- Hardcover: 512 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; 1 edition (September 6, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0195181727
- ISBN-13: 978-0195181722
- Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.4 x 6.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,317,134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics 1st Edition
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"... resonant ... corrects the misconception that Hollywood is a beehive of liberalism and parses the divide between idealistic, telegenic charisma and the grit of partisan maneuvering." - Andy Webster, The New York Times Book Review
"Meticulously researched and well-plotted" -Ted Johnson, Variety
"Hollywood Left and Right is nonfiction at its best: entertaining and engaging, probing and provocative, detailed and comprehensive in coverage, multifaceted and far-ranging in its treatment, objective and balanced, appropriately paced in covering a complex, big story."
-Stephen Roulac, New York Journal of Books
"Steven J. Ross convincingly shows in Hollywood Left and Right that since its early days, the movie industry has been as quietly conservative as publicly liberal."
-Carolyn Kellogg, The Los Angeles Times
"Ross...provides concise case studies of movie-industry influence, from the silent film era to the present." --The New York Times Book Review
"In this fascinating study Steven J. Ross shows that Hollywood's impact on American politics has been longer lasting, deeper, and more varied than most people realize. Ross investigates Hollywood's influence by examining five activists on the right side of the political spectrum and five on the left." --American Historical Review
"[F]ascinating...a compelling survey of politics and celebrity." -Rowan Kaiser, A.V. Club
"Ross does a lot of things well. Each of his chapters offer skillfully limned portraits (Murphy and Reagan, whose careers coincided and interests overlapped, are treated as a pair)... Ross is also a deft analyst. He weaves in close readings of particular films, contextualizing them in their immediate sociopolitical environments." -Jim Cullen, History News Network
"As Steven J. Ross reminds us in Hollywood Left and Right, an entertaining history of the nexus between celebrity and politics, Hollywood intervention in politics is as old as the silents... Ross does a creditable job of providing the historical frame for today's political Hollywood. Writing in clear, workmanlike prose, he offers engrossing profiles of each of his subjects. At its best - the heartbreaking chapter on Robinson, the juicier passages on Beatty - the book can be downright revelatory. Indeed, the substance is impressive." --Elbert Ventura, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Well written, entertaining, and enlightening, this is highly recommended, especially for film buffs interested in the intersection of politics and culture." -Library Journal
"Steven Ross's engrossing book about the interplay between movie stars, politics and America's celebrity culture definitely lives up to its title. Focusing his tome, Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics on 10 of the movie industry's larger-than-life figures from the early 1900s to the present, he makes a convincing case that Hollywood has largely written, and continues to write, the script for modern American politics." -Albert Eisele, The Hill
"The stereotype of 'Liberal Hollywood,' always something between a myth and a slur, takes a sustained shellacking in Steven J. Ross' eye-opening history of the relationship between the movie industry and national politics." --John Patterson, Directors Guild of America
"A vastly informative and engagingly written book." - Booklist
"This is a well-written, solidly researched look at how Hollywood influenced the nation's politics well beyond the election of a former B-movie actor to the White House." -Robert Nott, Pasatiempo
"A fluent, even-handed account of an often-overlooked or over-simplified aspect of the US movie industry, and one whose lasting influence on politics can be felt today."
-- Times Higher Education
"Penetratingly researched history..." --Christopher Bray, Financial Times
"This is the smartest and most thorough investigation of Hollywood's role in American politics I have read, as well the first and only to give the Hollywood Right its due." -Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
"Ross has produced a thoroughly researched, extremely readable, and fascinating account of Hollywood stars, on the left as well as the right, who have used their money, influence, and star power, as well as their considerable organizing and leadership talents to create, sustain, and shape American political movements." -- The Center for Working Class Studies blog
"Steven J. Ross's Hollywood Left and Right is a deeply researched and well-written exploration of the sometimes bloody crossroads where our celebrity system and our political system intersect. It's a must-read for anyone interested in how opinion has been formed (and sometimes distorted) by the mass media over the last century of American life." -Richard Schickel, author of Conversations with Scorsese
"Because of such events as the HUAC hearings and the Black List, historians have tended to focus on the leftish side of Hollywood politics. In Hollywood Left and Right, Steven J. Ross brilliantly enlarges and complicates this standard picture to show the actual broad array of individual activists and movements, both liberal and conservative-from Chaplin to Schwarzenegger, Louis B. Mayer to Warren Beatty-that made the movie business such a shaping force in American culture." -Leo Braudy, author of The Hollywood Sign
"So Hollywood is a coven of fanatical lefties? Steve Ross tells that story with new detail and nuance, but he also meticulously and convincingly conveys the even deeper affinity between conservatism and Hollywood-an affinity that, as he amply shows, has had a far more powerful impact on American politics." -Neal Gabler, author of Walt Disney
"A benchmark study of the role that Hollywood stars and moguls have played in American politics...Ross' book allows us look behind the curtain and to glimpse the inner workings of the entertainment industry." -- The Jewish Journal
"A major, illuminating, unparalleled treatment of 20th century politics in Hollywood that no reader should miss." --Choice
"The result is a highly readable text that will undoubtedly appeal to the general public as well as to academics. ... Hollywood Left and Right makes several important contributions to the field of media industry studies. ... The book will provide an excellent starting point for students who want to delve more deeply into issues and individuals." --Political Science Quarterly
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The author starts with Chaplin, whom he characterizes as the first political movie star. The British-born actor's childhood was one of almost unbelievable poverty, something out of Charles Dickens, and it heavily influenced Chaplin's thinking and his movies (from his Little Tramp figure to his lampooning of Hitler). As early as the 1920's, J. Edgar Hoover saw Chaplin's movies as propaganda to influence Americans toward "the cause of labor movements and the revolution." As the author points out, Chaplin's films are less about Communism but more toward mocking authority figures in society, especially employers, the police, judges, and the rich. Ross explores how Chaplin's personal life (his preference for underage girls as romantic partners) help sink his movie career and caused him to leave America for good in the 1950's. At one time, Chaplin was so popular that there were those who thought he could have become president of the United States had he wanted a career in politics.
Ross then goes on to look at the influence on the right of such movie masters as Louis B. Meyer (who was the leader of the conservative movement among movie moguls), George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, and Schwarzenegger, as well as those on the left, Edward G. Robinson, Henry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, and Warren Beatty. I found the chapters on Robinson and Heston particularly fascinating, as they were the saddest stories. Robinson was not a Communist by any stretch of the imagination but he was a member of many left-leaning organzations. It is hard for many of us to understand today how unpopular in many quarters it was for people to be anti-Nazi in the 1930's, and there were even stars such as Mary Pickford who had definite pro-fascist leanings. Robinson was, as Ross stated, part of the liberal center, and as such he earned the wrath of the House Committee in the years following the end of World War II. His career shrank to almost nothing in the 1950's and '60's. Heston started out as a Civil Rights supporter who picketed for integrated lunch counters and participated in the March on Washington with Martin Luther King, but in his later years became a conservative who gave inflamatory speeches as the president of the National Rifle Association. His friends and the public noticed that as he grew older he ceased being, at least in public, a civil and tolerant figure. His deliberate assumption of the role of Moses (from his greatest acting triumph, The Ten Commandments)when speaking about gun control is looked at in depth by Ross.
Ross also takes an in-depth look at the the age of celebrity in politics by examining the career of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who improbably won the role of a lifetime for him -- governor of California. Schwarzenegger had had an interest in politics since his boyhood days in Austria and he educated himself upon his arrival in the states about American political issues. His movies were a combination of action oriented thrillers with a subtle political message to movies trying to show a softer, gentler side. When he ran for governor, he deliberately avoided the traditional political TV circuit of Meet the Press, C-Span, and Face the Nation, and appeared almost exclusively on entertainment programs, particularly late night TV such as Letterman. Ross points out that for Arnold winning was fairly easy but governing was hard. The book was published prior to the sexual scandal that ended his marriage to Maria Shriver shortly after he left office. This chapter is almost a guide book for a celebrity to use who wishes to avoid having to answer the harder questions about governance.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in Hollywood and politics. In each chapter, as he looks at the history of the actor or studio head, Ross attempts (successfully in my opinion)to show how each one influenced American culture and politics by their actions and their films. The author's thoughtful Epilogue takes a look at the 2008 presidential campaign, which he sees as an exercise in celebrity politics, particularly in how Oprah's endorsement of candidate Obama made a significant difference among people who rarely vote AND were viewers of Oprah's afternoon TV show. I agree with Ross in that celebrity politics is a mixed blessing in our culture -- on the one hand it has the potential to be frivolous (do we really care what the Dixie Chicks think of George W. Bush, for example), but on the other hand it can have the result of engaging members of the public who might otherwise spend an election year avoiding serious discussions to actually look at political issues. At the end, Ross makes a statement with which I fully argee: "[celebrities] fit the Founding Fathers' model of citizen - statement in that they had a vision of the world they wanted to see and they were willing to work to usher in that change....If every citizen behaved like them, the United States would be a far better place." And I might add that Ross has made this case effectively throughout the book with his examples and analyses.
A note on the Kindle edition: I always feel short-changed when Kindle users do not get the cover of the book but rather just the title page. I do not know who makes these decisions, but I am one who wants the cover! There were minimal typos and the photographs generally were clear and sharp.
There's no real balance, though the author will claim he attempted to show both sides by having one chapter about a conservative and another chapter about a liberal. The problem is that Hollywood isn't 50/50, it's almost all liberal and this writer refuses to acknowledge that. But his concluding words reveal his bias: "The Hollywood left's storyline has been one of hope and guilt: hope of what the United States could be and guilt that we are not doing enough to achieve that vision." Meanwhile, he calls Hollywood's few Republicans "simple" and "talking about a nostalgic Golden Age of America that never was."
How wrong he is. Just because conservatives don't share his vision of life doesn't mean it wasn't real. And Hollywood's stars, producers, writers and directors vote over 90% Democrat, so no matter how many pages of end notes he has (over 60!) it doesn't detract from the fact that this writer missed the basic truth: Hollywood is mostly left. And that's what has helped shape America. For him to claim otherwise is a fantasy and misrepresentation.