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  • "Movietime U.S.A":The Motion Picture Industry Council and the Politicization of Hollywood in Postwar America
  • Kathryn Cramer Brownell (bio)

In the summer of 1947, studio executives read with horror about how Great Britain planned to encourage the development of its domestic film industry by imposing a steep tax on American movies that would give 75 percent of profits to the royal government. By effectively closing the profitable British market to American films, the tax threatened to lower the revenue of the entire industry by 20 percent, which would, in the view of Samuel Goldwyn, bring "the complete end of independent motion picture production."1 The implications of such a tax went beyond the financial ruin of the industry, Goldwyn told President Harry S. Truman. "It means a definite deterioration in the quality of pictures which will represent the American way of life not only at home but abroad." The president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), Eric Johnston, agreed with Goldwyn about the dangers such a tax could cause both the industry and the pursuit of democracy in the postwar world. Comparing the British tax to "the old system of restrictions and trade barriers which so long was responsible for international economic confusion and chaos," Johnston reminded the president that such regulations [End Page 518] on international trade threatened the new world order that the United States had fought for in World War II.2 Another angry opponent, Walt Disney, also drew on the memory of war, reminding President Truman that since Hollywood studios voluntarily supported the "common problems of the United States and Great Britain in critical times," the U.S. government should ensure the flourishing of the Marshall Plan and the "free enterprise system" by eliminating the discriminatory trade barrier set up by the United Kingdom.3

Just as Truman had addressed Congress with bold anticommunist rhetoric to pass the Marshall Plan earlier that year, so too did Hollywood executives appeal to him using the same language to emphasize the importance of movies in achieving victory in Europe that the president deemed so essential to democracy's survival. Each industry spokesman reiterated the valiant and patriotic role Hollywood played in World War II and reminded Truman of the overriding importance of the industry to secure peace, democracy, and capitalism in war-torn Europe. While economic interests drove Hollywood leaders to protest the tax, anticommunism emerged as a powerful ideological framework that the increasingly conservative industry used to assure that the motion picture industry retained its place in American economic and political life.

Driven by financial concerns, industry spokesmen used anticommunist rhetoric to solidify a place for Hollywood in postwar American politics. Rather than upholding an age-old cliché previously popular in Tinseltown that there were three types of people: men, women, and actors—celebrities underwent a concrete effort to legitimize the profession by translating camera skills into ammunition against communism.4 Since its inception, the motion picture industry had faced opposition in American society as an industry whose commitment to entertainment, consumption, and personality threatened Victorian-based values.5 While during World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw the industry as an invaluable resource to spread wartime propaganda and his New Deal liberalism, Roosevelt's death and the rising tide of anticommunism brought public distrust of the manipulative power of entertainers in politics. Similar to businessmen across the country, while professing a commitment to "consensus," Hollywood leaders carefully crafted postwar political networks that simultaneously dismantled the ideological pillars of the liberal welfare state by promoting free-market ideas, traditional morality, privatization, and a desire to export American values and products that sometime led to partnerships with government it otherwise demonized.6 In a domestic and international campaign to boost the box office and assert [End Page 519] celebrities as respectable public leaders, the newly organized Motion Picture Industry Council (MPIC) emerged as a key institution to spread Hollywood's messages of economic freedom and morality to civic organizations and individuals across the country.7 By strategically organizing anticommunist publicity campaigns that promoted entertainment as the savior of American freedom and democracy, MPIC exposes the strategy that corporate Hollywood used to ensure profits at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1528-4190
Print ISSN
0898-0306
Pages
pp. 518-542
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-21
Open Access
No
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