Showbiz Politics

Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life

Kathryn Cramer Brownell
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469617923_brownell
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  • Book Info
    Showbiz Politics
    Book Description:

    Conventional wisdom holds that John F. Kennedy was the first celebrity president, in no small part because of his innate television savvy. But, as Kathryn Brownell shows, Kennedy capitalized on a tradition and style rooted in California politics and the Hollywood studio system. Since the 1920s, politicians and professional showmen have developed relationships and built organizations, institutionalizing Hollywood styles, structures, and personalities in the American political process. Brownell explores how similarities developed between the operation of a studio, planning a successful electoral campaign, and ultimately running an administration. Using their business and public relations know-how, figures such as Louis B. Mayer, Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Harry Belafonte, Ronald Reagan, and members of the Rat Pack made Hollywood connections an asset in a political world being quickly transformed by the media. Brownell takes readers behind the camera to explore the negotiations and relationships that developed between key Hollywood insiders and presidential candidates from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, analyzing how entertainment replaced party spectacle as a strategy to raise money, win votes, and secure success for all those involved. She demonstrates how Hollywood contributed to the rise of mass-mediated politics, making the twentieth century not just the age of the political consultant, but also the age of showbiz politics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1981-1
    Subjects: History, Film Studies, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION Put on a Show!
    (pp. 1-11)

    Almost seventy years before the movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger launched a successful 2003 campaign for the California governorship on theTonight Showand used famous movie phrases like “Hasta la vista, baby” as his political slogans, another California gubernatorial drama played out over the airwaves, on newsreels, and in the printed press to captivate the nation for its entertainment value and political novelty.¹ Long before advertising budgets for electoral campaigns soared past $400 million, theNew York Timesfollowed a California race that stood out as “the costliest campaign in the state’s history.”² Decades before Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election to...

  6. CHAPTER ONE California-Made Spectacles
    (pp. 12-41)

    On March 12, 1929, Louis B. Mayer, a poor Jewish boy turned movie mogul, did not “sleep a wink.” Overjoyed after accepting Herbert Hoover’s invitation to spend the night in the Lincoln Bedroom at the White House, Mayer reveled in his rise from a penniless Russian immigrant to the guest of the president of the United States. He had worked diligently for the Hoover campaign and the Republican Party over the past few years, delivering speeches to businesses and voters across Southern California, and had emerged as a notable Republican figure in local circles. As he worked the local Republican...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Hollywood Dream Machine Goes to War
    (pp. 42-74)

    During the summer of 1941, Senator Gerald Nye (R-N.Dak.) turned up the heat on the motion picture industry. Angered by the 1939 Warner Bros. productionConfessions of a Nazi Spyand the recent release of Charlie Chaplin’sThe Great Dictator, the prominent isolationist spokesman passionately charged that Hollywood studios “had flooded” the silver screen with “picture after picture designed to rouse us to a state of war hysteria.”¹ Nye dramatically accused the industry, run by “foreign born” men from “Russia, Hungary, Germany, and Balkan countries,” of pushing the country to the brink of war because of their selfish desire to...

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Glittering Robes of Entertainment
    (pp. 75-101)

    On February 9, 1944,Variety, the major motion picture industry trade newspaper, ran two articles side by side that juxtaposed liberal and conservative political mobilizations in the industry. One headline declared, with the paper’s standard “catchy” abbreviations, “H’wood Alliance Formed to Combat Alien Isms in Pix; Sam Wood Prexy.”¹ This article discussed the formation of a new “nonpartisan” political organization, the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA) and the election of the conservative MGM director Sam Wood as its new president. In its statement of principles, the alliance not only declared war on subversive elements of...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Defending the American Way of Life
    (pp. 102-128)

    In the fall of 1945, OWI film reviewer Dorothy Jones evaluated the transformation that Hollywood had undergone throughout the war. “Traditionally, the motion picture industry has maintained that the primary function of the Hollywood film is to entertain,” wrote Jones.¹ However, the war had opened up new responsibilities and opportunities, and thus “traditional notions about film making which have so long governed the industry are slowly yielding to more progressive ideas about the function of film in the world today.” Jones, along with government officials and Americans across the country, eagerly waited for Hollywood to unleash its power in uniting...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Building a Star System in Politics
    (pp. 129-157)

    On Wednesday, June 4, 1952, the town of Abilene, Kansas, prepared for what theNew York Timescalled its “biggest event since the Union Pacific arrived just after the Civil War.”¹ Over 100,000 visitors crammed the streets, which Abilene had decorated with colorful red, white, and blue banners, balloons, and huge posters welcoming home the guest of honor. Tens of thousands cheered, and the school band played jubilantly when beloved military general Dwight D. Eisenhower walked off the train toward a long dusty dirt road that led to his childhood home. Having just relinquished his post at NATO and offered...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Asserting the Sixth Estate
    (pp. 158-187)

    Though only six years apart in age, Hubert Humphrey and John Kennedy appeared to be a generation apart in their efforts to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in the early months of 1960. During the Wisconsin primary, Humphrey followed Adlai Stevenson’s campaign approach as he traveled the state with the educational director of the United Rubber Workers, who strummed his guitar and sang folk music to appeal to the midwestern state’s farmers and workers. After his campaign speeches, Humphrey engaged in intense debates with voters over particular issues, attempting to win over the crowd with his mastery of the details...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Razzle Dazzle Strategy
    (pp. 188-224)

    On November 7, 1962, a bitter and tired Richard Nixon held what he called his “last press conference.”¹ Discussing his recent defeat by Democrat Pat Brown for the California governorship to a group of a hundred reporters at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, the former vice president made what theNew York Timescalled a “valedictory of his national political career.” With a quavering voice, Nixon delivered a fifteen-minute monologue, which ended with his famous last words to reporters: “Just think what you’re going to be missing—you don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” The California native showed his anger...

  13. CONCLUSION The Washington Dream Machine
    (pp. 225-232)

    In 1960, Robert Drew launched his new company, Drew Associates, which planned to employ mobile video technology to chronicle events as they happened, much the wayLifemagazine had so successfully done. Drew hired an up-and-coming filmmaker, a pioneer of a film genre that would soon be known as “cinema verité,” to record on video the primary campaign in Wisconsin between Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy. Working with Drew, D. A. Pennebaker captured the celebrity presence of the Massachusetts senator and the effects of a well-oiled publicity machine, which created Jack Kennedy fans wherever he went. The crowds, the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 233-278)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-311)