Orson Welles to TIME: “Every movie expresses, or at least reflects, political opinion.”
Given that most of Hollywood today leans distinctly Democratic, I found this 1944 article from Time Magazine to be quite interesting, in terms of getting an idea of where the Hollywood players of the time stood on the political spectrum.
The article also brought forth a letter of response from Orson Welles, which Time published a few weeks later. In his letter, Welles notes that while he and other Hollywood types were ripe targets for satire, the political content of the films Hollywood was making were a serious matter.
Of course, 25 years later, in his own magnum opus, The Other Side of the Wind, Welles combined both satire of Hollywood with the right-wing Hollywood types he had known, as represented by the members of "The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals."
TIME Feb 14, 1944
Over the room-temperature burgundy and the chopped chicken liver, politics came to Hollywood. As the battle began, the right wing took up prepared positions at the swank Beverly-Wilshire Hotel. The left strung its forces along rows of white-clothed tables at the equally swank palm-studded Beverly Hills Hotel, three miles away. Then the giants fired deadly after-dinner speeches at each other.
The Leftists started it off by announcing a big Free World Association dinner, starring Vice President Henry Wallace. Rightists quickly formed a club of their own, rushed into dinner last week on the eve of Wallace's appearance.
The Hollywood Rightists called themselves "The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals." Purpose: to correct "the growing impression that this industry is made up of and dominated by communists, radicals and crackpots." The Generalissimo is urbane, graying Sam Wood, who diluted For Whom the Bell Tolls so that Spanish Fascists became "nationalists" and Spanish Republicans came out like the American G.O.P. His general staff includes Walt Disney, Rupert Hughes, one writer from Republic Studios, and ten Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives, faithful minions of Tycoon Louis B. Mayer. Gary Cooper, Hemingway's Spanish Republican hero, ate dinner with them. Hearst papers gave the affair pages of pleased attention.
But the Alliance's quickie production stole no scenes from the Free Worlders. More than 300 of screendom's best-dressed thinkers, from Jack Benny's Rochester to Thomas Mann, turned up to hear Henry Wallace. Marquee names on the committee included Jimmy Cagney, veteran Hollywood labor leader, Rosalind Russell and Charles Boyer. Heading them all was Dudley Nichols, who wrote the screen version of For Whom The Bell Tolls, and put in it what little anti-Fascism finally peeped through the Technicolor.
Henry Wallace was late for dinner. His motorcycle escort took him by mistake to the Rightists' Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, then rushed him at pre-rationing speed over to the Leftists' Beverly Hills. He was introduced with confident graciousness by California's Republican Governor Earl Warren ("We like his frankness . . ."). Wallace assured the moviemakers that they would get more business by "understanding the unexpressed hunger in the souls of moviegoers." But Academy President Walter Wanger (producer husband of Joan Bennett), with only a bit part on the program, got the biggest hand. He put aside his scheduled talk, and attacked the Alliance: "Let's keep the record straight. We, too, find home-grown communism as odious as home-grown fascism... But we do not intend to be misled by the familiar Hitler line by which communism is made the bogey... to confuse us."
The gauntlet was down. From now on, no Hollywood hostess was safe. Try as she might to keep her Max Factor powder dry, her very next swimming-pool party might become tomorrow's ideological battleground.
Orson Welles reply printed in TIME:
March 6, 1944
TIME's story on the Hollywood Free World Association v. the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals indicates no editorial preference for either organization but reveals in comic style an anti-Hollywood bias. We film-makers realize our community is a gorgeous subject for satire. We grant, or anyway most of us do, that we are the world's funniest people. You can write more jokes about us than you can about plumbers, undertakers or Fuller brush salesmen. Hollywood is guilty of deliberate withdrawal from the living world. It seeks to entertain, and we suspect that the success of the withdrawal is what makes Hollywood funny. But let TIME Magazine view with alarm or point with pride, but not laugh off Hollywood's growing recognition of the fact that every movie expresses, or at least reflects, political opinion.
Moviegoers live all over the world, come from all classes, and add up to the biggest section of human beings ever addressed by any medium of communication. The politics of moviemakers therefore is just exactly what isn't funny about Hollywood. TIME mentions "room-temperature burgundy and chopped chicken liver" as though these luxuries invalidate political opinion. TIME, whose editors eat chopped chicken liver and whose publishers drink room-temperature burgundy, knows better.
ORSON WELLES, Hollywood, Calif.
Well-fed TIME feels that the public should be kept informed about Hollywood politics, from soup to nuts. --Ed.