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Posted on May 10, 2012
Photo by Scott Beale

By Louise Rubacky

“Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics”
A book by Steven J. Ross

In “Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics,” Steven J. Ross details the public lives of 10 Hollywood notables who made significant marks on conservative and liberal political history. He includes celebrities famously associated with politics, such as Ronald Reagan, Charlton Heston, Jane Fonda and Warren Beatty, but also those less remembered for their political commitment, like George Murphy, Edward G. Robinson and Harry Belafonte. Ross examines the international, domestic and personal circumstances that attracted his subjects to activism, and follows the courses of their various careers.

With five on each side of the partisan gap, they are compared as representative chunks of oppositional politics, and evaluated for their sum effects on the country. Ross stakes the reasonable position that conservative efforts have been more effective in America—with longer staying power—than that of liberals, despite the constant
whingeing from the right wing about liberal media bias.

The volume is filled with engaging stories of fervor, success, determination and disillusionment, and they support his conclusion. But Ross’ thesis, overall, is as mild as the cover image: two directors chairs, one blue and one red, floating on a white background. The graphic conveys a gentle equivalence between right and left, and is an oddly apt reflection of the book’s weakness—an absence of critical context.

Early in the book, Ross raises the subject of Wall Street’s role in financing studios from the start, but leaves a gaping hole regarding the underpinnings of conservative power in Hollywood and Washington via major media outlets. He excludes discussion of the rapid corporate consolidation of media ownership in the latter part of the 20th century. Instead, Ross spends most of the book analyzing the relative talents and psychological effects of his subjects on one another and a susceptible public.

To see long excerpts from “Hollywood Left and Right” at Google Books, click here.

The dawning awareness and development of celebrity’s power to manipulate is important, as are the issues and pressures that initially draw stars to politics. Ross does note the function of big business in funding the conservative agenda, and later underlines the fast-growing effect of television during the ‘60s as Americans became increasingly bowled over by famous people. He goes on to correlate the prohibitive cost of broadcast time to the fact that no third party has been able to gain a serious foothold in the minds of Americans.

But he fails to make the essential connection between the Pac-Man-like corporate acquisitions of media companies that morphed into fewer and fewer large entities, and the right wing’s greater success in harnessing fame, image and content for its purposes of shrinking big government and shielding big business from regulation and taxes.

book cover


Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics


By Steven J. Ross


Edenridge Press, 386 pages


Buy the book

Author and professor Ben Bagdikian wrote about this steady power build in relation to the breakdown of reliable journalism in “The Media Monopoly.”

Bagdikian reported that when Reagan was first
elected in 1980, there were only 50 corporations that controlled most media outlets in America. In 1987, it was down to 29; by 2003, that number had shrunk to five. Since then, the media landscape has widened, allowing more voices via the Internet, but the outlets that reach the largest number of Americans—television, radio and movies—are still owned by a handful of multinational corporations.

Ross’ focus is not media conglomeration. However, there is much more to the right’s level of sway with the public than individual talent and timing. Access to star power, information and opinion is braided to those who control most of the mainstream media delivery systems and bears scrutiny. It’s all connected; mass media is the multitiered conduit to public perception of reality.

Still, Ross’ skill as a researcher and clear writer yields mostly evenhanded and sometimes heart-wrenching tales of the famous, passionate talents on whom he builds his book. His dense tome occasionally suffers from repetition because of overlap in some of the principals’ lives, but the stories remind the reader of how rarely fair and appropriate detail is relayed to the public by vendors of information and filmed stories, especially when it comes to celebrities.

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By jimmmmmy, May 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm Link to this comment

Gerrard .I remeber tough guy Bogart sucking up to Estes Kefauver live on TV during those “witch hunt” hearings,before Edward R. Murrow called bull-shit.

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By gerard, May 20, 2012 at 1:16 pm Link to this comment

Postscript:  Don’t forget, McCarthy’s chicanery knocked the political spirit out of Hollywood—what there was of it between the glitz and the gore.

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By jimmmmmy, May 14, 2012 at 10:39 am Link to this comment

Vector as a vietnam vet I’ve arrived at the same conclusion as you. Ms Fonda was right and courageous. A great American patriot. The vistas created by the carpet bombings were suppressed.

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By jimmmmmy, May 14, 2012 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

The definitive book on Hollywood is a book of that name by Gore Vidal .It’s historical fiction but has many facts about the start of the movie business and it effects on government starting around the 1920s these effects are still in play today.

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By vector56, May 13, 2012 at 5:20 am Link to this comment

The Movie “Battle Ship” is nothing more than a promotional recruiting piece of propaganda for the US Navy.

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By Jack W. Scott, May 12, 2012 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Thank you for the good article, this book begins to indicate the true scope of the problem of authority in America and the world.  “mass media is the multitiered conduit to public perception of reality.” is right on, Americans have their reality created, defined, and determined by their television experience. Most people think that if anything were wrong, television would tell them!  Oh, wrongo, publico, things have gone horribly wrong and television is NOT telling us!  Some scientists say that, due to ocean acidification, the oceans will die “in our lifetime”!  But, while it’s selling coal and oil and natural gas, does TV ever mention that it’s CO2 that’s doing this?  Nope.  Does TV ever even once show Solar Panels? Nada!  So, while the bloodthirsty audience grips their seats, waiting for the next exciting episode, the planet’s seas are dying, and when they go, that’s about it for us!  The fact is that Hollywood-Burbank is the ruler of this world, and while they get plenty of money for their cheap propaganda, their real purpose is Evil, pure and simple.  At the very beginning of their show-business career, they are all required to “sell their soul” to demonstrate their “dedication” to their art and craft.  And we can see the result in the character and content of their product.  I’m glad the political left is finally taking up on this obvious, ubiquitous element in our society, the omnipresent influence of the movies and television.

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By John Poole, May 12, 2012 at 11:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I would have thought Clooney may have gone for a third party possibility backing.
He’s probably prepping for a senator or governor shot as a democrat once he tires
of films. Still it is disappointing. He values seem to be in the right place.

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By John Poole, May 12, 2012 at 5:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

for bim: I’ve felt Clooney was very engaged with notable cultural concerns of our
time so it is baffling why he would back Obama. I was hoping his type would
finally break rank and push for a third party. I don’t expect someone like Streisand
and her ilk to “get it” (we need a radical departure from politics as usual) but
Clooney seemed different. I guess he can spin as good as Obama in deceiving my

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By gerard, May 11, 2012 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

Hollywood helped to create the fantasy world that was and still is “America”—whatever that illusory dreamworld is: The biggest most irresponsible nation in the presentday world; the lover of creativity and invention—especially A-bombs and drones; the “Christian” soldiers that kill more old men, women and children than any other nation on earth and are still so scared that they aren’t “taking anything off the table” (even “nukes”) and breathe down the necks of their own people. A mere 1% of its wealthiest citizens harbor retrograde delusions of grandeur, concentrating the wealth of the world in the hands of a couple dozen megathieves in New York City operating a handful of industries that are literally eating the world alive.  Well, there’s no end to the “asymmetries” once you get started. “And the Oscar goes to .....?”

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By Bernardo, May 11, 2012 at 8:36 am Link to this comment

Last night Clooney and friends (150 of them) donated 15 million to Obama.  Would you say that all of them are part of the 1% corporate ruling class?

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By vector56, May 11, 2012 at 5:27 am Link to this comment

Also, When Jane Fonda went to Vietnam she and her film crew recorded on film what “Carpet Bombing looks like from the ground. The bombed out schools and hospitals; the corpses of Women and children dumped is mass graves for public health. None of this seemed to have made it to the Corporate Media; but they gave unlimited air-time to Fonda sitting in the anti-aircraft gun turret.

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By vector56, May 11, 2012 at 5:20 am Link to this comment

Obama and the Democrats repeatedly hold up Ronald Reagan nostalgically as what a reasonable Republican should look like. I would also guess that most Democrats would have no problem having their picture taken with Charlton Heston.

Jane Fonda on the other hand usually causes most Democrats to run for the hills! The very thought of her sitting in the “Gook” anti-aircraft gun; laughing and carrying on with the enemy as if they were just as human as we are? Personally, I think Fonda had more “balls”  and integrity than “The Gipper” and “Movie Moses” combined! Bottom line is that the Vietnamese did not attack us; therefore they were not our enemies. As a matter of fact they were “victims”  and Jane Fonda had the guts to point that out.

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