost any other concern or issue.

It also helps explain why Bill Clinton is so darned popular in Hollywood. It is not insignificant that the Republican shenanigans during the impeachment were frequently referred to as “sexual McCarthyism.” Being labeled a victim of any kind of McCarthyism is a virtual guarantee of some kind of sainthood in Tinseltown. Far be it from me to suggest that it cheapens the memory of the Hollywood 10 to compare their principled stand for which they were willing to go to prison with the case of a libidinous politician in the most powerful position on earth trying to save his own skin by any means possible. But then, we are talking about the same man who has also recently compared his personal plight with the persecution of both African-Americans and gays.

-S.L., 9 November 2000

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