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Reviewed by:
  • Hollywood Independents: The Postwar Talent Takeover, and: Hidden Talents: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents
  • Kathryn Fuller-Seeley (bio)
Hollywood Independents: The Postwar Talent Takeover by Denise Mann. University of Minnesota Press 2008. $75.00 cloth; $25.00 paper. 334 pages
Hidden Talents: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents by Tom Kemper. University of California Press 2010. $55.00 hardcover; $21.95 paper. 312 pages

Two recent books revise standard historical narratives of the everyday workings and postwar dissolution of the Classical Hollywood studio system, reimagining how "the talent"—actors, directors, and writers, working with talent agents—carved out spaces for creativity, career advancement, and political commentary in the contested realm of the studio factory floor. Hollywood Independents: The Postwar Talent Takeover and Hidden Talents: The Emergence of Hollywood Agents show the cracks in the studio edifice that allowed such small maneuvers and how the turbulent breakup of that system created the conditions for a new independent cinema.

Both books strive to create continuities between the old studio system and economic, creative, and ideological realities of today's [End Page 173] Hollywood. Mann reframes the collapse of the old Hollywood as the beginning of the bifurcation of studio-dominated production into protoblockbusters and art cinema in the 1950s. Kemper recovers the behind-the-scenes labor of talent agents in the 1930s as a vital component of the studio system that secured more creative input and control for actors, directors, and writers, and that significantly helped the Hollywood system function more efficiently. Agents gained in potential importance as producers and economic and creative power-wielders as industrial changes started to snowball in the 1940s.

Both studies create a historical context for their stories that combines economic, institutional, ideological, and aesthetic analysis. Mann examines the climate of independence of Hollywood's post–World War II period, and how the changed industrial structure impacted films produced outside the direct creative control of the studios. She focuses on entrepreneurial new producers (who had been directors and actors) who made art-influenced films that "still relied on studio financing and distribution and which played in mainstream theaters."1 She analyzes a group of big-business-themed films to provide "a tangible means of exhuming evidence of the types of internal debates and subtle negotiations about the state of the industry" that later filmmakers of the 1970s New Hollywood would take for granted.2

Some historians recount the Hollywood studio period after 1946 as a tumultuous but dreary affair of panic and decline; they are clearly anxious to move on to the Holly wood renaissance of the 1970s. The first third of Mann's narrative, on the other hand, revels in the battles facing Hollywood on a rapidly changing industrial playing field. She lays out a spirited, cogent account of how the changes caused by the 1948 Paramount decree sundering the studios' control of exhibition, combined with postwar demographic changes, the rise of the feared rival television, and the House Committee on Un-American Activities political trauma, collectively delivered knockout punches to the studio status quo. Mann brings together industrial analysis, cultural history, ideological battles, and movie industry trade paper tirades in order to frame the reorganization of studio management by the new generation of corporate talent agencies as a liberating but destructive force. Lew Wasserman of the Music Corporation of America is no entrepreneurial hero here but, rather, chief exemplar of the greedy, grasping invaders who only sought profit and control, not artistic creativity.

The balance of Hollywood Independents takes a more traditional Film Studies approach to the topic by undertaking close readings of films about big business and mass media—from The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (Nunnally Johnson, 1956) and The Hucksters (Jack Conway, 1947) to Executive Suite (Robert Wise, 1954)—that were produced by a small group of actors and directors who fought to become their own producers in the evolving industry. These films, which comment on the struggles between business and artistic needs that filmmakers found themselves in, are cynical exposés of the abuse of media power and the hypocrisies abundant in the changing media marketplace where film, television, public relations, talent, magazines, and gossip collided. [End Page 174...


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pp. 173-175
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