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The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way Paperback – December 15, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In mapping out his bold vision of how Hollywood movies of the 1930s, particularly comedies and musicals, were not mindless escapes from the Depression, but promoted egalitarian visions of democracy, May presents a startling, revisionist history of Hollywood's impact on politics and American culture. A professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, he explores such questions as whether FDR or Will Rogers was a more influential proponent of the New Deal; how Stepin Fetchit, whose very name has become synonymous with Hollywood racism, helped the status of blacks in the motion picture industry; and how Bob Hope and Bing Crosby's road movies helped move U.S. culture from the progressive ideals of the 1930s to the consumer culture of the 1950s. Prodigiously researched, his study is filled with revealing details--how Rita Hayworth was made literally whiter as she progressed from being a character actor to a star; how Warner Oland's portrayal of Charlie Chan resisted preexisting stereotypes of Asians in Hollywood films; how silent films promoted an idea of an all-white America; and how the introduction of sound allowed the immigrant experience to be more fully represented. May's perceptive readings of a wide range of materials--film scripts, union documents, newspaper reports, movie palace floor plans and war reportage--make for a convincing and important addition to American cultural criticism. (June)

Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

With its steady flow of gaudy musicals, idealized views of small-town American life, and "Capra-corn" fare like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Depression-era films are often regarded as escapist. Instead, May (American studies, Univ. of Minnesota; Screening Out the Past) argues that they formed part of a cultural dialog that reinvigorated the democratic spirit, creating an alternative vision of America. World War II and the Cold War ended the utopian romance of Hollywood and "validated a new corporate order and a homogenous consumer ethos." May contends that Hollywood iconoclasts (Marilyn Monroe, Billy Wilder) led the way for the 1960s counterculture and a conservative reaction led by old Hollywood pro Ronald Reagan. That's a lot for any book to take on, and along with thoughts on changing theater design, racial stereotypes in films, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) activities, and blacklisting, May has a lot to handle. Provocative theories compete with generalizations and simplifications, notably expressed in May's attempt to link the frothy Hope and Crosby "road" movies to a "taming of mass culture." This academic supplement to earlier studies like Neal Gabler's An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (LJ 11/1/88) is an appropriate purchase for university film collections.DStephen Rees, Levittown Regional Lib., PA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press (December 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226511634
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226511634
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,121,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is a well researched account of Hollywood during the Depression, World War II and at the beginning of the Cold War. It is a must for everyone interested in the history of Hollywood.
"The Big Tomorrow" depicts Hollywood as a 'populist and progressive world that offered a vision of an egalitarian and humanitarian world in film' before the 1950s. The author demonstrates this on the example of actor Will Rogers, a Cherokee Indian, director Frank Capra, and others. May shows that not only film content had changed but the theatres as well. The central themes were gangsters, fallen women and ribald comics while the language and dialects of the folk were used. The theatres underwent a change from lavish, sumptuous ones, where seating was divided between the high-paying and low-paying, to democratic movie houses. The author uses several photographs to illustrate the changes. Inside Hollywood actors, directors etc. formed unions that supported New Deal reforms. The second part of the book explains why World War II and the Cold War reshaped politics and moviemaking in Hollywood. May discusses censorship and the role of CIA agents in Hollywood. Films presented a 'new' woman now. Female characters focused ultimately on a home life that preserved traditional gender roles, symbolized in the rise of 'patriotic domesticity' while during the Depression female characters of 'empowered women' fulfilled themselves. May also points out the change in the portrayal of African Americans and Asians. The rise of anti-communism and its effects are dealt with. Those who wouldn't or couldn't prove their belonging to the communists were suspended. However, they found a new market for a dark 'film noir' that challenged the consensus and set the stage for a youthful counterculture in the 1950s and 1960s.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Robert Moore HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that is difficult to over praise. Over and over while reading this book, May helped me gain new insight into aspects of Hollywood cinema from the thirties, forties, and fifties, and continually suggested to me new areas of research to undertake. In the long run, I believe that his book is going to have a profound effect on the way that I view movies from those decades.
Before I move on to the considerable praise I want to heap on this book, let me dwell briefly on a couple of negatives. I think this book has a much broader appeal than the author might believe. The book takes an essentially popular subject, and couches it in an overly academic style. As someone with a strong graduate school background (albeit in philosopher rather than cultural studies), I managed to always make sense of his argument, but sometimes only with difficulty. There was also a too-heavy reliance on statistical data for my taste. Clearly he feels that the data gives greater force to and to a degree validates many of his arguments. But I feel that it also caused the book to drag at points.
But overall, this book is a stunner. The thesis of the book is a complex one, and any attempt to state it briefly will distort it to a degree. I will try to minimize my distortion. May begins by arguing that there was a radical shift in social and political outlook in Hollywood in the 1940s. The effort in Hollywood to eliminate political dissent and to promulgate a monolithic vision of America is well known. May argues that this was a break with the legacy of the thirties, in which the Hollywood talking film had developed as a mode of expressing an egalitarian, anticapitalist, and multicultural affirmation of the New Deal.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Jeff VINE VOICE on March 1, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you're at all interested in movies or popular culture in the US 20th century, this book really is a must read.

It tells the story of how the movie industry moved from a tone of egalitarianism in the 1920's and early 1930's to a very regimented and prepackaged style which downplayed the roles of the poor and minorities. Interrupted by WWII, this regimentation was extended into the 1950's as Ronald Reagan became head of the Screen Actors Guild and the film industry fell victim to the Red Scare and censorship.

The above might sound like standard leftist cant, but it is well documented by analysis of lots of primary source material some of which is shown in lengthy appendices. The reader is left with a strong sense that Lary May has really uncovered something here worth of wide discussion.

May is a gifted academic observer of the movies. His prior book on the rise of the studios and how theatres themselves changed in the 1930's is a great read. However, I thought this book took his analysis to a whole new level.

Again, if you are interested in American popular culture, or American movies, this book is a must read.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michelle Radmanesh on September 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book came from a great seller. the book cam in great condition and the s hipping was fast and easy...thank you
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0 of 10 people found the following review helpful By denny j Huber on February 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
May is American Studies Prof. at U. of MN,& wrote: "Screening Out-the-Past" He dislikes Bob Hope-Bing Crosby's.."mindless' Road pictures,also Ronald Reagan,(head, Screen Actors Guild)for stifling emerging "left-wing",independent producers,& all those who were not 100% anti-communist. Hopefully, he'll prove his points by updating with coverage of post 60's Hollywood....
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