previous chapter
The Hollywood Picture
next chapter


7. The Hollywood Picture


Why Wait for Posterity?

Irish Barry

Iris Barry is one of the founders of the London Film Society. She is also one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art Film Library, where she is now curator. In addition to being a regular reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune Books, she is the translator of Bardèche and Brasillach's History of the Film, the author of several novels, and has written widely on the motion picture.

. ….

Since the cobbler's children are always the worst shod, it is natural enough that Hollywood should be almost the last place in the world where the films of the past are esteemed seriously. Film executives have been known to speak rather grandly now and then about preserving films for posterity, in the spirit, presumably, of those who seal up cans of Spam, phonograph records, and newspapers in the foundations of new buildings. For, though the producing companies all scrupulously preserve their negatives, since in their physical possession and through the copyright act the legal ownership of story rights is thus assured, nothing has ever been done by the industry itself to make it possible to see the screen classics of the past. It would probably be absurd to expect it to do so, for several reasons. First, it could not possibly be profitable. Second, the problem of selection might be an embarrassing one. But chiefly such an undertaking would run counter to the main impulse of the film community. The men who finance and produce motion pictures, as well as the men and women who make them, are inevitably and primarily concerned, not with history or the films of the past, but with the films they are planning for tomorrow or making today. It is, likewise, not painters or sculptors who establish museums or become art historians!

Yet the film companies have made one great concession in this direction. To make it possible for outstanding films of the past to be seen and studied they have permitted, under necessarily severe restrictions and for strictly noncommercial purposes, an educational institution to obtain prints of important older films at the cost of making the prints, and to

circulate these to other nonprofit organizations. The institution that does this is the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Its exhibitions of painting, sculpture, architecture and housing, primitive and folk art, industrial design and the like are nationally famous. Its exhibitions of films are becoming so, for in the course of a year, at daily showings in the Museum auditorium, a series of sixty-eight American and thirty-six foreign motion picture programs now runs the gamut of international film history from Louis Lumière and Edison's films of 1895 to John Huston's Maltese Falcon and Capra's Why We Fight series. Extensive series of these same "old" films are also given regularly, among other places, at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum, Vassar College, Cornell University, and the University of Texas. The audience is a considerable one, and it is growing.

Founded in 1935, with John Hay Whitney as its president, and financed by subscriptions from patrons of the Museum and a three-year grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Museum of Modern Art Film Library was originally launched auspiciously in Hollywood, and its plans were warmly approved at a party which, with Mary Pickford's permission, the officers of the organization held at Pickfair in August, 1935. Louella Parsons even went to town about it twice that very week! At the party, Will Hays extended his favor to the enterprise before a distinguished group of guests. Sam Goldwyn, Harold Lloyd, and Walt Disney, as well as Miss Pickford herself, promised to contribute to the collection of outstanding films of the past which the Museum planned to amass, "so that the films may be studied and enjoyed as any one of the other arts is studied and enjoyed." Prints of the Lloyd comedies, incidentally, were the first to arrive, which is why the work of that admirable comedian, his ageless The Freshman and inimitable Grandma's Boy, were the first to be familiar to a whole new generation.

The problem of obtaining prints from the big producer-distributor companies was necessarily more complex. Terms were finally worked out that proved acceptable to the legal departments of Paramount, Loew's, Twentieth Century–Fox, Warners and Universal, so that early in 1936 the Film Library had actually begun to rent out its first series of programs [1] to colleges, museums, and other nonprofit organizations, which were thus

for the first time able to institute a study of the growth, technique, aesthetics, and sociological content of the most popular and liveliest of the arts. Gradually the Museum's collection grew. Between 1936 and 1939 a selection of French, German, Russian, and Swedish pictures was obtained direct from negatives in Europe, so that epoch making productions such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Polemic could be seen once more in uncut versions. In view of what was to happen shortly afterward in Europe this was particularly fortunate, for much has since been destroyed there. Public-spirited individuals like Mrs. Edwin Knopf, who donated a print of the Eleanore Duse Cenere of 1916; Mrs. Philip Manson, who contributed the Asta Nielsen Hamlet of 1920; and Messrs. Krimsky and Cochran, from whom Maedchen in Uniform was obtained, all added to the muster. In 1939 the late Douglas Fairbanks placed all his own negatives, as well as prints of some of his earlier pictures, in the Film Library's safekeeping. William S. Hart was next to follow suit, and recently Colleen Moore contributed prints of many of the pictures she had starred in. In 1939 all that remained of the old Biograph Company negatives were acquired from R. H. Hammer (and what a problem they constituted, with their single perforations!). In 1940 there was added what remained of the Edison Company's material. Most important and most complex, the post-Biograph films of D. W. Griffith had already been secured.

Since so little of the work of the Film Library is known to the body of filmmakers, it will perhaps be useful to elaborate somewhat upon the many technical and financial obstacles that were encountered.

The Museum of Modern Art, unlike most other famous museums, has no endowment and is in receipt of no public funds. Established in 1929, exactly nine days after the stock market crash, it has nevertheless developed steadily through depression and war. In 1939 it acquired its own building, and raised the money to pay for it in full. But its ever-increasing annual budget has never been met by its income[2] from a growing attendance, phenomenals

sales of publications, rentals of exhibitions and film programs, and the annual dues from memberships, which now exceed 8,000. Nor have the extremely generous contributions of its trustees and supporters always entirely covered the resulting annual deficit. As one of its largest and costliest departments, the Film Library has therefore, save for the first years, also continually been short of funds. No gift of money has ever been made, nor has even one $1,000 life membership ever been subscribed by anyone in films, and in ten years only two contributions have been received from any film organization.

It is hardly necessary to explain how costly a medium celluloid is. The storage and insurance charges for the Film Library's 18,000,000 feet of film are alone a large item. When the American producer-distributors permitted the organization to obtain prints from the negatives which they themselves preserve, it was on condition that the cost of the prints and of print replacements be met by the Museum. Only to look at a film costs money when it is necessary to pay to have a print made before even an exploratory look can be given to it! Furthermore, the Museum was faced with the even heavier expense of making duplicate negatives from foreign films of which prints had been obtained abroad, because it was the only way both to insure preservation and to make certain of a supply of further prints as they should be needed in the future.

Beyond these financial problems lay graver ones of a technical nature. We might assume, and almost everyone will agree, that such landmarks of the cinema as Tol'able David, It Happened One Night, Male and Female, Greed, and The Black Pirate—to take but a few titles almost at random— are among the "musts" in any retrospective of film history. Let us see what even so brief a list has entailed.

To begin with The Black Pirate: One Technicolor print of this was turned over to the Museum by the actor-producer himself, along with the rest of the Fairbanks material. His estate now owns everything, but the Film Library holds the material and has the right to use it noncommercially. A second print had been acquired, with much else, when the Harvard University Film Foundation transferred its collection to the Museum in 1936. The Harvard print dated from 1926, the print from Fairbanks was by no means new, and Fairbanks had made The Black Pirate in two-color Technicolor, which has long been obsolete. No new color prints can be made. As there was obviously no advantage in letting the


Male and Female(1919), by Cecil B. DeMille,
with Gloria Swanson (center)

[Full Size]

two original prints deteriorate unseen in a vault, they have been occasionally projected with special care at the Museum, where they have given delight to a few thousand people. But they are now (as they would equally have been had they remained in the vault) at the point of final deterioration. The only way to salvage something of this splendid film, either for living students or for posterity, is therefore to make a duplicate black-and-white negative from which future prints—still in black-and-white, of course—can be made. The Museum's annual appropriation for this kind of work is inadequate to its needs, and there is other and equally vital material that calls for urgent attention. But The Black Pirate has been duplicated and will be preserved, even though not, alas, in its original form.

Happily, the films Male and Female and It Happened One Night presented no difficulties except for an allocation of money for future replacement of existing prints and the obtaining of permission—not yet forthcoming—to circulate the latter. Such permission is often delayed, or subsequently withdrawn temporarily, because a remake is due or because the 16-mm. or 35-mm. rights have been leased to a distributor.


The case of Tol'able David was a grave one. The film was remade in 1930, and apparently the original negative no longer exists; certainly it has not been traced. Fortunately, Richard Barthelmess himself had kept a good print in his possession. This he recently presented to the Film Library, and so, now that consent has been obtained from its legal owners, a duplicate negative and positive prints have been made.

The story of Greed has always been an unhappy one, as with many of von Stroheim's films. The Museum obtained both 16-mm. and 35-mm. prints, which were made, of course, by the owner-producer company from its negative, though paid for by the Film Library. No one regrets more than the staff of the Library that these prints are not the equivalent of the film as von Stroheim finished it; but I am among those who would far rather see the briefer (and magnificent) version that does exist than nothing at all, and it does seem a little odd that the Film Library should be abused, as it has been, because someone else had cut the Von Stroheim picture!

The Film Library has faced another kind of problem with certain early talking pictures. In some, the negative sound track has shrunk, so that even with special laboratory work it is difficult to get satisfactory results. There were also early Vitaphone sound-on-disk subjects, like The Lights of New York, which seemed to possess historical interest, so that the Film Library had to have a special re-recording job done, again at the Museum's expense, with Warners' consent. It would be only fair to add here that, friendly and coöperative as all the major companies have been, Warners has from the beginning been the most coöperative of all.

I have already referred to the technical difficulties which the old Biograph negatives presented. Thanks to the wonderful craftsmanship that characterized that firm's work, they were found to be in prime shape although they had been stored in a tumbledown building, with broken windows, which the Fire Department had condemned as a menace. Incidentally, the quality of the original laboratory work on negatives proves to be the most important factor in determining the life of any film. Film rushed through the laboratory carelessly and in haste will deteriorate in less than a decade. Careful workmanship has kept other negatives sound for fifty years.

But when the Film Library was founded it was not the Biograph films only that had been lost to view. Most of D. W. Griffith's major productions were inaccessible even to him, for unhappily he had been a creative

genius but not a businessman. Some of his most famous pictures were being held against unpaid storage bills; others were afterward included in a receivership sale; and the Film Library made it its first obligation to rescue as much as possible of this material. When recovered, by no means all of it was in good shape. The holding laboratory had already reported some of the negatives in "very bad condition," and not all prints were complete. The negative of Intolerance, for example, that was finally obtained measured 10,872 feet, although two positive prints measured approximately 11,000 feet each and one acquired earlier measured 11,446 feet. Footage missing from the negative was consequently duped from the prints and cut in to provide the most complete record of this superb film that it was possible to make. Only lack of adequate funds has prevented the Museum from taking heroic measures with all the Griffith material. I am of the opinion that new dupe negatives of his films should, ideally, have been made up immediately; but the Museum had, even in its first years, spent close upon $10,000 in laboratory work on Griffith pictures alone. Therefore we can only hope to continue this work of restoration gradually, year by year. On the other hand, if D.W.'s memorable contributions to Biograph and thereafter are visible at all, it is due solely to the efforts of the Film Library. And, if the Museum has rather noticeably not been besieged by present-day directors, editors, or cameramen wishing to study the work of Griffith, and of Bitzer, his master cameraman, thousands of students and admirers outside the industry have during the past ten years been able to enjoy it again.

Unfortunately, in many places the programs of the Film Library are shown only through 16-mm. prints. Everyone knows that 16-mm. projection frequently leaves much to be desired, not only because of the smallness of the screen and the length of the throw, but because all too often the prints are of inferior quality. This may be because they have been made up from dupe negatives, themselves made from worn or incomplete prints. As I have said earlier, sometimes this is all that remains. In art museums we are forced to content ourselves with casts made from broken sculptures; yet these are esteemed highly. It is also unfortunate that the making of 16-mm. prints, particularly since the war, is often rushed and poor work. Poor visibility on the screen is just as likely, or more likely, to come from poor projection—inadequate illumination, dirty aperture, inaccurate focusing, or sound adjustment. It is a pity, then, that all too

many colleges, museums, or film societies where the Museum's film programs are shown are equipped with 16-mm. projectors only. But in view of the high cost of 35-mm. equipment and of employing a licensed operator to run it we must expect this situation to persist. Even in Hollywood, for many years past, the only showings of films from the Museum's collection have been confined to the 16-mm. ones. This, too, is a surprising and regrettable circumstance, which one earnestly hopes that the Guilds will ultimately remedy.

Whatever the cost, the difficulties, and the shortcomings in the presentation of the Film Library's programs, the basic question is whether the project was worthwhile. What, really, is the point in dragging old films back to light?

First, I believe that it benefits the general esteem and standing of the motion picture industry as a whole; for if the great films of the past are not worth taking seriously and are not worth reëxamination, then presumably neither are the "great films" of today. It would be unthinkable that the only books available to literary men and women should be no more than those published in the past year or so. And what critical judgment could then be exercised? The opportunity to refer again to the more important films of the past must surely serve the same purpose as a library of books serves a writer. Then too, there is of course the simple question of pleasure: films like the brief Uncle Tom's Cabin which Edwin S. Porter made in 1903, or Ince's The Italian(of which only one 16-mm. print is known to exist), or Flaherty's Moana, Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, the early Seastrom pictures, Million Dollar Legs, or Keaton's The Navigator are a delight to look upon, besides being packed with ideas and ingenuity. Do you want to see Billy Sunday or Caruso, the Czar, Pavlova, or Bernhardt? Are you curious to know what the original "vamps," "flappers," or "bright young people" looked like? Only the films of the period—A Fool There Was, Our Dancing Daughters, Flaming Youth—can accurately and fully serve as documentation. Finally, there is the value that the older films may have to technicians of today. Was there not something about the cutting of Intolerance or Potemkin or Public Enemy, something about the camerawork in The Last Laugh or that romantic early Garbo picture The Atonement of Gösta Berling, that it might be profitable to recall?

It is upon the last question that Hollywood as a whole might perhaps most usefully linger. The Museum of Modern Art has collected the material,

but, beyond a certain point, only Hollywood can help the Museum to use it fully and profitably. To be specific, one of the next tasks that faces the Museum's Film Library is the preparation and compilation of programs that will illustrate and analyze film technique. There should obviously be available studies of the work of cameramen, and of editors, a comparison of the work of directors in handling similar dramatic situations, an inquiry into the past use of sound and music. This can be best done by a careful selection of sequences and scenes from films, rather than by whole films. It will be a long and complex job, and an expensive one.

Now is the time for Hollywood and its technicians to join with the Film Library in a collaboration that would once and for all give precise information to students everywhere about the styles and innovations, the creative contributions, of the men and women working in motion pictures everywhere in the world for the past fifty years—the achievements that have carried the motion picture from its celebrated infancy to near-maturity and made it indeed an art (as well as an industry) with which one can truly be proud to be connected.

  • The Atonement of Gösta Berling. (The Story of Gösta Berling.) Svenska-Biograf, 1923. Director, Mauritz Stiller. Novel, Selma Lagerlof. Scenario, Mauritz Stiller and Ragnar Hylten-Cavallius.
  • The Black Pirate. Allied Artists, 1926. Director, Alfred Parker. Adapted by Jack Cunningham from a story by Elton Thomas (Douglas Fairbanks).
  • The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Decla-Bioscop, 1919. Director, Robert Wiene. Scenario, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz.
  • Cenere. Ambrosio-Caesar-Film, 1916.
  • Flaming Youth. First Nat'l, 1923. Director, John F. Dillon. Novel, Warner Fabian. Scenario, Harry O. Hoyt.
  • A Fool There Was. Fox, 1914. Director, Frank Powell. From the play based on Rudyard Kipling's poem The Vampire.
  • The Freshman. Pathé, 1925. Directors, Fred Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. Story, Sam Taylor, John Gray, Ted Wilde, and Tim Whelan.
  • Grandma's Boy. Pathé, 1922. Director, Fred Newmeyer. Screenplay, Hal Roach, Sam Taylor, and Jean Havez.
  • Greed. MGM, 1923. Director, Erich von Stroheim. Novel, McTeague, by Frank Norris. Scenario, Erich von Stroheim.
  • Hamlet. Art-Film, 1920. Director, Svend Gade. Scenario, Erwin Gepard.
  • Intolerance. Wark Prod. Corp., 1916. Director, D. W. Griffith.
  • It Happened One Night. Col., 1934. Director, Frank Capra. Short story, Night Bus, by Samuel Hopkins Adams. Screenplay, Robert Riskin.
  • The Italian. 1915. Director, Thomas Ince.
  • The Lights of New York. WB, 1928. Director, Bryan Foy. Story and scenario, Hugh Herbert and Murray Roth.

  • 252
  • Maedchen in Uniform. Deutsche Film, 1931. Director, Leontine Sagan. Play, Yesterday and Today, by Christa Winsloe. English text, Donald Freeman.
  • Male and Female. Par., 1919. Director, C. B. DeMille. Play, Sir James Barrie. Scenario, Jeanie Macpherson.
  • The Maltese Falcon. WB, 1941. Director, John Huston. Novel, Dashiell Hammett. Screenplay, John Huston.
  • Million Dollar Legs. Par., 1932. Director, Edward Cline. Adapted by Henry Myers and Nick Barrows from story by Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
  • Moana. Famous Players–Lasky, 1920. Written and directed by Robert J. Flaherty.
  • The Navigator. MGM, 1924. Directors, Donald Crisp and Buster Keaton. Story, Jean Havez, Clyde Bruckman, and Jo Mitchell.
  • Our Dancing Daughters. MGM, 1928. Director, Harry Beaumont. Screenplay and story, Josephine Lovett.
  • The Passion of Joan of Arc. La Société Générale des Films and L'Alliance Cinématographique Européenne. 1928. Director, Carl Theodor Dreyer. Sources, trial records. Scenario, Carl Theodor Dreyer, in collaboration with Joseph Delteil.
  • Potemkin. First Studio of Goskino, Moscow, 1925. Director and writer, S. M. Eisenstein.
  • Tol'able David. First Nat'l, 1922. Director, Henry King. Screenplay, Henry King and Edmund Goulding.
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin. 1903. Edwin S. Porter.
  • Why We Fight. U.S. Signal Corps. (All under supervision of Col. Frank Capra.) No. 1: Prelude to War. Narration, Maj. Eric Knight and Capt. Anthony Veiller. No. 2: The Nazis Strike. Narration, Maj. Eric Knight and Capt. Anthony Veiller. No. 3: Divide and Conquer. Narration, Maj. Eric Knight and Capt. Anthony Veiller. No. 4: The Battle of Britain. Narration, Capt. Anthony Veiller, Maj. Eric Knight, and S. K. Lauren. No. 5: The Battle of Russia. Narration, Capt. Anthony Veiller.


Hollywood—Illusion and Reality[*]

John Howard Lawson

Hollywood is consistently, relentlessly publicized; yet most of the people who know the motion picture industry as their means of livelihood and the focus of their lives will agree that the general public is uninformed, or blatantly misinformed, even by well-intentioned commentators, concerning the realities of motion picture production, the problems that face the craftsmen in the industry, and the community in which they live. I am not referring primarily to the expensive foolishness about the stars that fills the fan magazines—a comparatively unimportant by-product of the system of stereotypes and illusions which creates a false perspective concerning everything pertaining to the production of pictures.

Let us consider, as an example, an article by Raymond Chandler on "Writers in Hollywood" in the November Atlantic. Chandler has much that is pertinent, and indeed imperative, to say about the importance of the script as the key to the process of picture making, the failure to make effective use of writing talent, and the straitjacketing of creative freedom under the present studio system. But Chandler's useful comments on the underestimation of the writer are invalidated by his own underestimation of everything that concerns Hollywood. He begins by observing that "Hollywood is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon." He notes the danger of exaggeration, citing a critic's casual reference to "run-of the-mill $3,000-a-week writers." He very properly stresses the fact that "50 per cent of the screen writers of Hollywood made less than $10,000 last year."

Having set himself the task of describing the real Hollywood, the author finds himself drawn irresistibly within the gates of the illusory Hollywood,

the never-never-land of spendthrift zanies and comical incompetents. Having warned against the danger of economic exaggeration, he proceeds to walk into the trap: "There are writers in Hollywood making two thousand a week who never had an idea in their lives, who have never written a photographable scene, who could not make two cents a word in the pulp market if their lives depended on it." The actors are also easy to lampoon. Hollywood makes "historical epics in which the male actors look like female impersonators, and the lovely feminine star looks just a little too starry-eyed for a babe who has spent half her life swapping husbands." As for the producers, "Some are able and humane men and some are low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat, the artistic integrity of a slot machine, and the manners of a floor-walker with delusions of grandeur."

It is not my purpose to argue about these characterizations. Every community has its quota of frivolous, ill-mannered and evil persons. The point I wish to make relates to the repetition of clichés; Chandler even uses the old one that "nearly every sleeve conceals a knife"; the repetition creates a cumulative distortion. Since screen writers are "a pretty dreary lot of hacks," and since they are content to live in an "atmosphere of intellectual squalor," it seems fatuous to suggest that they be granted greater artistic freedom. There is no indication that they would know how to use this freedom if they had it.

Writers may derive some comfort from the fact that they are becoming increasingly prominent in the strange hierarchy that is supposed to inhabit the Hollywood wonderland. Emil Ludwig describes the makers of screen plays in a recent issue of a French newspaper; the article is translated from the German, but it may be permissible to quote a passage as it appears in French, in order to preserve its Gallic flavor. The writers, according to the eminent historian, "ont la taille svelte, portent volontiers des chandails bariolés, changent de maîtresses plus souvent encore que de studios." Perhaps none of us in Hollywood have seen these "svelte" writers, wearing their gaudy sweaters and changing mistresses more frequently than they change studios, but we can welcome them without rancor as additions to the interminable gallery of fictitious Hollywood portraits.

The Hollywood stereotype, like other stereotypes, has not been manufactured accidentally. It is a significant social phenomenon. Those who perpetuate the myth may have diverse purposes and viewpoints. But the

cliché retains its power, whether it appears as an unabashed harlequinade of the Once in a Lifetime sort, or under the guise of sober "scientific" investigation with appropriate statistical tables as in Leo Rosten's Hollywood, or in the subtleties of Christopher Isherwood's Prater Violet. The net result is the building of an ungainly Rube-Goldberg-cartoon edifice, which stands between the serious craftsmen who are the majority of the industry's workers and the audience they seek to serve. It is probable that most of the members of that audience—which covers the world—know nothing of the problems of the industry or of the social awareness and invigorating concern with the creative potentialities of the medium that are characteristic of the real Hollywood.

An analysis of the mythology that has grown up around the American picture industry would involve a difficult research job, but it is to be hoped that some scholar will undertake the task. It would be an invaluable contribution to our understanding of social attitudes toward the motion picture. It might also reveal the underlying forces and pressures that shape these attitudes. At a time when the freedom of the screen is under attack by powerful political and economic interests, it may not be amiss to note that mockery and illusion can cushion the attack and divert attention from the issues of public policy that are involved. As long as the average citizen thinks of Hollywood as a glamorous funny house, he cannot think of it as a place where a public trust is fulfilled, and where the most sacred of our traditional liberties—freedom of thought and freedom of communication —must be preserved.


Negro Stereotypes on the Screen[*]

Leon H. Hardwick

Type casting is a common curse in Hollywood. Possibly the most unjust example of this practice is the persistent typing of the entire Negro race as menials and buffoons, a tradition that has been followed ever since the establishment of the American film industry. Now, after many years, a protest is beginning to be heard. The change in attitude is traceable to the growing social consciousness that has developed in this country in the last few years. Nowhere has this increased awareness become more noticeable than among Negroes themselves.

The most forceful protests have come from Negro servicemen who have served overseas. These men have seen the astonishment of people in Asia, Africa, and Europe at discovering that the average American Negro soldier is a normally intelligent and self-assured individual rather than the ignorant and illiterate buffoon habitually portrayed in our films.

Among the civilian population, too, there have been objections to this stereotype. Negro newspapers, civic and political organizations, and ministers and teachers are opposing this harmful distortion. As succinct proof that the Afro-American group is not composed exclusively of illiterate menials, they point to the 1940 Bureau of Census statistics. These figures show that at that time there were in this country some 3,524 Negro physicians and surgeons; 2,339 college presidents and professors; 1,052 lawyers and judges; 132,110 craftsmen and foremen in industries; and 6,801 trained nurses.[1]


What has been the colored American's relationship to the film industry in all these years? Negroes entered Hollywood motion pictures as early as 1915 as "atmosphere" and "extra" players. Among the most popular of the early actors was Noble Johnson, who played innumerable non-Negroid feature roles. Perhaps the earliest protests from colored moviegoers were lodged against D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, on the grounds that the picture harmed good race relations by depicting Negroes as rapists and slaves.

About fifteen years ago Clarence Brooks portrayed the role of an educated West Indian doctor in Arrowsmith, in which Ronald Colman was starred. In 1932, Hazel Jones played a beautiful Burmese siren whose wiles ensnared the late Lon Chaney in West of Singapore. About the same time, Etta Moten was cast as a South American singer in Flying Down to Rio. These performances, however, were never very loudly acclaimed because the parts represented groups other than American Negroes.

From 1941 to 1944 there was a decided improvement in Hollywood's treatment of the American of color. The emphasis on morale-building entertainment as part of the war effort resulted in an increased employment of Negro players. They took part in entertaining members of the armed forces at various camps and recreational centers and in bondselling drives and other war-related activities.

During the same period the Negro public displayed a growing interest in colored players and in the types of roles assigned to them. Most of the studios answered affirmatively the demand for better and more dignified roles for colored artists. Ernest Anderson played the ambitious youth in In This Our Life, in which Bette Davis was starred. Kenneth Spencer appeared as a Negro war hero in Bataan. Rex Ingram played an important role in Sahara. Ben Carter was seen in a dignified part in Crash Dive. Dooley Wilson received much favorable comment for his work in Casablanca.

Three years ago, two all-colored films opened new avenues. The cast of Stormy Weather included Lena Horne, Bill Robinson, Cab Calloway, and many other Negro artists. Cabin in the Sky featured Ethel Waters, Rochester,

and Lena Horne. The latter picture was criticized for its stereotyped theme of the Negro's conception of God.

In the past year or so there has been a decided drop in the employment of Negro actors and actresses. It is said that orders have been given to "write out" Negro characterizations in story scripts, for fear of giving offense. But Negro leaders contend that the fight against the stereotype cannot be solved by the expedient of eliminating the Negro from pictures. They say that the problem of readjustment of values between the makers of motion pictures and the Negro public involves the creation of more understanding and a clearer conception of issues. A recognition of these factors will bring about a change in racial conception as interpreted in our domestic movies.

I have already pointed out that the war has brought about a deep sense of racial consciousness within the Afro-American group. Indeed, the Negro recognizes that he has a large stake in the current struggle to highlight the importance of the social responsibility of motion pictures in the creation of new patterns of universal understanding and interracial adjustment.

  • Arrowsmith. Goldwyn-UA, 1931. Director, John Ford. Novel, Sinclair Lewis. Screenplay, Sidney Howard.
  • Bataan. MGM, 1943. Director, Tay Garnett. Original screenplay, Robert D. Andrews.
  • The Birth of a Nation. Director, D.W. Griffith. Novel, The Clansman, with supplementary material from The Leopard's Spots, by the Rev. Thomas Dixon, Jr. Screenplay, D.W. Griffith and Frank Woods.
  • Cabin in the Sky. MGM, 1942. Director, Vincente Minnelli. Musical play book, Lynn Root. Screenplay, Joseph Schrank.
  • Casablanca. WB, 1942. Director, Michael Curtiz. Play, Everybody Comes to Rick's, by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison. Screenplay, Julius T. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch.
  • Crash Dive. Fox, 1943. Director, Archie Mayo. Original screen story, W. R. Burnett. Screenplay, Jo Swerling.
  • Flying Down to Rio. RKO, 1933. Director, Thornton Freeland. Story, Louis Brock.
  • In This Our Life. WB–First Nat'l, 1941. Director, John Huston. Novel, Ellen Glasgow. Screenplay, Howard Koch.
  • Sahara. Col., 1943. Director, Zoltan Korda. Story, Philip MacDonald. Screenplay, John Howard Lawson and Zoltan Korda.
  • Stormy Weather. Fox, 1943. Director, Andrew Stone. Unpublished story, Jerry Horwin and Seymour E. Robinson. Screenplay, Frederick Jackson and Ted Koehler.
  • West of Singapore. Mono., 1933. Director, Al Ray. Author, Huston Branch. Adaptation, Adele Buffington.


Today's Hero: A Review

John Houseman

John Houseman, co-founder with Orson Welles of the Mercury Theater, divides his time between producing and directing motion pictures in Hollywood and plays on Broadway. His last picture was The Blue Dahlia. He is currently directing a modern version of The Beggar's Opera with Duke Ellington's music.

. ….

Every generation has its myth—its own particular dream in which are mirrored the preoccupations of its waking hours. In years of rich artistic activity the myth becomes absorbed into the intellectual and emotional life of its time. In a period of general anxiety and low cultural energy like the present the dream reveals itself naked and clear. Then we witness the fascinating and shocking spectacle of a nation's most pressing fears and secret desires publicly exhibited in whatever art form happens, at the moment, to be the most immediately accessible to the largest mass of its people. Today this art form is the Hollywood-made motion picture.

I have argued elsewhere against the notion that Hollywood enjoys any real free-will in the choice of its subjects. The best it can do, in the general run of its product, is to reflect as honestly and competently as it can the interests and anxieties of its hundred million customers. That this reflection is at the moment a rather frightening one can hardly be blamed on the entertainment industry. The current "tough" movie is no lurid Hollywood invention; its pattern and its characteristics coincide too closely with other symptoms of our national life. A quick examination of our daily and weekly press proves quite conclusively, whether we like it or not, that the "tough" movie, currently projected on the seventeen thousand screens of this country, presents a fairly accurate reflection of the neurotic personality of the United States of America in the year 1947.

The current American Legend, like all such myths, assumes varying forms. It shifts, changes, and feeds upon itself, grows more outrageous and fanciful, until finally it bursts of its own absurdity. Since this might

John Houseman be happening any day now, I believe this is the proper time to analyze the "tough" movie at the moment of its fullest and ripest development. From among the motion picture advertisements of any current big-city newspaper, a perfect specimen at once presents itself.

The Big Sleep is based on a not very recent detective story by Raymond Chandler. Its plot is complex—too complex to be understood by most of its audiences, and far too complex to be related here. In one essential respect the picture differs from the book. The latter is a narration, the unraveling of an elaborate tangle of interrelated events. The movie by its very nature is a dramatization. Thus its values are automatically changed. The book was cynical, hardboiled, and quick-moving—a slick, atmospheric job of detective fiction written by Chandler with a fine contempt for his characters and the sordid world they inhabit. Marlowe, in the book, is an instrument of the plot; the other characters are colorful signposts in a complicated maze. In the movie the approach is basically romantic. Marlowe is played by an important male star. He makes love to a rising and very lovely female star. To a hundred thousand paid customers this spells Romance, and Marlowe's exploits become the stuff of contemporary American Legend.

So let us examine him, today's Hero, this fellow who follows Heathcliffe, Mr. Rochester, Buffalo Bill, Horatio Alger, and Little Caesar into the romantic dreams of the English-speaking world. He is not young; he is somewhere in his middle thirties. He is unattached, uncared-for, and irregularly shaved. His dress is slovenly. His home is a hall bedroom, and his place of business is a hole in the wall in a rundown office building. He makes a meager living doing perilous and unpleasant work which condemns him to a solitary life. The love of women and the companionship of men are denied him. He has no discernable ideal to sustain him—neither ambition, nor loyalty, nor even a lust for wealth. His aim in life, the goal toward which he moves and the hope which sustains him, is the unraveling of obscure crimes, the final solution of which affords him little or no satisfaction. For this he receives twenty-five dollars a day (plus expenses), and he certainly earns it. His missions carry him into situations of extreme danger. He is subject to terrible physical outrages, which he suffers with dreary fortitude. He holds human life cheap, including his own. The sum of his desires appears to be a skinful of whiskey and a good sleep. In all history I doubt there has been a hero whose life was so unenviable and whose aspirations had so low a ceiling.


In the Heroine he has a worthy mate. She is by Arlen out of Hemingway, a sister under the skin to Iris March and Brett Ashley. Like those heroines of the First World Peace, she drifts through life in a hopeless, smoldering kind of way. Some obscurely disgraceful event in her past overshadows her present and inhibits her from intelligent behavior. Unlike her more vital sisters, who swept glamorously up and down the continent of Europe in Blue Trains and Hispanos, she sits moping discontentedly in her father's house. Her shady entanglements are not with members of the international fast set, but with an obscure and melancholy gangster operating in the San Fernando Valley. Like the Hero, she is utterly lacking in ideals and ambition.

At certain intervals throughout the picture, Hero and Heroine are left alone together to conduct their joyless and ill-mannered courtship. When, in the end, they get together, one wonders whether they do so under some mysterious working of the laws of natural selection or whether their merging is simply due to the fact that everyone else in the movie is dead, in irons, or on the lam.

These, then, are our protagonists. Surrounding them is a whining herd of petty chiselers, perverts, halfwits, and nymphomaniacs—poor, aimless creatures without brains, without skill, without character, without strength, without courage, without hope. Not only are they totally lacking in moral sense; they seem to have no sense of anything at all—except fear. From first to last they move through the story with one single desire —to be left alone. "We know we are no good," they seem to say, "we are sad, futile, foolish people. But our crimes are petty. We do not really hurt anybody much except ourselves and each other. After all, this is a free country. Let us be."

In one of the current "tough" pictures, technically one of the best, the Hero, finding himself spotted by his enemies, lies in bed waiting for them to come and finish him off under the blankets. And here, I think, is the key to the nature of the present American Legend. The howls of certain critics and ladies' organizations notwithstanding, it is not violence and spasmodic savagery that are the outstanding features of the "tough" movie. Violence is a basic element in American life and has always been an important element in American entertainment. What is significant and repugnant about our contemporary "tough" films is their absolute lack of moral energy, their listless, fatalistic despair. In this respect they are in direct contrast to the gangster film of the ‘thirties, which was characterized

by a very high vitality and a strong moral sense. The vitality may have been antisocial, the moral tone may have stemmed from a false morality bred of power-hunger, lust, and greed, but at least the energy and the morality were always present; and so, consequently, was the tragic sense. The Hero (Little Caesar, Scarface, et al.), misguided, arrogant, and brutal though he may have been, rose triumphant, by his own will, against fearful odds. When he finally fell, he did so with a sort of tragic grandeur, paying the price of his sin. The inevitable and deeply moral lesson of the gangster picture was: crime may be profitable, glamorous, and lots of fun, but in the end you pay the price with your life! The moral of our present "tough" picture, if any can be discerned, is that life in the United States of America in the year 1947 is hardly worth living at all.

It is not by chance that so many of the successful pictures of our time, those which attract our highest professional talent and technical skill, are "Whodunits" and thrillers in which the tension is entirely external and mechanical, never organic. The "tough" movie, generally speaking, is without personal drama and therefore without personal solution or catharsis of any kind. It almost looks as if the American people, turning from the anxiety and shock of war, were afraid to face their personal problems and the painful situations of their national life.

One final, technical observation. For some years now the "Whodunit" has achieved a special kind of quality in its preoccupation with genuine atmosphere and realistic detail. Hitchcock started it with his English chase pictures. Since then, the tradition of carefully selected, significant realism has lent distinction to many of our American suspense pictures, e.g., Double Indemnity, Murder, My Sweet, The House on 92nd Street, and the Third Avenue scenes of Lost Weekend. In this respect, The Big Sleep marks a violent and deplorable retrogression. Its southern California characters wander through a fairyland of studio back lots and sound-stage exteriors as unreal as the squares and mansions inhabited by the gentry in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's British upper-class romances.


An Exhibitor Begs for "B's"

Arthur L. Mayer

Arthur L. Mayer, for twenty years a theater exhibitor, both circuit and independent, owns the Rialto Theater in New York, which has recently terminated a long-time policy of exhibiting blood-and-thunder films exclusively, in order to show foreign films instead. With his partner, Joseph Burstyn, he has imported many memorable foreign films, among them Open City. Also active in documentary production, Mr. Mayer is a director of World Today, Inc., founded by John Grierson, as well as supervisor of Pilot Films, the Motion Picture Association's experimental educational project. During the war he served as Assistant Coördinator of the War Activities Committee of the Motion Picture Industry, as Film Consultant to the Secretary of War, and as Assistant to the Chairman of the American Red Cross.

. ….

FOR YEARS THE SELF-APPOINTED custodians of our morals—economic as well as social—have accused the motion picture industry of being a monopoly dominated by the producers and the distributors, who, by means of a nefarious device known as block booking, have compelled exhibitors, and therefore audiences, to consume bad films along with the good. Bad and good, in this kind of thinking, were synonymous respectively with cheap and expensive. If exhibitors were no longer compelled to book "B" pictures in order to obtain "A's"—so went the argument—the artistic and intellectual standards of the screen, now depressed by greedy movie magnates, could soar to rarified levels. Through a system of trial and error—government trials, and the errors of all concerned—this Utopia has at length been achieved. It now appears, however, that in destroying block booking our blockheaded reformers have also undermined the industry's primary expedient for progress—a fumbling, crawling expedient, but better than none. I refer to those "B" pictures which used to be produced, without stars, at costs of from $100,000 to $300,000. Untrammeled by either huge costs or the necessity of "protecting" an investment in a featured player, they provided a field for occasional experiments in thematic material, and a testing and training ground for new directors, writers,

cameramen, and actors. Out of these "B's" came much that was appalling, but a saving fraction that made for progress and higher standards.

Even a spokespaper for the industry, the Motion Picture Herald, refers to the "necessity of stemming the current declining tide in quality." A reliable survey indicates that although 85,000,000 persons in the United States are in a financial position to go to the movies at least once a week, only 60,000,000 are regularly doing so. A potential audience of 25,000,000 is apparently so cold to the current movie merchandise that it has developed an immunity to advertising superlatives and all the ballyhoo of exploitation. This situation deeply disturbs the studio executives and they proceed to lose their heads completely. They cut their advertising budgets, reorganize their executive staffs, retaining the institutionalized dead weight, and discharge young employees with young ideas. Obviously, if moving pictures, both as commerce and as art, are to prosper, and if in spite of tripled production costs they are to meet successfully the challenge of the rapidly rising tide of television, outdoor night entertainment, and foreign film production, some new means for encouraging the spirit of innovation and initiative which dominated their early days must be devised.

It must be emphasized that the pioneers of the picture industry were experimentally minded. "Pants pressers," I have heard them derisively designated. If that were true—and it is not—they would have creased trousers horizontally, diagonally, or in any other unprecedented fashion calculated to excite public comment and to enhance private profit. To the casual observer they appeared mild, meek men. But in the spirit they were wild-eyed, irrepressible rebels. Their lofty ambitions were matched by their lively imaginations. They looked at a small animated picture in a box and saw the germ of the greatest mass medium of entertainment, art, and communication that man has ever known. They took the shadows of which Edison thought so slightingly that he declined to invest $150 in an application for foreign patents, and transformed them into the substance of a two-billion-dollar industry. They haunted nickelodeons and dreamed of marble palaces with regimented ushers, luxurious lounges, rising orchestra pits, and rising admission prices. The three-minute, jerky snatches of battleships and of girls climbing apple trees blossomed before their eyes into three-hour reconstructions of the classics, technically impeccable though slightly altered in content for mass consumption.


The legitimate theater from which at first they drew a sustenance of hack performers and creaky dramas faded into a satellite stage. Adolph Zukor would introduce Sarah Bernhardt in Queen Elizabeth to Main Street; Jesse Lasky bring Geraldine Farrar from the Diamond Horseshoe to the Bijou; Samuel Goldwyn cultivate Mary Garden; Carl Laemmle dream of the star system, which, in the hands of Metro and Paramount, would eventually darken his small Universal.

The unique nature of the new medium was explored by its exploiters. There were no shackling traditions. No one maintained that he knew exactly what the public wanted. No themes were too high-brow or radical; no actors too unknown, too passé, or too subversive; no technical difficulties insurmountable. Pictures ceased to be made in the streets (now, with critical acclaim, they are returning to them) and were staged on studio sets. Writers, cameramen, directors, actors, laboratory technicians—frequently one and the same—learned the rudiments of their trade. The director discovered how to guide the seeing eye of a mobile camera, and the cameraman how to manipulate it so as to intensify audience participation. Together, they explored a new world of double exposures, dissolves, strange camera angles, and pictorial composition to create mood and emphasis. Shamefaced actors, condescending between theatrical engagements to appear on the screen, acquired new techniques more realistic and more akin to pantomime than anything that had been required of them on the stage. The art of editing was discovered, with its fluid manipulation and interplay of sequences.

The story of how the experimental screen of thirty years ago was converted into the assembly-line production methods of today is far too long to recount here. Nonetheless—occasionally by intent, sometimes by accident, and frequently with considerable stealth on the part of all participants —pictures continued to emerge which strayed from the well-worn familiar paths and tried, in content or mechanics, to tell a new story, or to tell the old story in new terms. They cost little, as compared with present standards, and consequently a producer could afford now and then to give his craftsmen some leeway for innovation. He used them also to introduce and to train new writers, new directors, new actors, new cameramen, new editors, new musical directors. Occasionally, one of these experimental "B" pictures boomed into a box-office bonanza. Hitler's Children, which cost less than $150,000, proved a gold mine for Edward

Golden, its producer, and brought to its adaptor, Emmet Lavery, and its director, Edward Dmytryk, the mingled joys and tribulations of national reputations.

On the whole, guided not unnaturally by considerations of immediate income rather than cinematic progress, the exhibitors are little inclined to experiment with experimental pictures. They have found the movie going public pathetically apathetic to art and readier to spend its hard-earned cash for escapist entertainment than for significant studies of controversial issues or the miseries of mankind. Their zeal for the development of new screen personalities is tempered by the sad experiences of seeing their protégés of yesterday adorning the marquees and screens of their competitors.

Under the much-abused block-booking system the exhibitor had little choice. To get the good pictures he had to play the bad, or at any rate what he considered the bad. It cannot be denied that this system of buying films like fruit in a basket, good on top, bad at the bottom, encouraged the production and consumption of as vast an avalanche of triviality as has ever been inflicted upon a public, inoffensive or otherwise. With rare exceptions, producers, authors, directors, and performers of "B" pictures seemed to consider the assignment a chore below their personal dignity, to be performed perfunctorily, carelessly, and ineptly. They regarded themselves as copycats following the path of least resistance, rather than as bloodhounds on the trail of thrilling new audience scents or, more accurately, cents.

Block booking, however, served as a vehicle for a substantial amount of dramatic and technical innovation that proved of great value to subsequent "A" productions, and for the schooling and introduction to the public of many of the present brightest luminaries of the film firmament. It is doubtful if any five-million-dollar specials did more to advance the cause of good pictures than such comparatively inexpensive films as Von Sternberg's Salvation Hunters, Flaherty's Moana, Mamoulian's Applause, Vidor's Our Daily Bread, Dieterle's Fog over Frisco, Capra's Flight, Hecht and MacArthur's The Scoundrel, John Ford's Lost Patrol, Leo McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow, Preston Sturges' The Great McGinty, Garson Kanin's A Man to Remember, Val Lewton's The Curse of the Cat People, and Adrian Scott and Edward Dmytryk's Crossfire.

It could be argued that a system of distribution which encouraged such provocative productions will be judged to have more than atoned for its

sins. Certainly, no large industry can continue to prosper, no art to flourish, which fails to assure progress through constant experimentation and the encouragement of innovations. The majority of our leading directors and stars, from Porter and Pickford to Wyler and Van Johnson, were trained in the hard school of inexpensive films. Samuel Goldwyn, over the years the most consistent producer of high-class, high-cost pictures, cut his eye teeth on program features. Great cameramen like Gregg Toland, James Wong Howe, and Karl Freund had years of experimental work behind them before they achieved their present mastery of their art.

Nevertheless, the opponents of block booking, unmindful of such considerations, arose in their righteous wrath. Smiting right and left, they have felled that innocent bystander, the experimental picture. Under the recent court decree, block booking is banned. All pictures must be sold individually. Every film must stand or fall on its potential box-office merits. There must be competitive bidding by exhibitors for each production. Such an auction-block system can only increase the present pressure for star values, elaborate production, and huge advertising campaigns. The learned judges can now repair to their homes and over the teacups bewail the immaturity of the films and their lack of social content. They have devised a scheme not even dreamt of by government prosecutors or ladies' club lecturers, guaranteed temporarily to increase producers' profits and permanently to impede cinematic progress. Some new performers may be developed in limited numbers on the legitimate stage, or imported from abroad. Some competent authors, albeit untrained in the mysteries of film adaptation, may be tempted from the less lush fields of fiction and drama. But where or how shall we develop the directors, cameramen, and technicians of the future? How many producers will dare to experiment with new personalities, much less new themes, new backgrounds, and new techniques in pictures costing two million dollars and more?

The elimination of "B's" is not solely attributable to the ban on block booking. Hollywood, always prone to excess, has inflated even the inflation. In the past four years the prices of stories and materials, the remuneration of labor from the most expert to the least skilled, has risen so much that the cost of producing anything from a short to a super-duper has almost tripled. While expenses mounted and war prosperity brought longer runs, the studios produced fewer and fewer films. In 1941–1942 American movie companies made 534 pictures. In 1946–1947 there were approximately 375. Warner, Metro, Paramount, Universal have for the

past few years shunned "B's" like the plague and associated themselves exclusively with high-budget pictures. They have indicated no change in their production plans for the immediate future. With declining production, employment fell during the past year alone from 30,000 to 21,000. For the first time in many years, 20th Century–Fox and several other major companies report that in a period longer than six months they have not signed a single actor or entertainer from Broadway. The men and women thrown out of work, the returning veterans who cannot find jobs, the newcomers who cannot even find a place to sleep, are in large measure young people vibrant with old visions now discarded by their disillusioned elders and with new ideas of how to achieve them. If the motion picture industry neglects to train these boys and girls, if it denies them an opportunity to develop and perfect their skills, it is ruining not only their futures but its own.

During the last year there have been, as there always will be, a few exceptions to the rule that experimentation and expensive pictures do not go hand in hand. MGM's The Beginning or the End represented a huge investment in an effort to dramatize, so that all who sit can see, the dangers inherent in atomic-bomb warfare. Its good intent was of the highest order, but it was soon playing on double features with a Skelton comedy billed above it. Eugene O'Neill's Mourning Becomes Electra, although its artistic merits may be the subject of acrimonious debate and its box-office fate the subject of universal agreement, is a lavish and laudable adventure on the part of RKO. Louis de Rochemont's Boomerang, like its predecessors The House on 92nd Street and 13 rue Madeleine, proved a noteworthy effort to utilize documentary techniques, which made such rapid strides during the war, as a medium for exciting tales of current events. It was of such pictures that Michael Curtiz once said, "They make your hair stand on the edge of your seat." They discard the shackles of formal studio sets and go to the city streets for their backgrounds and even for nonprofessional players in minor roles. They may well serve to stimulate the long-sought production of pictures in areas remote from the Hollywood scene, particularly New York City, where the ferment of an international capital, combined with the presence of talented authors and actors, laboratory and studio facilities, make such ventures in independent production particularly propitious. Cost, however, as well as exclusively high-brow appeal, must be cautiously pruned. In the entire United States there are fewer than 100 theaters catering primarily to sophisticated, novelty-seeking

audiences—"sure seaters," we used to call them because seats were always available. Foreign films, even those of merit, have seldom in the past grossed more than $50,000. A technically satisfactory two-reeler costs more than that today.

For many years, unit production, as opposed to the mass methods of major companies, has been the white hope of the intellectuals. The comparatively high standards of the Goldwyn, Selznick, and Disney organizations have in a measure justified faith in independent production. During the war, motivated more by the burden of high taxes than by a desire for freedom of self-expression, many directors and performers seceded from the major companies and formed their own producing units. Thus far they have done nothing to prove that their standards of skill and taste are superior to those of their former employers. Now, with the increased pressure of inflated costs and deflated loans, it would be unreasonably optimistic to expect them to venture far in experimental fields.

This is even truer of independents, like Monogram for example, which specialize primarily in inexpensive action pictures, westerns, and reproductions on a modest scale of major-company successes. A notable recent exception by a company which never before dallied with novelty was Republic's Specter of the Rose. Ben Hecht was given a free hand as writer, producer, and director to forage in new pastures. The verdict at the box office was negative, but it is reassuring to know that his sponsors are financing Orson Welles in the production of Macbeth on a short shooting schedule.

All in all, however, a dark cloud obscures the American silver screen. English, French, Italian, and Scandinavian pictures are surging forward, vibrating with new aspirations and newly acquired skills. Film lovers who have not yet seen the Italian picture Paisan, the French Battle of the Rails, or the Danish Day of Wrath have a treat in store for them. Unless domestic producers are prepared to return to the eager experimentalism of their early days, their leadership in the cinema world is threatened. Other industries spend millions in their research laboratories. General Electric and Standard Oil know that these millions are not wasted. Comparatively speaking, through renewed production of "B's," the motion picture industry could finance its research with little loss and with occasional surprising profits.

But the "B's" of the future cannot be the "B's" of the past. Like Crossfire, they must be formative rather than formula. They must experiment with new subjects, new attitudes, new locales. They must make no assumptions

about public taste except that, like the tide, it flows and ebbs even when it is least apparent. They must welcome new talents and new faces, some of which will eventually become the best-loved talents and faces in the world. Above all, they must be made by men—and there are hundreds of them in Hollywood and elsewhere—who are proud to prove that, although handicapped by small budgets, they have the instinct and the craftsmanship and, above all, the passion, to illuminate the road to the future.


A Word of Caution for the Intelligent Consumer of Motion Pictures

Franklin Fearing

Franklin Fearing, professor of psychology at the University of California at Los Angeles, is a member of the editorial board of the Quarterly of Film, Radio, and Television. He is directing the research of graduate students in the fields of social psychology and the problems of human communication. During the summer of 1951 he conducted graduate courses at Columbia University, and spoke at the Consumer's Union Conference at Vassar College. The following article is based on the talk Dr. Fearing delivered at the conference. Both his address and one given at the same meeting by Dallas W. Smythe will be published in a forthcoming volume, Consumer Problems in a Period of International Tension, Consumer's Union of the United States.

. ….

DALLAS W. SMYTHE has discussed in some detail the problems relating to the consumer's interest in television and radio sets and in programming. While I am assigned the topic of films, I think almost everything I have to say holds with equal force for radio and television. There are differences, but from the point of view of the social scientist, these are the mass media of communication, and the factors we are interested in are found in all of these media.

Dr. Smythe has implied that you are interested, as intelligent consumers, in better programs. I want to say something about some of the problems that come up in trying to decide what precisely we mean by the term "better programs" or "better films." I can't offer you any criteria so that you will know whether you are going to like the next movie that you go to see. The testing that researchers do in this area is quite different from the kind of testing that Consumer's Union does with respect to tomato juice or vacuum cleaners. It has a different implication. It is called effects analysis and is mainly concerned with the impact of films and radio programs on people. What effects, if any, do the contents of these programs have on human beings, on their attitudes, their beliefs, and more concretely

on their behavior? How do people react to films and the other mass media? What role do these media play in their lives? What purposes do they serve in society?

The answers to these questions so far as systematic research at present can answer them will not tell us directly the differences between "good" and "bad" films, nor will they give us anything in the nature of a list of the Best Buys, so familiar to Consumer's Union subscribers, in films and TV programs. I think we should be clear on one point. The questions with which we are here concerned can only be answered, even tentatively, by carefully designed research conducted by trained investigators. Social causation is always complex. A seemingly unimpeachable connection between stimulus A and social effect B may turn out to be only apparent. The armchair dicta of even the most intelligent and sophisticated observers can only give us hypotheses which carefully planned research may endeavor to test. This research is quite tedious and undramatic, but as the results accumulate, they may give us a basis for understanding the role, and hence a policy regarding the control of the great mass media of communication in our society.

Many people have strong feelings and beliefs about these problems. It is here that the professional and amateur viewers-with-alarm, good people all of them surely, tend to get high blood pressure. They witness a film, for example, which has a great deal of violence in it, or which depicts crime, or they listen to a radio program which is filled with violence, or crude slapstick, and vulgarity, or they watch Johnny listening, and they get dreadfully alarmed about the effects on Johnny. And the people who are more vocal in this matter tend to implement their alarm. They set up campaigns to do something about it. Currently a favorite target for such activities in many communities has been the comic strip. It is another mass medium of communication, and what I have to say will apply equally well to it. Periodically there is a wave of interest in the supposed evil effects of comic strips, and good people form committees to do something about them.

I am sure you are familiar with this kind of attitude, and probably most of us one time or another have shared this concern, and a feeling that something ought to be done. We don't like what we hear or see on radio or TV programs and we feel that their effects must be bad, that they are probably responsible for the increase in juvenile deliquency or the divorce

rate, or whatever social ill about which at the moment we happen to be concerned. And if we are vocal and articulate, we find it very easy to set in motion the machinery of reform.

Back of these attitudes and activities are some interesting assumptions, assumptions which need careful analysis, and assumptions about which we need to have a considerable body of data before we are ready to organize a committee or try to pass a law or try to get the local police force on the job. Let us examine some of them.

The basic assumption seems to be that there is a simple causal connection between the content of a film or TV program and human behavior and attitudes. In other words, Johnny might become a delinquent or do something very, very bad after seeing a similar act on the TV screen.

The assumption that there is a simple relationship between the mass media and the behavior and attitudes and beliefs of human beings needs careful testing. It is here that we confront a paradoxical situation.

On the one hand, on general grounds, it seems that films, for example, have had a tremendous impact on human culture all over the world. It is almost trite to say that the content of films, as determined in a very small area in Los Angeles County, in one way or another has affected people all over the world, has changed their interests, habits, and even moral standards. If it is true that films can have such far-reaching effects, surely they could also cause Johnny to become a drug addict or to commit a crime, or, at the very least, put wrong ideas in his head.

On the other hand—and here is the seeming paradox that I want to explore with you this evening—research, conducted as carefully as we now know how to conduct it, reveals that the effects of these media— films and radio, especially films—on human attitudes and behavior is unexpectedly slight.

I want to proceed cautiously here because I am very conscious of the difficulties of conducting rigorous research in this area. It may be that our inability to demonstrate clear-cut effects of films or radio means that our methods of investigation need to be sharpened, and that with better procedures we might find more effects than now appear to be the case. This important qualification underlies all that I have to say.

Let us look at some of these researches. I think they might interest you from the point of view of their methods as well as their results. Perhaps the most elaborate study of the impact of films on human beings yet

undertaken is the investigation of the effects of films used by the army in World War II. The film program of the army probably represents the most extensive use of films for concrete educational purposes yet attempted. Films were used by both the army and navy at every step in their training program as educational devices.

There were two types of films. One group was called "nuts and bolts" films, and the other "orientation" films. The nuts and bolts films were concerned with teaching specific skills. There were films on the thousand-and-one specialized activities which men in service had to learn.

The orientation films, on the other hand, are of special interest to us, because they resemble the Hollywood commercial product a little more closely. As the term implies, the orientation films used in the army were concerned with modifying the attitudes, beliefs, and motives of the individuals who were exposed to them. The best example of the orientation films, some of which you may have seen, were the "Why We Fight" series. "The Battle of Britain," "The Battle of Russia," and "The Battle of China" are three notable examples.

These films were magnificently done. They were made by the besttrained film people, writers and directors and so on, in Hollywood, and that means from the technical point of view probably the best that can be found anywhere. These are magnificent documentaries, interesting, dramatic, exciting.

The general intent of these films was to interpret the goals of the war to the soldier, to increase his confidence in our allies, and to intensify his hostility toward the enemy—in a word to strengthen his motivation to fight. The general method was to marshal the facts in the most cinematically effective and dramatic form, and allow the soldier to draw his own conclusions. This is, of course, a widely accepted method and is the basis of much educational procedure.

The analysis of the effects of these films has recently been published in one of the four volumes called Studies in Social Psychology in World War II.[1] Volume III, called "Experiments on Mass Communication," reports the results of all the tests of the effects of these films.

Now what are the results?


In the first place, the nuts and bolts films, the ones designed to teach skills, as tested in this and similar investigations, showed up very well; they were successful as adjuncts in the process of training soldiers in these various specific skills and imparting specific information. But, when the test results of the effects of the orientation films on general attitudes and motivations were carefully analyzed they were found, on the whole, not very great. That is to say, when opinions and beliefs were tested in various ways before exposure to the film, and then retested afterward, there was surprisingly little change in the direction intended by the makers of the film. The most definite effects were on the amount of factual knowledge and on opinions specifically covered by the film. The films had very little effect on opinions or attitudes of a more general nature. In the matter of the men's motivation to serve as soldiers—one of the primary objectives of the orientation film program—the tests showed no effects.

An interesting exception to these general results was the so-called sleeper effect. It was found that in some groups, although there was no detectable effect on opinions and presumably on behavior, immediately after the film, there were effects that could be detected some nine weeks later, especially in individuals shown by tests to be already predisposed to accept a particular opinion.

If you are concerned with carrying the torch for films as a means of affecting people's opinions and motivations, the sleeper effect should give you some support. If it turns out that this delayed effect is especially marked on the individual's generalized attitudes rather than on specific attitudes, it will be an important finding indeed. This will be true even if this effect is restricted to individuals already predisposed in the direction of the film content.

I have briefly, much too briefly, summarized some of the results of a very extensive research on the effects of films, especially on attitudes and opinions. And bear in mind that it is with regard to this area that many people are most nervous. They fear that a film showing violence, as I have said, may make people tolerant of violence. In other words, they assume that people, or at least certain people, passively accept whatever is presented to them on the screen or in the TV and radio program. While it is true that we cannot translate directly to the Hollywood commercial product the results of these investigations on a particular kind of film shown under the conditions that existed in the war situation, nevertheless they

do have some bearing on our problem. They suggest that people do not come to any kind of communication situation with blank minds, and that attitudes and opinions are perhaps more resistant than we had thought.

There are other researches that bear on this last point. I will describe very briefly an investigation of a more specific sort which was undertaken at the University of California by Dr. Daniel Wilner working as a graduate student under my direction.[2]

You may have seen the film called Home of the Brave. It is an excellent film, and is, in fact, the first film which broke the taboo that had existed for a long time in Hollywood regarding films in which the problem of the Negro and Negro-white relations was the central theme. It is a dramatic, even a melodramatic film, the protagonist of which is a Negro soldier.

We were interested in finding out how individuals who by various tests are known to be highly prejudiced against Negroes react to this film, as contrasted with individuals at the other end of the scale who have very little or no prejudice. In other words, in this type of experiment we deliberately selected individuals who have known but differing attitudes toward the major themes of the communication content, and we asked ourselves the question: How do they handle communicated material which is contrary to their already-accepted beliefs?

In viewing this film the high-prejudice people are put, psychologically speaking, on a spot because its basic theme is, from their point of view, an affront. It exposes frankly and dramatically many of the stereotypes and beliefs about Negroes which they have accepted and now hold very close to their hearts. So you might expect—well, what would you expect?

We found that to an amazing degree the high-prejudice individuals were enabled in terms of their patterns of belief and stereotypes to revise the content of the film and see in it or select from it that which they wanted to see. That is, if the film may be said to have a "message" or basic theme, these people did not get it, or got it in a distorted form. For example, some might have found, in the collapse of the Negro soldier, reaffirmation of their belief in the inferiority of the Negro race.


This is probably not true of all the high-prejudice people. There is undoubtedly a very small hard-core group that are intellectually aware of their prejudice, and are able to watch a film of this type with a superior smile; they reject it in toto.

Findings of this sort mean that people can modify, or, to use our psychological jargon, restructure material of this type to suit their needs and beliefs. This perhaps explains why this film, in spite of its supposedly "controversial" character, was a box-office success in the South as well as in other parts of the country.

From this we cannot conclude with certainty what its effects have been on attitudes about Negros or Negro-white relations. It may be that people can see this film, and come out with their prejudices intact, or, perhaps, actually strengthened. These patterns of evasion, as they are called, are numerous and subtle and undoubtedly have nullified many a well-intended program of social reëducation.

Let us look at another investigation, again of the effects of a Hollywood film.[3] During the war a film called Tomorrow the World was produced. It was based on the successful Broadway play of the same name. Tomorrow the World is the story of a dreadful teenage Nazi boy who is brought to this country and to the home of an American college professor. Here he endeavors to Nazify his companions, upsets the whole household of the college professor, and even tries to wreck the latter's approaching marriage with a Jewish girl. At the end we find this boy, Emil, in the hands of the police.

The question posed by the film is what can you do with Emil? Can he be reëducated? Can German youth be reëducated? In 1942 these were, as they still are, pressing questions.

This film was shown by Doctors Wiese and Cole to about 4,000 children ranging from the fourth grade to the eighth grade. Some of the children were from very superior homes. Others came from a very depressed or semislum area. And the third group were several hundred children from middle-class homes in Salt Lake City. I haven't space to describe the details of the methods used by Doctors Wiese and Cole. In general their purpose was to give the children an opportunity to tell what they got out

of the film and especially to answer such questions as "What would you do with Emil?" "Do you think Emil should be punished?" (Remember this film is about a boy and his relations with other children as well as with adults.)

So these children had a chance to react to a number of questions before and after seeing the film. There were some very striking differences among the different social groups. The children from the depressed area in Los Angeles—a large proportion of whom were Negroes as well as representatives of other ethnic groups—were much more punitive and realistic in their attitude toward Emil. Also, they were not shocked by his ruthless and gangster-like behavior as were the children from the middle-and upper-class homes. It is a type of behavior with which they had some familiarity.

The children coming from socially and economically superior homes had a more detached, almost philosophic attitude. They—especially the children from middle-class homes—tended to see Emil and his problem in terms of the stereotyped, idealized formulas regarding democracy and the American way of life which they had learned in school. The upper-class children were especially reactive to Emil's anti-Semitism, which the film brought out very strongly. A considerable proportion of the children in this group came from Jewish homes.

Other findings of the study bear out these trends. The point is that there was much variation in what this film meant to groups of children coming from differing social and economic backgrounds. What they got from the film was in part conditioned by their socioeconomic background.

Similar findings were obtained in a recently reported study of the effects of a non-Hollywood film called Don't Be a Sucker.[4] This film was made by the Army Signal Corps during World War II and was specifically designed to reduce intergroup prejudice. In fictional form it endeavors to expose the dangerous and anti-democratic purposes of rabble rousers who try to stimulate hatred toward various minority groups. The investigators, Eunice Cooper and Helen Dinerman, planned a research designed to discover the extent to which the "messages" of the film came through to audiences of high school students and adults. Briefly summarized, they

found that selective perception operated: that is, that individuals reacted in terms of their predispositions. Those whose attitudes favored the messages of the film accepted them, those whose attitudes did not were able to evade or misperceive them. These misinterpretations, or "boomerang" effects, frequently mean that a basic message planned by the makers of the film is completely nullified.

Again, these results seem to document the notion that the impact of the mass media of communication cannot be conceived in simple cause-and-effect terms. We must revise our view that whatever is "in" a film or radio program will somehow inevitably come through and have a predetermined effect on those exposed to it.

There is one other type of research that I want to refer to, and this gets us over into radio. These are investigations concerned with the soap opera. Most people, especially "intelligent consumers," never listen to them. They seem trivial and trite. But they do have a large listening audience among housewives. The researcher asks the question: What function do these programs have for their listeners? The investigations on this problem indicate that soap operas serve a variety of socially meaningful functions for the housewives who listen. Broadly speaking, they furnish her with vicarious experience. This may seem strange to sophisticated people, but, strange or not, the housewife sees in the soap opera some reflection of her own problems, and she gets some assistance on her own problems in the solutions or the attempts at solution which are presented in the soap opera itself.

This is a kind of finding about the effects which has a slightly more, shall we say, positive tone than the findings that I have been describing. But, even here the relationship between program content and response is not a simple one; it is not an effect in which the ideas that are presented via the program are projected in some direct way on people's minds with direct effects on attitudes and behavior. The effects are selective, and are dependent on already existing needs.

This, then, is roughly and sketchily the picture of some of the research results to date on this enormously complicated problem of effects of the mass media of communication.

What can we say about them? What does this add up to? Well, it is very hard to formulate any broad generalization that will make all of this rather contradictory material fall into place. We still have the fact—if it is a

fact—that Hollywood films have an enormous social impact on people all over the world. I sometimes wonder if these alleged world-wide effects have not been exaggerated. The fact that millions of people all over the world go to these films, and that their culture and way of living is changing or seems to be changing in the direction of being more like us—at least as we are represented in films—does not demonstrate a simple causal relation. Other factors may be operating.

In any event the exact nature of this impact is not clear. It may on occasion be highly specific. If shiny motor cars are driven by glamorous males or females in movies, it may well increase the demand for American automobiles in Calcutta but not necessarily in Timbuktu. In Timbuktu they may believe motor cars are inhabited by evil spirits. In many oriental countries public embracing and kissing is regarded as indecent and such scenes have to be deleted from our films. But if this taboo is disappearing, it does not necessarily mean that Hollywood films alone are responsible. My point is that because the audience for the mass media is large it is not amorphous and faceless, ready to accept anything projected on it.

The researches I have reviewed here in general support this. The viewer and listener are dynamic participants in the situation. They react on the content presented rather than reacting to it. How they react is determined by many factors only one of which is the content of the film itself. This is not equivalent to saying that film and radio have no effects. Rather, it raises the much more complicated question of what effects under what conditions.

What does this mean so far as the intelligent consumer is concerned? What should he do?

I think we ought to see, if the results of these investigations have any meaning, that a certain note of caution has been sounded. Certain caution is called for before we launch ourselves on a program of immediate change of film and radio content or TV content because we are fearful that it is going to have certain effects, presumably effects which we disapprove.

I should point out that once you launch yourself along the path of regulating the content of films or other mass media, you are, if you do not watch out, going directly toward some form of censorship, some form of continuous and permanent control. This may, of course, be what you intend. If so it raises a number of thorny and very complicated problems, the chief of which is: Who is to decide what the "good" content is? Who is to be the censor?


We say we want "good" films, and "good" radio programs, but we are pretty vague as to what we mean by "good." Sometimes I think we mean by "good," films and radio programs which are not disturbing to us.

I have been impressed by the fact that people who are shocked by the radio programs or the films or the comic strips, never seem to be afraid that they themselves are going to be harmed. It is always somebody else who is in danger; it is Johnny, or the people on the other side of the tracks, about whose morals they are fearful. I wonder if they are not projecting their own disturbance with the problems that are sometimes raised in these films.

Take the matter of violence. It is the depiction of violence, I find, that is upsetting to many of my friends who go to movies occasionally. They think there is "too much" violence in films and radio programs. They think this has bad effects, not on them of course, but on children or other people whose moral fiber is presumably weaker than theirs. We live in a world in which violence, both individual and mass, is the rule and not the exception. In fact, the amount of real violence in the world is considerably greater than all the violence that will ever be shown in films. It may be that violence in films is actually a rather pale reflection of the violence in the real world. It may be, also, that people who are upset by it are really suffering from certain guilt feelings. They are uneasily aware of this violent world and perhaps, in some degree, of their own responsibility for it. It is easy to reduce the uneasiness which we all feel in the present turbulent world by blaming films. This is a scapegoating mechanism with which social psychologists are already familiar.

But to come back to the problem of improving films and the other mass media. I do not wish to be understood as saying that films should not be better than they are, or that it is impossible to have critical standards for evaluating them. I am convinced that most intelligent consumers of films could play a more effective role in this matter if, in addition to moral indignation, they had a clearer understanding of what they have a right to expect from films, radio, and TV. Conceivably this might be achieved by a course on how to evaluate motion pictures. Such a course would sketch the historical development of the film and present information about the more important technical devices which distinguish the films from other media of communication. Here the intelligent consumer would learn something about the styles and methods of different directors and screen writers. These differ as do the methods of creative artists

working in other media. If we wish to make our approvals and disapprovals effective, we should be able to recognize and reward those who do a good job.

Most important, such a course should include something about the psychological and social role of drama and storytelling in human society. We should understand some of the human needs which are served by these agencies. Such a course should give the intelligent consumer a basis for demanding not just "better" films, but films which deal significantly with significant problems, and with no loss of their entertainment quality. It is not a question of eliminating a particular kind of action in a film that happens to disturb us, but a question of whether the disturbing action is placed in some sort of meaningful context so that we have a better understanding that makes a movie or story or play exciting and hence, in the real sense of a much-overworked word, entertaining. In this sense, if motion pictures are to achieve their full potential, they will be more rather than less disturbing because they will deal with disturbing problems. This will be achieved not by emasculating films through hampering restrictions, but by demanding that they deal honestly with every kind of human problem.

But with or without special courses, I have indicated some of the reasons why I think the intelligent consumer should proceed with caution over a terrain which is full of unsuspected pitfalls and much of which isn't even mapped. I don't believe the great mass media stand so much in need of policing as they do of intelligent analysis, and moral indignation is not enough.


There's Really No Business
Like Show Business

Jay E. Gordon

Jay E. Gordon is a former associate editor of the Hollywood Spectator, a position he left at the beginning of World War II to become director of the Army Training Film Center in San Francisco. He had previously been active in the exhibition and distribution of motion pictures, but is at present a free-lance motion picture critic.

. ….

More and more these days, we read that to improve the motion picture business we have only to produce better pictures. A good show can't miss, we are assured. This is the opinion of the majority of theater operators, who, unfortunately, are sufficiently preoccupied with taxes, labor contracts, real estate values, and popcorn consumption to find themselves lacking the time for study necessary to provide a genuine understanding of the reasons behind the failing box office. Having no control over the content of the pictures he plays, the theater operator is loath to accept any responsibility for low grosses; all the services he provides and the methods he employs to sell them are uniform throughout the year; therefore he can deduce only that money-making pictures are good pictures, and money-losing pictures are bad pictures. If his theater consistently loses money, he believes that he has been subjected to a series of particularly bad pictures. If the pictures could improve, he insists, he would make more money.

I submit that the motion picture industry is failing to observe in full one of the basic precepts of modern business—specialization.

When a producer wants to show a scene involving the interior of a submarine, does he merely ask his cast and crew if anyone knows how the interior of a submarine should look? He does not. He asks the navy to send him a submarine specialist to advise on the matter—and he usually takes the expert's advice. When the producer wants to show an English courtroom, he calls in an expert consultant. When he wants to show an Egyptian

tomb, he call for an Egyptologist. But when he is finished with his film and is ready to sell it, does he call in a specialist? No. He goes to the publicity department, and instructs them as to methods he wants employed in promoting the film. From this misguidance, together with instructions from the home office, the exploitation and publicity departments set to work fabricating an advertising campaign for the film. Right there, the ball is dropped, and a touchdown is left to pure chance.

From this stamping press, whose dies never change, comes the showman's guide, the pressbook. From lack of time or courage, most theater operators look no further than the pages of this hackneyed handbook, and thus individual initiative in showmanship never gets a try. The pressbook is full of words and various sizes of the two or more thematic illustrations. It has ideas on tying the picture to the brands of sport shirt sold locally, and contains a dozen or so publicity stories to be handed out to the local papers. These stories strike the editors with much the same effect as a damp flapjack in the face. If the editor does not print one of these literary gems once a week, the theaterman tells him that the paper is not being fair. So there it rests. The publicity and advertising men of the film company, if they have any talent, are frustrated by insistent directions from both the artistic and the business sides of the company to the point where they merely turn out one more pressbook, just like the last one— just like the last thousand. On the other end, the theaterman relies on only this factory-stamped pressbook and his conscience, neither of which seems to be a ticket seller.

In this country we have a good many business pursuits. One of these is known fondly as "the advertising game." Just as successful businessmen turn to tax consultants, accountants, and lawyers for specialized services, so do they turn to advertising agencies to provide the machinery of selling. Advertising agencies have but one mission: to disseminate carefully prepared information to the general public through tested media in amanner conducive to action. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, in defining the functions of an advertising agency, lists market research, indoctrination of salesmen, preparation of written and pictorial matter, liaison between the advertiser and the media, and assistance to the advertiser in cultivation of the good will of the trade and of the public. The efforts of the advertising agency spell the success of many a business enterprise. A motion picture production company—including the studios, the home office, and the board of directors—surely qualifies as a business enterprise.


But show business is different! True, at the present writing and for most of the past, it can be agreed that there is really no business quite like show business. Basically, however, the film industry is trying to sell a commodity to the public. And, in its attempt to do so, it is passing over one of the most potent forces in modern business—the advertising agency.

There is a little business in all arts, but little art in business, it has been said. Occasionally there appears a businessman of whom many say: "Now, there is an artist." Such a man is Henry J. Kaiser, whose business operations are conducted with such skill and finesse that he has been described as a true business artist. When Mr. Kaiser sets out to sell a commodity, he gathers around him the advisers and specialists on his staff, then calls in representatives of the advertising agency he has selected. They discuss the product and they discuss objectives. The producers offer whatever ideas or limitations they have in mind concerning media, emphasis, or theme, then decide upon and allocate a budget. From that point on, the method of attaining objectives with the product is left to the specialized skills, arts, and experiences of the advertising agency.

Now let us take an example. Suppose one of Mr. Kaiser's engineers says, "Mr. Kaiser, every auto made these days is identical with every other one of the same make and model, except for minor differences in color or accessories; therefore no one can say his Kaiser sedan is really tailored to suit him and him alone. Now, Mr. Kaiser, I suggest we tailor the steering wheel to each owner's preference. People's hands are of different size and shape. Half the people who drive find the feel of the steering wheel awkward. So if we ship our cars to the dealers minus the steering wheels, then give each dealer a kit for molding the wheel in plastic to fit the owner's hands, we can truthfully say each car is form-fitted, tailor-made. When the car changes hands, a new owner can get a new fitting for a couple of dollars. It will be revolutionary." After a meeting of minds among engineers and stylists, and a "dry run" test at two or three locations ("sneak previews"), Mr. Kaiser will call together the group mentioned above and the advertising agency will go to work.

The agency will have to sell something old, transportation; something already widely advertised, the current-model Kaisers; plus something new, the hand-molded steering wheel. They will have tradition to buck, will have to disprove in advance the skeptics who are confident that such an idea is impossible or at least unnatural. The advertising campaign will have to sell a product, an idea, yet with it a basic service. They will

be successful, of course, and after that all cars will have form-fitted steering wheels.

The film industry has a basic service to sell—entertainment. It has the latest models to show—current themes, popular stars, and noted directors. It also has something special each time—a specific story to tell. The film company may be said to be highly skilled in the business of putting a specific story on celluloid, but, when it comes to selling the product, can it honestly claim to be more efficient and qualified in the advertising game than the advertising professionals? Not unless it wishes to claim more business acumen than is possessed by Henry J. Kaiser.

Advertising in show business has not come along very far since the advent of the walking billboard. Originally the advertisement of a show consisted of a poster on the wall beside the door to the theater. Then someone put a poster on each side of the door. Later a man was hired to carry a sandwich sign back and forth in front of the theater; then he ventured all over the neighborhood. Still later, the same format as the poster beside the theater door appeared in the newspapers. Outdoor advertising, in terms of posters at conspicuous locations over the town, expanded the original poster idea. This is in terms of live theater. Only in recent years have magazine or radio advertisements been employed for specific attractions.

Naturally, motion picture advertisements followed the format employed by theaters. Some fifty years before the birth of the movies, a man with the gift for what we call showmanship came along and added flamboyance to advertising in the form of the brass band, the parade, and general noise making. The influence of Barnum on advertising in show business cannot be overlooked. "Give them a free sample," Barnum said, "and they will flock to pay for more." His circus parade stopped at intervals to permit acrobats, clowns, and elephants to perform in the street. Here was the beginning of our "preview trailers."

Somewhere along the line of evolution from the single poster beside the theater door to the four-color spread in today's multi-million circulation weekly, the showman-advertiser has dropped the ball. He has retained the ridiculous "full list of credits" but he has forgotten the basic qualities a good advertisement must possess. The good advertisement should be honest, direct, attractive, should arouse interest, and should compel action.

Let us take a film and examine its advertising—a hypothetical film— in order that everyone can say: "I know whom he means."


Our film is called "The Jungle and Mr. Smith." It is a cavalcade of action involving the Smith family in the Philippines from the time of Dewey's capture of Manila until the date of Philippine independence. It is a patriotic story of American aid to a backward Oriental colony culminating in the latter's rise to the stature of a nation among nations, told as a background to a human story of an American family who helped make it possible. The story has romance, children growing up, humor, action in the forms of typhoons, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods, life, death, all the elements necessary to make a fascinating two hours. The film has been made by a top studio, in color, with a top producer, director, and writer, three top stars, and good supporting cast. Incidental to plot there is some crime, punishment, adultery, disloyalty, and divorce in the picture. All in all, however, it is a film to make Americans proud they are Americans, and to make Filipinos grateful to the Americans for their help. Yes, it could be called propaganda. Russian critics would attack it. The Daily Worker would warn against it. It would have all the elements for success.

Now, let us look at the pressbook. Most prominent in the pressbook, of course, is a reproduction of the 24-sheet, the highway billboard poster. In full colors, the poster would feature a native girl, scantily clad, lying in a rice field, looking up at a bare-chested American, a pistol strapped to his side. He would be appraising her. In the middle ground a water buffalo and a nipa hut on stilts, with a volcano erupting in the background. Across the top would be the caption: "Tropical passion in the torrid Philippines!" Small letters: "Tantamount Pictures present." … Big letters: "The Jungle and Mr. Smith" … "starring Gary Potter … Helen Doyle … Ben Sutton." Small letters: "Color by Talknocolor … a John Eastman production … with George Gillette … Dorothy Funk … Mark Fowler … Edwin Carton … Mary Douglass. … Produced by Henry Wadsworth … directed by John Eastman … written for the screen by James Collins … from an original story by Carlos Felipe Rodriguez."

Yes, that is a highway poster. Even at twenty-five miles per hour, a person riding past such a poster could have it in view for no more than one or two seconds. The driver of a car could hazard no more than a half-second glance away from his driving vigil. Obviously the last 50 words of that 62-word poster are wasted.

Traditionally, the 24-sheet sets the style of the advertising prepared for a film. All newspaper and magazine advertisements are merely variations

of the format and content of the 24-sheet. So it is that everything that follows is based on a poster that is basically wrong in the first place.

Now, let us look at the five qualities of a good advertisement. Honesty comes first. The minor incident of infidelity referred to in the film has no place in its advertising, not in honest advertising, at any rate. Instead of "Tropical passion in the torrid Philippines," the catch line should be "See a nation rise from the jungle," or a similarly significant comment. The illustration should show a white man helping a faltering native to his feet. The title and two or three names could be added, but no more wordage. That would help in being direct. As to being attractive, this can come only by the employment of art. Art is created by an artist. Posters designed for 99 per cent of our films are not artistic, they are merely trite rearrangements of type surrounded by pictorial illustration. How many posters created for films have been reproduced in the Commercial Art Annual, published by the trade to honor distinguished commercial art? I counted only a handful since 1932. And in the book, The One Hundred Greatest Advertisements—Who Wrote Them and What They Did, by Julian Lewis Watkins (1949), the only advertisement even remotely connected with the entertainment industry was one for Lucky Strike cigarettes featuring Constance Talmadge, and that appeared in 1929. It might be pointed out also that in the Commercial Art Annual, practically all the film posters shown were foreign-created. The only American picture advertisement was a newspaper layout for Warner's The Story of Louis Pasteur, which cannot exactly be called a current release.

In simple language, motion picture advertising is dishonest. Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborne do not make dishonest claims for products they promote. Neither do Young and Rubicam. Advertising agencies, for all their high-tension, super-vitaminized campaigns, have perhaps surprisingly high ethical standards. For instance, if the Motion Picture Association wished to engage Young and Rubicam to conduct a campaign promoting motion pictures to the detriment of television, a war of one medium against the other, the agency would either refuse to accept the motion picture account or it would withdraw from all contracts now held with television accounts. This is known as unilateral representation, a basic principle in advertising.

Under the general heading of dishonest advertising, there should be placed the almost universal inclination to drape every film poster with the

female bosom or the unclad limb. Obviously if every film had these members as its major motivating factors and most significant theme material, the blue laws soon would put the cinema in the Smithsonian Institution along with the stocks, the Iron Maiden, and other immoral machinery.

A classic of advertising stupidity was the particularly sad experience of the British Technicolor film Colonel Blimp, a warm, humorous, human story of an externally stuffy old man. Instead of leaning heavily on the art of David Low, the cartoonist who created Colonel Blimp and made him Britain's favorite, those responsible for advertising this picture in America chose to highlight all the posters and mats with a bosomy girl in a suggestive pose. The people who paid to see what was advertised were disappointed, for many were not of a temperament to enjoy the good colonel; but, more's the pity, the people who could have enjoyed Colonel Blimp were repelled by the advertising, and did not venture into the theater. Yes, it was a flop over here, but the picture was a success at home where more sensible and honest advertising was employed.

"Replacement or Refund of Money Guaranteed by Good Housekeeping if Not as Advertised Therein," proclaims a seal common to all sorts of products. Would anyone dare to make such a claim in reference to motion picture advertising?

An almost frightening spectacle is a high motion picture official stating: "We must get back to good, old-time, loud, slam-bang, ballyhoo showmanship." He goes on to insist that Barnum was right, and all that. He means that in the old days many films so promoted were huge successes. What he forgets is that in most cases success came when that kind of advertising was appropriate to the attraction, and people found themselves receiving the goods as advertised. Barnum was right to offer a free show in the streets with his circus parade when advertising "the greatest show on earth," but Mr. Barnum handled Jenny Lind in a somewhat different manner.

Every motion picture produced is a thing apart, a separate and distinguishable entity, an isolated artistic creation, related to others only by virtue of the medium it employs. Each motion picture should be sold as a separate article of commerce, advertised in accordance with its own merits and within the bounds of established rules of salesmanship pertinent to creations of art. If this appears to be difficult in these days of double bills, my answer is the same as it was the first time I ever heard of double

bills: "To the devil with the practice!" People go to the theater to see a particular film, not two particular films. With television time gobbling up celluloid by the supersonic mile, producing companies now can afford to concentrate on making fewer pictures without contributing to the unemployment rolls. People can stay at home and see a "second feature," so it will become increasingly fruitless to try to sell a "second feature" away from home.

To set forth some courses of action which would improve the box office financially, I submit the following to the industry.

Place basic motion picture advertising in the hands of people who know advertising, markets, media, sales techniques—the American advertising agencies whose efforts have made the world conscious of Coca-Cola, Chester fields, Ivory Soap, and the beer that made Milwaukee famous.

Permit only honest advertising. If bare legs and a plunging neckline are motivating factors in a film, employ them in the advertising. If not, employ whatever really represents the film honestly. Permit genuine graphic artists to create poster art, with a minimum of restriction from either studio or home office.

Advertise each film in a manner harmonious with its singular character, plot, intent, and action. If the film was made to appeal to the hundred million Americans who love dogs, it should be sold to those people to the exclusion, if necessary, of those who despise dogs.

In coöperation with all studios, theater chains, and distributors, advertise the lasting values of motion pictures by constant, consistent, institutional advertising.

Advertise not only the stars—who come and go too fast to have any lasting value—but the producers, directors, writers, and the production companies themselves. Identify the executives as capable businessmen. Promote the producers as experienced, well-educated, sensitive creative artists. Promote the directors who have been performing with distinction for twenty and thirty years (while top stars have come and gone by the hundreds), and promote the writers who have been at it all their lives. Rid the public of the notion that anyone can produce or direct or write a motion picture. Promote the fact that competence in these arts and sciences comes just as hard as competence in engineering, surgery, finance, law. Put a solid foundation under the motion picture industry.

There is no "lost audience," there is only a lost habit. Employ every medium

to sell motion pictures as "the place to go." Institutional advertising should be aimed at the reëstablishment of the movie-going habit. Place full-page advertisements in newspapers and magazines with messages of the character placed by the Association of American Railroads, the Dairy Industry, the American Meat Institute, and the United States Brewers Foundation. Place advertisements in journals of all trades and crafts. A slogan could be adopted if it embodied the full message. "Movies Are Better Than Ever" won't do; it is a flat and debatable statement. "Let's Go to the Movies Tonight" would do, because it arouses the gregarious instincts in all of us, it urges action, and it urges action tonight. Billboards facing the homeward-bound traffic leading from all metropolitan centers should carry this message. Coca-Cola is a success partly because of its "Let's have a Coke" posters, each with a fresh illustration, but all with the message repeated over and over. The film industry could do no better than repeat "Let's Go to the Movies Tonight."

"Movietime, U.S.A.," a campaign originated, in part, from the clamor of exhibitors who wanted the industry to stage a fall film festival at a time when football, television, and the warm hearth are strong competition, was switched to a full year campaign. The idea sounded logical to the typical Hollywood promotion man. If a picture about ice skating makes money, why not make six more, and make six times as much money? That is called the film cycle technique, or the film cycle scourge. But a year's campaign is too much … it will die on the vine. The Democrats and Republicans would not dare to wage a campaign longer than five months to elect a president. Crosley, manufacturer of television and home appliances, is spending nine million dollars this fall on a sixty-day campaign. A campaign is an entity, too, but the Crosley people know sales will not cease at the end of their sixty-day promotion.

Another form of institutional advertising is the forum. The industry should encourage the establishment of civic and cultural movie forums, and should support them by sending out directors, producers, writers, executives, cinematographers, sound engineers, and costume designers all over the country, to lecture or to participate in forums.

Discourage movie gossip columns both in the public prints and on radio and television. Encourage programs of the character of Invitation to Learning discussing motion pictures instead of books.

Encourage the publication of books, serious books and otherwise, telling

the story of motion pictures. There is a dearth of literature devoted to the motion picture. Of a half-dozen serious efforts in the past few years, those of Schary and Spottiswoode come first to mind. A recent biography of Charlie Chaplin was little more than the enumeration of films produced by him, but it has its place in the literature of the screen. A similar, more exciting book could be written of a dozen other leaders in the industry. Promote books on film music, cinematography, art and set design, film editing, organization and conduct of a location trip, or the accomplishments of sound engineers. Publish the twenty best motion picture scripts every year. Publish a symposium of critical analyses of films each year. The publishers who sell properties to Hollywood for millions of dollars each year certainly could be interested in publishing books that would aid in the public relations of the film industry. The literature of the motion picture industry should be expanded greatly. It is appallingly barren.

Accompany the films edited down from features for free loan to schools with trailers selling the motion picture medium in theaters as a desirable form of entertainment.

Create and maintain in Hollywood an adequate motion picture museum. The properties in custody of educational institutions should be brought out into the open where Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public, visiting from all over America, could inspect them. Working sets, regular screenings, and lectures in such a museum would save studios time and money now lost conducting tours through working sets. Most major industries have museums for just this purpose. This, too, is public relations.

Use television. Television is not to be feared. It is an advertising medium, and a potent one; therefore a percentage of every film advertising budget should be allocated to television advertising. Positive selling can be more profitable than negative selling in the form of deriding television's shortcomings, therefore industry personnel and particularly comedians should be invited to promote motion pictures positively, consistently.

Motion pictures are not dead, not dying. Modern merchandising methods can still save motion pictures if given a chance. To paraphrase a famous quotation: "This above all, to thine own industry be true."


There's Still No Business Like It

Jean Hersholt et al.

In the fall, 1951, issue, the Quarterly printed an article by Jay Gordon, "There's Really No Business Like Show Business," which questioned the effectiveness of motion picture advertising practices. Among other things, Mr. Gordon criticized the tendency to overlook advertising professionals, to play up sex and violence even if neither has much to do with the film, and to crowd billboards with full lists of credits lost to the passing motorist. Mr. Gordon suggested that larger audiences might result from better advertising, based on honest presentation of the content of films and on methods proved successful for other types of products.

Reactions from Hollywood's writers, producers, and others have been curiously mixed. The following are excerpts from some of the letters received in reply to a request for comments.

It is an interesting and helpful piece. —JEAN HERSHOLT

I think Mr. Gordon has a fine and unusual understanding of the subject, and, for the most part, I couldn't agree with him more. My slight differences with him have to do with his advocacy of institutional advertising, which I think is meaningless in our industry—that is, if I understand his use of the words "institutional advertising" correctly. … Each picture is a new product and, roughly, Hollywood has to sell something over four hundred new products a year—and herein lies the difficulty. Lucky Strike, Kaiser-Frazer cars, or Coca-Cola can plug away at the one trade name day in and day out two-two weeks a year, and these products are available day in and day out fifty-two weeks a year which makes for a different proposition than selling a picture which is available for a very limited time in any given area.

Again I congratulate Mr. Gordon on his fine piece and hope it receives wide circulation in our industry. —WILLIAM PERLBERG


I quite agree with the author that there is evidence that the motion picture industry's advertising policies could well be re-examined and modernized. Personally, however, I should go further—much further. I believe that the various units of the industry should combine their resources to effectuate a large-scale, amply financed, public relations campaign, embracing not only ideas such as those advanced by Mr. Gordon, but all phases of public relations in as many fields as practicable, including the political. I think it is time that the motion picture industry stopped dodging and ducking, with an occasional counterpunch. I think we should get off the defensive and hit out in a forthright and positive and big campaign to tell the story of an industry that is the greatest medium of mass entertainment the world has ever known, and certainly need not be ashamed of saying so. —WILLIAM H. WRIGHT

I was fascinated by Jay Gordon's article. … I am asking our Publicity Department and Sales Department to read this and to give me some indication of the impression it made on them. —SOL LESSER

I think it is an excellent article and I couldn't agree with Mr. Gordon more heartily. —VALENTINE DAVIES

Mr. Gordon's comments on the absurdity of film advertising are completely sound in my view. I have had my eye on these ads since 1931 and can see no difference in the dishonesty and vulgarity of the average ad and indeed no difference in its content during a period in which the medium, the film, changed so radically. Of course each film should be advertised "in a manner harmonious to plot, content, and action." Where I disagree is with Mr. Gordon's plea for not advertising the star but the directors, producers, and companies. This seems to me sheer madness. These are businessmen, the least glamorous hence least "saleable" of all God's creatures. And why advertise screen writers? Can we not humble ourselves, not before outsiders but before ourselves, and admit that we are hacks because we have no control over our work and are bossed about and put up with it?

So there I would part company with your author excepting for one important new phenomenon arisen in the industry in the last few years, the producer-director-writer. Such a man need not be a hack. He can be a creative artist. He may even be worth advertising. You are familiar with the

early Shakespeare quartos, in some of which the writer was not even accorded his initials on the title page, let alone the use of his name, that is to say, "screen credit." It is obvious from these first quartos that whatever this beginner wrote, the men who corresponded to our producers and directors pulled it about and changed it about. Later on, however, the title pages and texts show Shakespeare becoming what corresponds to a triple-threat man in Hollywood—producer-writer-director—and as such he deserved advertising, if there were any advertising. But was his name ever box-office, as that of Burbage was? Perhaps. —JOHN L. BALDERSON

Gordon complains at great length that the industry doesn't rely on "advertising professionals." A phone call or two would have acquainted him with the fact that all of the industry's national advertising (and a great deal of the regional-exhibitor advertising) is worked out by and placed through the nation's top advertising agencies, including firms like J. Walter Thompson and Buchanan and Company. Either he didn't make his point clear —or he has egg all over his face. …

I agree with the comment about "honesty" and even the over-emphasis on the "female bosom and the unclad limb." But flip through any magazine, scan the ads prepared by advertising agencies for the widest range of products and note how many other industries use sex for selling. … I could go through the article paragraph by paragraph. But, in sum, I found this a poor advertisement for the Quarterly because of error and ignorance in unhappy combination. —INDUSTRY OBSERVER

I found Mr. Gordon's article very absorbing reading. Much, if not all that he says, merits serious consideration by the industry. —SAM ENGEL

You are right as rain in thinking that I would be interested in Mr. Gordon's article and I filed it under the economics of the movies in preparation for a brief chapter in the new and still untitled Lively Arts which I am doing for Knopf for 1953. As for comment, I think Mr. Gordon exposes the weaknesses of movie promotion, but his imaginary film about the Philippines is the pay-off. The poster he describes is exactly right and I am afraid will keep the audience away so that in the end it would be said either that the picture should never have been made at all, or should have been publicized for elements it did not contain.

On a smaller scale Streetcar and A Place in the Sun and The Marrying

Kind are all being publicized slightly off the exact beam and while this may cause a little resentment, a lot of people are seeing good pictures. —GILBERT SELDES

Thank you very much for letting me see Jay Gordon's piece. It makes sense to me. As you yourself know, studio people argue about this all the time, but the answer from the exploitation and advertising departments is that we don't know what we're talking about. How would we like it, they demand, if they tried to tell us how to make pictures? This is a line that so far we have found no answer to.

I'm sure that nine-tenths of moving picture advertising is utterly useless, except in the actual printing of the name of the picture on a piece of white paper, and that probably half of it discourages people who might want to see that particular picture. I don't suppose anybody in the world has a higher respect for sex than I have, but I still don't believe it is the solution to every picture that is offered to the public. But the faith that those advertising fellows have in it awes even me. You may remember the story of the rube character in the olden days who was supposed to have gone back again and again to look at one of the first of the silents showing an automobile beating an express train across the tracks in the confident expectation that some day that train was going to smack that car. It's the same still with the advertising boys. They are confident that this entire country is made up of rube characters who are going to go back again and again with the expectation of some day seeing a man and a woman actually in bed together, a spectacle that I do not anticipate seeing in our lifetime. Sometimes I wish that the people of this country had as much faith in and devotion to our flag as our advertising departments have in their belief in this possibility.

I agree almost one hundred per cent with what Mr. Gordon says on this subject, but I'm not the head of a studio and I have no authority to alter this approach to advertising. And in addition to that, I am too old and tired to become a reformer of any kind. —NUNNALLY JOHNSON

I've read "There's Really No Business Like Show Business." The article written by Jay E. Gordon, who describes himself as "a freelance move critic," (!) is a revealing one. It largely reveals, however, that the author has only the sketchiest knowledge of his subject. Mr. Gordon's approach to the problems of selling a motion picture, as well as his apparent ignorance

of present-day methods of so doing hardly entitle him to a reply, except that his off-base arguments have been given some circulation and therefore might create serious misapprehensions among others whose knowledge of show business is equally incomplete.

In the first place, Mr. Gordon takes the producers to task for relying on studio publicity departments in promoting films. This is an argument that is hard to analyze, since these same studio publicity departments have, over the comparatively short period of twenty-five years, completely revolutionized the general concept of publicity and public relations and have paved the path toward bringing glamour to industry and individuals and products—a path that has since been well traveled by almost every exploiter of services or products in every field.

These selfsame studio publicity departments, dismissed by Mr. Gordon in one sentence, have made pictures and people famed the world over on a scale never before accomplished by any advertising agency or public relations firm in the whole history of exploitation.

The men and women employed in the studio publicity departments are experts—that's why they're hired and that's why studios pay them salaries considerably in excess of those paid people in similar positions in advertising agencies. The fact that American motion pictures are famous the world over is due in no small part to the efforts and ideas of these same experts, whom Mr. Gordon dismisses so lightly.

He also seems completely unaware of the fact that advertising agencies —the biggest and best in the business—are employed by the motion picture studios to prepare the advertising campaigns on each motion picture. Therefore, the faults found in motion picture advertising by Mr. Gordon can be traced directly to the advertising agencies which he proclaims as a cure-all!

He claims that movie advertising is dishonest and that advertising agencies do not create dishonest ads. How does this jibe with the fact that every advertisement prepared for a major motion picture for the past fifteen years has been prepared by an advertising agency?

The remainder of his ideas are equally naïve and unsupported by fact. He seems to suffer under the delusion that a "pressbook" is the sole contribution made by a publicity department to the sale of a motion picture. How wrong he is! In actuality, a pressbook is merely a printed guide sent to exhibitors showing them how to sell the picture, and including a number

of stock stories which they can give to the newspapers along with their advertisements, which also are included in the pressbook.

To use the pressbook as a sole example of the work done by a publicity department is about as sensible as using a visitor's guide to Washington as an example of all the work done by the United States government.

Furthermore, far from being "hackneyed handbooks," many of these pressbooks represent dynamic and original approaches to the problems of selling motion pictures. I can only assume that Mr. Gordon has read few pressbooks lately on major motion pictures. If he cares to read some, I have a few handy that would provide considerable inspiration for some of the "experts" from eastern advertising agencies.

Mr. Gordon's ideas on how to sell a movie are too ridiculous to deserve comment. Suffice to say that if any producer were foolish enough to follow his advice, he would suffer the financial disaster his folly would deserve.

Mr. Gordon points out that no motion picture advertisements are included in the Commercial Art Annual as proof of his contention that picture advertisements are insufficient. These annuals, made up by arty eastern advertising men, wouldn't admit a motion picture advertisement on general principles, no matter how effective it was. Let me point out the advertisements on The Champion, on Bend of the River, those that Foote, Cone, and Belding did on The Blue Veil and Clash by Night for us, the advertisements on The Greatest Show on Earth, David and Bathsheba, An American in Paris, A Streetcar Named Desire, and A Place in the Sun as advertisements which, dollar for dollar, outdrew probably any contained in the Commercial Art Annual.

I'll not argue that there aren't motion picture advertisements which are gross, stupid, in bad taste, misleading, and downright untrue. But these are not the majority. The faults of these advertisements lie largely with the advertising agencies which prepared them, the selfsame experts lauded as infallible by Mr. Gordon.

Mr. Gordon seemingly looks upon the motion picture business as a decaying enterprise that is doddering toward its grave. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, good pictures today are doing better business than ever before in the history of show business. The pictures doing the best business are those which are properly sold.

In every case, the pictures getting the greatest sales campaigns—The Greatest Show on Earth, An American in Paris, The Pride of St. Louis, and

Singin' in the Rain—are ones where the campaigns have been carefully planned by coöperative meetings between a creative producer, studio publicity and advertising men, and the advertising agency. All three intellects are needed to create a good sales campaign on a motion picture.

In Hollywood today, ballyhoo doesn't mean circus parades and hair-brained stunts—necessarily. On Clash by Night the publicity campaign has been aimed at all levels, from the intellectual to the pure entertainment seeker. The personal appearance tours planned for the stars, the producers, the writer, and the director will hit every walk of life—and every section of the country's newspapers.

Hollywood is alive and receptive to the problems of selling a picture today, against the increased competition of television. Our experience shows one fact predominant: a good picture, properly sold, will return its makers more profit than ever before thought possible; a bad picture, no matter how well it is sold, will not return a penny. —JERRY WALD


Hollywood's Foreign Correspondents

Harva Kaaren Sprager

Harva Kaaren Sprager is instructor in journalism in the Graduate Department of Journalism at the University of California at Los Angeles. She has been a member of the staff of radio station WQXR, New York, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Los Angeles Daily News, and is now serving as one of the Los Angeles editors of a new quarterly publication, Idea and Experiment.

. ….

More than 70 foreign correspondents in the Los Angeles area devote full or part time to reporting news and gossip of Hollywood for almost 2,000 newspapers and magazines and 600 radio stations in 70 foreign countries. In the summer of 1951, almost half of these correspondents filled out an 8-page questionnaire planned to reveal something of their backgrounds, and a good deal about what their problems are and how they handle the job of picturing Hollywood for readers thousands of miles away. The results of the survey indicate that the portrait which these Hollywood foreign correspondents send abroad is not different from the one painted by United States newspapers, magazines, and networks. Both are rather like an outdoor movie set—the part that shows gets the most attention.

The survey[1] of the foreign correspondents shows that 81 per cent[2] do interviews with stars and actors. Talks with writers and directors provide material for 61 per cent while executives are interviewed by 56 per cent. Movie reviews are written by 74 per cent, and 56 per cent handle gossip and chit-chat.

Mere scandal, however, is not popular. Forty-three per cent used the story of Judy Garland's suicide attempt in June, 1950, but of that group, one third mentioned the incident in passing, one third handled the story

as straight news, and the final third tried to explain the tragedy from a sociological and psychological point of view. The story was ignored by 57 per cent. One correspondent said: "I did not even mention this attempt (if there was one) in my articles. This is the kind of ‘malheurs’ that I leave to the scandal hunters."

Seventy-two per cent reported that they also write about sociological aspects and problems of the motion picture industry. There are indications, however, that this percentage may reflect a misunderstanding of the term "sociological." The correspondents were asked to list the stories they had written during the previous two months. The number of articles concerned with the sociological phases of Hollywood were no more than 10 per cent of the total.

Of all the various commentators in Hollywood, the foreign correspondents are probably the only ones who are not excited about television as a source of material. Sixty-six per cent have not written anything about the young medium. Thirteen per cent—all reporters for countries which do not have or will not have television in the near future—have discussed television, but only as a curiosity. A growing interest in television was noted by 21 per cent. Canadians, who will soon have television, and Mexicans, who have it now, are particularly eager to read about the subject. Swiss and Swedish editors are also greatly interested, even though their countries have not as yet been invaded by this new form of communication.

Studio and personal publicity handouts are extremely useful to the foreign correspondents. Eighty-one per cent make use of them. Of this group, 21 per cent mentioned that they use handouts only occasionally and 17 per cent reported that the material is culled for ideas.

"I may be one of the few, but I consider studio material excellent and very useful," one writer stated. "Most of the correspondents throw press releases in the wastepaper basket because it is too much trouble to read them. But if you are patient enough to go through them, you will find good ideas. In this way I have made feature articles from simple notices, because three good lines can give you the subject of a real good column. And, as a rule, the publicists of the studios are first class newspapermen themselves."

Nineteen per cent reported, some of them emphatically, that they do not use handouts at all.

Of course, not all of the material that the foreign correspondent gathers

comes from studio handouts. Eighty-three per cent get most of their news through personal contacts and interviews. Twenty-six per cent reported they get some of their material by seining the Los Angeles metropolitan papers, the trade papers, or the New York dailies for news items.

While some eschew the studio handout, almost all of them rely on the studios for the still pictures that the large majority (87 per cent) send abroad. The studios supply 83 per cent of this group with pictures whereas 17 per cent make their own arrangements for photographs.

The motion picture industry is not the sole concern of these writers. In addition to Hollywood, news of general interest is covered by 56 per cent.

The Hollywood foreign correspondents are as varied in background and training as are the many countries for which they write. Professionally, 35 per cent had previous experience in newspaper work before beginning to chronicle the cinema. Another 17 per cent listed creative writing as a previous vocation while 21 per cent have worked in various capacities in the theater and motion pictures abroad. Other past occupations include those of sculptress, model, translator, consular official, clerk, telephone operator, and teacher. In all, 35 per cent have sampled two or more careers.

Their educational histories are equally diverse. Eighty-seven per cent attended college or university. Of the 30 percent who took graduate work, less than 1 per cent received doctor of philosophy degrees. Their specializations in college read like a university catalogue—journalism, psychology, political science, engineering, commerce, humanities, medicine, literature, history, sociology, philosophy, languages.

At first glance, it would seem impossible that a few more than 70 people could adequately supply 2,000 newspapers and magazines and 600 radio stations with publishable material, even from such a news-laden spot as Hollywood. However, it must be remembered that some of the Hollywood foreign correspondents work for wire services whose widespread, duplicating coverage raises the total considerably. In addition, with one or two exceptions, all of them write for more than one publication and for more than one medium. The most frequent combination of media is newspaper and magazine with 35 per cent. Twenty-one per cent of the correspondents write for newspapers, magazines, and radio, while a negligible per cent write only for radio or magazines. Another 17 per cent write for newspapers only.


While the foreign correspondents frequently mix their media, they rarely cross linguistic lines. Ninety-five per cent write in only one language. English and German are most frequently used (26 per cent each), followed by Spanish (17 per cent) and French (13 per cent).

In view of the large number of outlets for Hollywood material abroad, even subtracting the number covered by wire services, it is surprising that so few in this press corps derive their entire income from their Hollywood writing. Only 17 per cent fully support themselves as foreign correspondents. Thirty-eight per cent earn 20 to 25 per cent of their income and another 21 per cent a quarter to a half of their income from this source.

Although the reason that the majority of the accredited foreign correspondents do not or cannot derive all their income from motion picture reporting is not entirely clear, one may make certain surmises. Some, obviously, consider Hollywood reporting merely a sideline. Other contributing factors involve foreign exchange difficulties as well as the fact that free-lancing for newsprint-poor and dollar-short newspapers is not too lucrative.

The difference between the professional and semiprofessional Hollywood foreign correspondent is more than economic. It is the basis for the difference between the two foreign correspondent groups in Los Angeles —the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association and the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood.

The Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association is the older and the larger of the two groups, with a membership of 58. It was founded in 1941 and admits to membership any accredited professional[3] correspondent of any newspaper or magazine published abroad, of any foreign language publication circulated in the United States, or of any radio station outside the United States or broadcasting shortwave abroad. According to the by-laws, the group was organized to promote coöperation among reporters covering motion pictures for the foreign press and radio.

In June, 1950, a group within the Hollywood Foreign Correspondents Association formed the Foreign Press Association of Hollywood. Membership qualifications are based on whether the writer derives the major portion of his regular income from journalism and at the same time is a paid correspondent for foreign publications. Membership now numbers

between 12 and 18 (the exact number is not divulged, curiously enough). The secessionists believed that the position of the professional foreign press correspondent was being weakened because they claimed the older organization had been "taken over" by the semiprofessionals and had become too much of a social club.[4]

The problems involved in covering Hollywood for the foreign press are varied and of different intensity from those that beset reporters for the United States press. Generally they fall into three categories: competition, getting and presenting usable news, and lack of coöperation on the part of the studios.

Competition among the foreign correspondents is extremely keen, and 13 per cent noted that it was one of their special problems. In this regard, language is a determining factor. Spanish language correspondents, for instance, have much more competition than Swedish reporters. First of all, many more Hollywood correspondents write in Spanish than in Swedish. Then, too, a story in Spanish—the same story—can be sold in all but one of the Latin and South American countries as well as in Spain. The only additional effort involved is making a copy of the article and mailing it. Consequently, Spanish language reporters try to sell to all possible outlets. Swedish correspondents, on the other hand, are limited to communication media in only one country.[5]

Some correspondents also claim there is unfair competition from studio personnel. A few mentioned that some of the studio publicists write for foreign newspapers "on the side," and since they are closer to the source of the news, they enjoy an advantage over the foreign representative.


In addition, the correspondents complain that the studios and their releasing agencies abroad will by-pass the Hollywood correspondent and supply their newspapers with special articles and pictures if their editor requests. This procedure diminishes their chances of selling articles. The two correspondents' associations have been trying to solve this problem, and the Foreign Press Association has worked out a tentative plan with the major studios whereby a studio will refuse a request for a special story if the paper has a correspondent in Hollywood.

Thirty-five per cent reported problems in the getting and presentation of news appropriate for their audience. Foreign movie-goers apparently prefer to read about their favorites—personalities not always of similar newsworthiness in the United States. Foreign releasing schedules are another complicating factor. As one correspondent put it: "The main problem seems to be to find material of special interest to European readers, to pick the stars they like and the pictures they are going to see, as quite a few of the American movies are not shown in Europe."

As for the presentation of the material, a few correspondents feel that they have difficulty in creating a true picture of the film capital. Specifically, one said his problem is "to avoid picturing Hollywood as a ‘glamour place.’" Another listed "trying to make European people see Hollywood people as Hollywood people see themselves." The main problem of another is "to write about movies without becoming an unpaid publicity agent of the studios." Still another said his predicament is "avoiding anything in the sexy angle and yet getting something interesting to write about."

Charges of a lack of coöperation on the part of the studios were made by 26 per cent, emphatically and sometimes bitterly. A correspondent for the Spanish-speaking areas complained: "In spite of the fact that Mexico City, for instance, contributes far more money than does Los Angeles to the American movie industry, the local columnist is treated with more consideration than the representative of the Mexican press, who besides being a correspondent, could also be considered a diplomatic representative in a sense. He interprets not only the words of the movie stars, but their actions, so that when told to the reading public, across the borders of the various lands, a wrong impression is not created. A newspaperman from Cucamonga, let us say, if he writes in English, is considered more important to the studios and its artists as a general rule, than the representatives

of publications of the Spanish reading public, not taking into consideration the fact that, in the entire world, there are over 178 million persons who speak Spanish."

The scheduling of previews is also criticized by some. "Previews are only too often ‘afterviews.’ Some studios make it a habit to show movies some days after they can be seen in any Hollywood theater and sometimes weeks after the first showing in New York City." A correspondent for Turkish publications commented: "There is not sufficient coöperation from the studios. We are often invited to preview movies after they have already been released locally. We are not being given enough of an opportunity to meet the directors and watch the movies in the making."

This charge of lack of opportunity was explored further by another writer who reported that although he had never been refused a favor when he asked, little is volunteered by the studio. "All the initiative had to come from my side. Very little guidance and real help was offered by the initiative of the studios. I have found it much easier to collaborate on assignments with such industries as the aircraft industry. Even government bureaus are nowadays much more helpful towards the foreign correspondent than the publicity offices in Hollywood."[6]

Actually, from an American newspaperman's point of view, the complaint that the studios are uncoöperative because they do not take the initiative points up the fact that the majority of the Hollywood foreign correspondents do not have a newspaper background.

Again from the American standpoint, the admission that some of the correspondents get their news from trade papers and Los Angeles and New York dailies is interesting. American newspaper tradition and training requires that a newspaperman gather facts himself and the opposite practice is a reflection in part of the European newsman's attitude that the facts and how they are obtained are not as important as the use made of them.


On the whole, the foreign readers are getting the same star-dusted image of the Hollywood scene as does the American public. The foreign correspondents, because most of them are not under the pressure of turning out daily pieces, have an opportunity to approach their subject with depth and perception. This survey indicates that they are ignoring their opportunities —the majority of exported Hollywood news deals in interviews, reviews, and chit-chat.

Critics and commentators of Hollywood, including the foreign correspondents, often criticize the industry for making pictures which give foreign countries a distorted impression of Hollywood and American life. As a group, the foreign correspondents are in no position to join in the criticism, for their writings do very little to place the American motion picture industry in proper perspective.

previous chapter
The Hollywood Picture
next chapter