Sunday, January 29, 2017

Ronald Reagan, Holly-Go-Lefty and The Never-Ending Story

"My one unvarying line, which I always snapped into a telephone, was: "Give me the city desk. I've got a story that will crack this town wide open!""
--Ronald Reagan 

And its a familiar story, brought back again and again for an extended return engagement, despite popular demand: Hollywood consumed by a hard-left political agenda, favoring America's enemies and seeking to silence and intimidate non-compliant artists, most recently at PRESIDENT Trump's Inaugural.

Their self-congratulating awards ceremonies have devolved into tribal virtue-signaling mating rituals and hermetically-sealed hate-fests. The SAG Awards Show was like a Klan Rally with tuxedos, swag bags and better plastic surgery. Okay--any plastic surgery.

Yes, it's all been done before. Whether Ashley Judd's confidential psychiatric ravings, Sean Penn as Cartel fan-boy, Oliver Stone and his pet dictator, Jane Fonda's Viet Cong treason or Dalton Trumbo's Stalinist man-crush, we've seen this Hollywood movie many times now. And this movie star:
"One day after giving one of my speeches to the men's club at the Hollywood Beverly Christian Church where I worshipped, our pastor came up to me and said he agreed with what I'd said about the rise of neofascism. But he said: "I think your speech would be even better if you also mentioned that if Communism ever looked like a threat, you'd be just as opposed to it as you are to fascism." I told the minister I hadn't given much thought to the threat of Communism but the suggestion seemed like a good one and that I'd begin saying if the day came when it also posed a threat to American values, I'd be just as strongly opposed to it as I was to fascism.

Not long afterward, I was asked to give a speech to a local citizens' organization. I made my usual speech defending American values against the new fascism that seemed to be abroad in the land and was applauded after almost every paragraph. I was a smash. Then I finished up with my new line at the end: "I've talked about the continuing threat of fascism in the postwar world, but there's another 'ism,' Communism, and if I ever find evidence that Communism represents a threat to all that we believe in and stand for, I'll speak out just as harshly against Communism as I have fascism." Then I walked off the stage - to a dead silence. A few days later, I received a letter from a woman who said she'd been in the audience that night. "I have been disturbed for quite some time," she said, "suspecting there is something sinister happening in that organization that I don't like." Then she added: "I'm sure you noticed the reaction to your last paragraph when you mentioned Communism. I hope you recognize what that means. I think the group is becoming a front for Communists. I just wanted you to know that that settled it for me. I resigned from the organization the next day." Thanks to my minister and that lady, I began to wake up to the real world and what was going on in my own business, the motion picture industry."

Ronald Reagan in a 1957 speech to the graduates of his alma mater Eureka College:
“In a phase of this struggle not widely known, some of us came toe to toe with this enemy, this evil force in our own community in Hollywood, and make no mistake about it, this is an evil force. Don’t be deceived because you are not hearing the sound of gunfire, because, even so, you are fighting for your lives. And you’re fighting against the best organized and the most capable enemy of freedom and of right and decency that has ever been abroad in the world. Some years ago, back in the thirties, a man who was apparently just a technician came to Hollywood to take a job in our industry, an industry whose commerce is in tinsel and colored lights and make-believe. He went to work in the studios, and there were few to know he came to our town on direct orders from the Kremlin. When he quietly left our town a few years later the cells had been formed and planted in virtually all of our organizations, our guilds and unions. The framework for the Communist front organizations had been established.

It was some time later, under the guise of a jurisdictional strike involving a dispute between two unions, that we saw war come to Hollywood. Suddenly there were 5,000 tin-hatted, club-carrying pickets outside the studio gates. We saw some of our people caught by these hired henchmen; we saw them open car doors and put their arms across them and break them until they hung straight down the side of the car, and then these tin-hatted men would send our people on into the studio. We saw our so-called glamour girls, who certainly had to be conscious of what a scar on the face or a broken nose could mean careerwise going through those picket lines day after day without complaint. Nor did they falter when they found the bus which they used for transportation to and from work in flames from a bomb that had been thrown into it just before their arrival. Two blocks from the studio everyone would get down on hands and knees on the floor to avoid the bricks and stones coming through the windows. And the 5,000 pickets out there in their tin hats weren’t even motion picture workers. They were maritime workers from the waterfront–members of Mr. Harry Bridges’ union.

We won our fight in Hollywood, cleared them out after seven long months in which even homes were broken, months in which many of us carried arms that were granted us by the police, and in which policemen lived in our homes, guarding our children at night. And what of the quiet film technician who had left our town before the fighting started? Well, in 1951 he turned up on the Monterey Peninsula where he was involved in a union price-fixing conspiracy. Two years ago he appeared on the New York waterfront where he was Harry Bridges’ right hand man in an attempt to establish a liaison between the New York and West Coast waterfront workers. And a few months ago he was mentioned in the speech of a U.S. Congresswoman who was thanking him for his help in framing labor legislation. He is a registered lobbyist in Washington for Harry Bridges.”

Discover the Networks: "Eager to exploit Hollywood for publicity, the [House] Committee unwisely made film content the issue, ignoring the party's vast organizing campaigns despite convincing testimony from, among others, Walt Disney. More important, the committee ignored the reality that it was not what the party put into films such as North Star and Song of Russia that really mattered, but the anti-communist, anti-Soviet material it kept out. ... By the 1960s the blacklist was over; Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger restored the names of blacklisted writers to the credits of the films they actually wrote. The Hollywood Ten and other communist writers were on their way, as Philip Dunne put it, to being "virtually deified."

The legend of the blacklist, sanitized of all references to Stalin or to the Communist Party's actual record in the studios, became a continuing influence on Hollywood's political life. Hollywood had entered its period of anti-anti-communism, a well-known phenomenon in American cultural and intellectual life. Anti-anti-communism demonizes anti-communists, however truthful their revelations, as paranoid and on the wrong side of history, while praising apologists of totalitarianism as well-meaning idealists, however mendacious and servile their record."--from "Hollywood's Missing Movies," by Kenneth L. Billingsley

Today we have anti-anti-Islamism, Gitmo Diaries and the Clock Boy.

John Merony: "On February 8, 1950, some of Hollywood's brightest lights gathered at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the kind of glamorous, star-studded soiree typically held on Academy Awards night. While it was Oscar season in Hollywood, the event for which Cecil B. DeMille, Harry Cohn, George Burns, Ed Wynn, Jane Wyman and some 600 others turned out had nothing to do with the film industry's annual awards ceremony. Instead, it was a formal tribute to Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan? The same Ronald Reagan who supposedly had a B-grade movie career and was a failure as a leading man? That night at the pink palace on Sunset Boulevard, people were honoring a genuine movie star, labor chief, and accomplished political activist. The Friars Club hosted the evening, but the ambience was far from humorous. The account in Variety describes a “note of seriousness rarely demonstrated at a Friars get-together. This was not a roast.” It was unique, “a heartfelt tribute to a real guy.” When Al Jolson spoke, he said his wish was that his son would grow up “to be the kind of man Ronnie is.”

With few exceptions, the Hollywood anti-communists have been written out of history. John Wayne is one who continues to ride high despite decades of critical assault. On the other hand, Communist filmmakers such as Ring Lardner Jr., Dalton Trumbo, and Paul Jarrico continue to benefit from Hollywood’s own special style of compound interest. Today their pictures are regarded as masterworks of courageous, path-breaking mavericks. Politics helped their career reputations immeasurably; it poisoned Reagan’s. It isn’t too farfetched to imagine how Reagan’s film career would be appreciated for nuance and genius had he defended the Communists, remained a left-wing liberal, and written a weepy memoir about the “dark days” of the blacklist. ... Reagan was becoming convinced that the Communist Party had a hand in the upheaval, and that honest strikers were being manipulated. Some people he considered allies were in fact enemies; backstabbing and betrayal seemed to be lurking around every corner. “I found myself misrepresented, cursed, vilified, denounced, and libeled,” Reagan wrote years later.

Reagan himself had become somber. His notions of communism and left-wing politics were being fundamentally challenged. Politics had become deeply personal. According to one observer, “His stock grin was replaced by grim, tense facial expressions; his lanky frame looked too lean to be healthy. He was under great mental and physical strain.” Don Siegel captured that. Knowing the circumstances surrounding Night Unto Night makes the film especially haunting. Even with the eerie twilight atmosphere, at heart the picture is about the realization of love and miracles. Metaphorically, the narrative is similar to critical parts of Reagan’s life. By 1963, when Siegel set out to make his version of Hemingway’s short story, Reagan was at a far different position in his emotional and professional life. Like his John Galen character years before, Reagan had emerged from the wilderness and lived to tell about it. Surviving the death of a child, depression, divorce, and other trials made him a new man. Hosting and often acting in the acclaimed anthology series “General Electric Theater” for almost a decade on CBS Television put Reagan in more than 20 million households every week. It gave him a level of public notoriety that eluded many of his erstwhile colleagues in film."
With Wyman, Fonda, Karloff, Kelly

From Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism by Peter Schweizer:

"Herb Sorrell had come up the hard way, beginning work at the age of 12, laboring in an Oakland sewer-pipe factory for 11 hours a day. He had cut his teeth in the Bay Area labor movement under the leadership of Harry Bridges, the wiry leader of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. Bridges, according to Soviet archives, was also a secret member of the Communist Party and a regular contact for Soviet intelligence.

Sorrell had joined the party in the 1930s, and under Bridges' guidance he had led two violent strikes in the Bay Area. Both strikes, he later admitted, were secretly funded by the Communists, and this time he was secretly receiving money from the National Executive Council of the Communist Party. Sorrell was a member of more than 20 Communist Party front organizations and had pushed hard for the American Federation of Labor to affiliate with the Soviet-run World Federation of Trade Unions. (AFL leaders refused on the grounds that it was simply a front group.)

The studio strike Sorrell organized in 1946 was no ordinary labor action. It was ostensibly called because of worker concerns, but Sorrell saw it as an opportunity to gain control over all the major unions in Hollywood. As he bragged in the early days of the action, "When it ends up, there'll be only one man running labor in Hollywood, and that man will be me!"

The stakes were high. If Sorrell succeeded, the Communists believed, they could run Hollywood. As the party newspaper the People's Daily World put it candidly, "Hollywood is often called the land of Make-Believe, but there is nothing make-believe about the Battle of Hollywood being waged today. In the front lines of this battle, at the studio gates, stand the thousands of locked-out film workers; behind the studio gates sit the overlords of Hollywood, [who] refuse even to negotiate with the workers. ... The prize will be the complete control of the greatest medium of communication in history." To underscore the value of this victory, the paper quoted Lenin: "Of all the arts, the cinema is the most important."

The Communist Party had been active in Hollywood since 1935, when a secret directive was issued by CPUSA (Communist Party of the U.S.A.) headquarters in New York calling for the infiltration of Hollywood's labor unions. The party believed that by doing so they could influence the type of pictures being produced. The directive also instructed party members to take leadership positions in the so-called intellectual groups in Hollywood, which were composed of directors, writers and performers.

To carry out the plan, CPUSA sent party activist Stanley Lawrence, a tall, bespectacled ex-cabdriver. Quietly and methodically he began developing secret cells that included Hollywood performers, writers and technicians. His actions were handled with great sensitivity.

Lawrence reported directly to party headquarters in New York, which in turn reported its activities to officials in Moscow. There, Comintern boss Willie Muenzenberg declared, "One of the most pressing tasks confronting the Communist Party in the field of propaganda is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them."

By the end of the Second World War, party membership in Hollywood was close to 600 and boasted several industry heavyweights. Actors Lloyd Bridges, Edward G. Robinson and Fredric March were members, as were half a dozen producers and about as many directors.

Some had joined the party because they thought it might be fun. Actor Lionel Stander encouraged his friends to become members because "you will make out more with the dames." Others who were perhaps interested in the ideas of Marx and Lenin were nonetheless gentle in their advocacy.

"Please explain Marxism to me," Sam Goldwyn once asked Communist Ella Winter at a dinner party.

"Oh, not over this lovely steak."

But many of the party members were militants, and through hard work they had managed to take over leadership positions in the Screenwriters Guild, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and various intellectual and cultural groups. Their level of control and influence far outweighed their numbers. It was a classic case of hard work and determined organizing.

"All over town the industrious communist tail wagged the lazy liberal dog," declared director Philip Dunne, whose credits included "Count of Monte Cristo," "Last of the Mohicans" and "Three Men."

That industriousness came out of a militancy that stunned many in Hollywood. Screenwriter John Howard Lawson had a booming voice and could often be seen berating those who might oppose the party by smashing his fist into his open palm. The natural reaction of many was to simply be quiet and avoid being throttled.

"The important thing is that you should not argue with them," said writer F. Scott Fitzgerald, who spent time in Hollywood writing for movies such as "Winter Carnival." "Whatever you say they have ways of twisting it into shapes which put you in some lower category of mankind – 'Liberal,' 'Trotskyist' – and disparage you both intellectually and personally in the process."

"We have exposed their lies when we came across them, we have opposed their propaganda, and I can certainly testify that in the case of the Screen Actors Guild we have been eminently successful in preventing them from, with their usual tactics, trying to run a majority of an organization with a well organized minority.
So that fundamentally I would say in opposing those people that the best thing to do is to make democracy work. In the Screen Actors Guild we make it work by insuring everyone a vote and by keeping everyone informed. I believe that, as Thomas Jefferson put it, if all the American people know all of the facts they will never make a mistake."

Reagan had his first taste of this a few months before the strike, when he was serving on the executive committee of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), which he had joined in 1944. The group boasted a membership roll including Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles and Katharine Hepburn. It was what they called a "brainy group," too, with Albert Einstein and Max Weber lending their name to the organization. It was the usual liberal/left Hollywood cultural group, concerned about atomic weapons, the resurgence of fascism and the burgeoning Cold War. But some were concerned by what they saw as its regular and consistent support for the Soviet position on international issues.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. declared in Life magazine that he believed it was a Communist front, an organization in which "its celebrities maintained their membership but not their vigilance."

Stung by this criticism, a small group within HICCASP, including RKO executive Dore Schary, actress Olivia de Havilland, and FDR's son James Roosevelt, decided to put their fellow members to the test. At the July 2, 1946, meeting, Roosevelt noted that HICCASP had many times issued statements denouncing fascism. Why not issue a statement repudiating communism? Surely that would demonstrate that the organization was not wholly communist.

Reagan rose quickly and offered his support for the resolution, and a furious verbal battle quickly erupted. Musician Artie Shaw stood up and declared that the Soviet Union was more democratic than the United States and offered to recite the Soviet constitution to prove it. Writer Dalton Trumbo stood up and denounced the resolution as wicked. When Reagan tried to respond, John Howard Lawson waved a menacing finger in his face and told him to watch it. Reagan and the others in his group resigned from the organization.

Sorrell gathered his resources for the fight. Along with financial support from the Communist Party, he also could count on help from Vincente Lombardo Toledano, head of Mexico's largest union and described in Soviet intelligence files as an agent. The slender, well-dressed and poised young lawyer was one of Moscow's most trusted agents in Mexico, regularly putting his resources behind Sorrell, providing money while pressuring Mexican film industry executives not to process any film from Hollywood as a show of solidarity. He also appeared at a rally in Hollywood to encourage the strikers.

Herb Sorrell had promised violence if he didn't get his way in the studio strike, and it didn't take him long to deliver. Led by his "sluggers," strikers smashed windshields on passing trains and threw rocks at the police. One studio employee went to the hospital after acid was thrown in his face. When the police tried to break up the melee, things got even worse. As actor Kirk Douglas remembered it, "Thousands of people fought in the middle of the street with knives, clubs, battery cables, brass knuckles and chains."

Sorrell and his allies wanted to shut down the studios entirely, so anyone who crossed the picket line became a target of violence. Jack Warner insisted on keeping up production, and the studio remained open. To avoid injury, workers, including stars who were shooting movies, were forced to sneak into the studio lot through a storm drain that led from the Los Angeles River.

Reagan, getting ready to start production on "Night Unto Night," was furious about the violence. And unlike his approach to the little battle with the Communists in HICCASP, he was not in a mood to retreat.

Blaney Matthews, the giant-sized head of security at Warner Brothers, had seen this sort of violent strike before. He advised Reagan and other stars to use the storm drain to get onto the lot safely. Reagan flat-out refused. If he was going to cross the picket line, he was going to cross the picket line, he told Matthews.

Matthews then arranged for buses to shuttle Reagan and a few others through the human gauntlet outside the studio gate. But he offered a bit of advice: Lie down on the floor, or you might get hit by a flying Coke bottle or rock. Again, Reagan refused. Over the next several days, as he went to the studio lot to attend preproduction meetings, a bus would pass through the human throng of violent picketers, with a solitary figure seated upright inside." .......

You see, Rosa Parks wasn't the only one who ever sat down on a bus to stand up for our freedom.

"Tear Down this Wall? Nevermind--I'll do it myself!"

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected,
and handed on for them to do the same."

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