New book: Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics, by Steven J. Ross *80 (Oxford)
The author: A film historian and history professor at the University of Southern California, Ross won a Film Scholars Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He also is the author of Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America, which was named one of the best books of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in History.
The book: Ross traces the intersection of Hollywood and politics from the early 20th century to today. By profiling 10 celebrities – five on the left, including Charlie Chaplin, Harry Belafonte, and Jane Fonda, and five on the right, including Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, and Arnold Schwarzenegger — he shows how the left and right gained popularity in Hollywood at different times and challenges the commonly held belief that Hollywood always has been a liberal stronghold.
Opening lines: “Political Hollywood started much earlier than most people realize. In 1918, FBI leaders William J. Burns and J. Edgar Hoover were so worried about the power of movie stars to affect the political consciousness of a nation that they ordered secret agents to maintain close surveillance over suspected Hollywood radicals. … The Cold War politicians who launched the Red Scare’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s also feared the power of movie starts to alter the way people thought and acted.”
Review: Library Journal called the book “entertaining and enlightening.” Ross, wrote the reviewer, explores “the motivations that drove each of [the movie stars] and [measures] the effectiveness of their efforts. Determining that Hollywood conservatives have been more successful at shaping the political direction of the country than those on the left … Ross nonetheless credits the film stars on the left for championing vital issues like anti-Nazism, civil rights, women’s rights, antiwar efforts, and economic justice.”