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Hollywood's obsession with hating Kazan

Mark Steyn comments on the death, last weekend, of Bernard Gordon.

In later years, the screenwriter led the protests against the very belated Oscar awarded to Elia Kazan in 1999. As Gordon wrote of Kazan in The Los Angeles Times, “He helped to support an oppressive regime that did incalculable damage to America and abroad.”

Interesting choice of word: "regime". And what about the regime you supported?

While commenting on Gordon, Steyn reproduces a column he wrote on the occasion of Kazan's death in 2003, which notes in part:

Kazan can make a claim to be the father of modern American acting, the man who brought Stanislavskian techniques to Broadway and then to the silver screen. Insofar as the young lions of our present-tense culture aspire to emulate any of the old guys, it’s not David Niven or even Jimmy Cagney who resonate, but Marlon Brando, James Dean, Rod Steiger – on all of whom Kazan was the greatest single influence.

And, aimed straight at modern liberal Hollywood's self-righteousness:

It’s no fun being a socially conscious movie star if nobody’s conscious of you. You want to be noticed. Not too noticed, not Salman Rushdie price-on-your-head noticed. But just a little bit of attention. And the only time any one in power paid any attention to the political views of Hollywood people was half a century ago. In an ideal world – or if you were making a movie on the subject – the fellows who were politically “persecuted” would be a little more talented, or at least prominent, and maybe it would be better if they weren’t subscribers to an ideology so thoroughly failed and so comprehensively rejected by anyone who’s had the misfortune to live under it. But those are mere nitpicky details next to the towering feeling of validation the latterday Hollywood activist derives from his McCarthy fetish. For the Richard Dreyfus generation, what Kazan did is an affront to their deep conviction of their own heroism.

Nor is the fact that Hollywood’s belief in its own heroism derives from a moment of colossal Hollywood cowardice any obstacle. The blacklist “victims” weren’t blacklisted by the government but by the studios – Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney – the same folks who run Hollywood today. In 1999, when Penn and Dreyfus were up in arms over Kazan’s Oscar, old Lew Wasserman was still going to his office at Universal every day. Fifty years ago, had he chosen to, Wasserman and his talent agency could have broken the blacklist as decisively as he broke the studio system. But Wasserman and the suits were absolved and their sins sub-contracted to one elderly retired director: as former blacklisted screenwriter Norma Barzman told CNN, “Elia Kazan’s lifetime achievement is great films and destroyed lives, and even a third thing, which is a lasting climate of fear over Hollywood and maybe over the country.” Kazan became the crucible (if he’ll forgive the expression) of the industry’s institutional guilt over the McCarthy era.

To this day, Mrs Barzman thinks Kazan ratted because he had a half-million dollar deal lined up for On The Waterfront: Thus, Hollywood’s Communists were true to their principles; its anti-Communists were in it for the money. This would be mere condescension if On The Waterfront were an Esther Williams aqua-musical, but it’s rendered laughable by the fact that the film is instead the most cogent response to the likes of the Barzmans, beginning with the exquisite joke of its choice of analogy for Communist penetration in Hollywood: a waterfront union corrupted by racketeers. After all, until the director’s detractors began insisting that personal loyalty trumps all other considerations, the notion that “ratting” was the ultimate sin was confined mostly to the mob.

[Emphasis mine.]

The revision of history never ceases to amaze me, especially the Socialist/Communist renditions, and the incessant braying from Hollywood about how brave they are. The spectre is McCarthy is invoked constantly whenever Hollywood wants to illustrate standing up to "evil". Meanwhile, Hollywood forgets that it was the House Unamerican Activities Committee that investigated Hollywood. The House, as in representatives. McCarthy was a senator, and came along after the HUAC investigations and the notorious blacklist.

And Hollywood wants to carefully point the finger of j'accuse at Kazan and McCarthy, rather than at itself, where the blame truly lies. Some day (soon, I hope), Hollywood will give up on this self-obsession with "bravery" and get back to making truly brave, innovative, and entertaining films, of the sort that Kazan made.

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