Politics & Policy

Clear Days in Hollywood


Hollywood Morality is not a contradiction in terms. That’s too simple, and the morality out there is anything but simple. It’s more like a huge, cumbersome, Rube Goldberg machine, with all sorts of levers and pulleys and kerosene generators and the like. Nothing seems like it is connected to what it should be and things that seem like they should be totally separate are in fact inextricably linked. If you tuned in to Larry King Live last night, you could see several of these mechanisms operating at once, like the junkyard band in Fat Albert.

The tune they were playing was in tribute, so to speak, to Elia Kazan. Kazan, as you might recall, is the man who named some already named names during the Hollywood “witch hunts.” The two people playing a friendly tune for one of the greatest directors of the 20th century were the actors Celeste Holm and Charlton Heston. Holm only really spoke in personal terms and, as one might expect, Heston fought for truth and justice. But he was drowned out by the moral oompah-loompahs.

Out in Sun Valley was Richard Dreyfuss (presumably he was communing with the common man he cares so much about, between massages). He was wearing his baseball hat and tough-guy bomber jacket in front of the fire. It must have been a very weak fire if he still needed to wear that jacket for warmth. Maybe he just wanted to look like an accountant assigned to the Black Sheep squadron.

Then there was Walter Bernstein, a Hollywood screenwriter.

And of course there was Rod Steiger. The transcript won’t help you here. He looked like a villain from a Shaft movie. Totally bald and dressed all in black, he had some gaudy crystal bauble thing hanging from his neck. One can only assume the thing gives him magical powers or keeps the very obvious demons swirling around him at bay.

Lastly, there was Larry himself. I like King, though many conservatives get frustrated with him. King asks simple, honest, open-ended questions of everybody. If you have honest answers, you’ll be fine. Or, (and here is why many of my friends dislike him) if you have extremely dishonest answers, spoon-fed you by White House lawyers, you’ll be fine. The people who get in trouble are the ones who try to think out loud, because that, too, spills right through the camera.

I must confess I could not watch much of the show, it made me too angry. But the (rush) transcript is already up. It reads like the instructions for a Latvian Xerox machine. But it’s really a Rosetta Stone of Hollywood morality. And here is my translation of the moral logic of the anti-Kazan Hollywood forces:

Snitching is wrong. Blacklisting is wrong. Unless, hypothetically it’s against Nazis. Then it would be fine. Snitching and blacklisting Stalinists isn’t okay because Stalinists aren’t really Stalinists, they’re just actors and directors with families. Nazis are Nazis. But wait, people who snitch on Stalinists, they’re the moral equivalent of Nazis too — even if they have wives and children — and it may, or may not, be acceptable to scapegoat them. In the case of Kazan, according to Dreyfuss for example, yes, the hunt for Communism was like Nazism but Kazan isn’t responsible for the blacklist and it is unfair to blame him for it. But because people in Hollywood have decided that they should blame him for it, he too will sign on with anti-Kazan mob. Besides, you cannot separate the professional man from the whole man — they are one and the same. As Steiger points out, he wouldn’t separate Albert Speer from Nazism. But when it comes to President Clinton, however, Hollywood believes that you can separate the professional man from the whole man. And wait, even though Kazan was a rat, you should still work with him if the part is really good.

Got it?

Well, I’ve included excerpts from the program to help you out.

On Exposing Nazis vs. Stalinists:

HESTON: [If Kazan had outed Nazis instead of Communists] They would have applauded him. He would have been a hero.

BERNSTEIN: It’s a false analogy. It’s spurious.

KING: Why is it spurious, Walter?

BERNSTEIN: It’s spurious because he didn’t inform on Nazis. He informed on other directors, writers, actors who belonged to a legal political body…

(What about Nazi directors? Ooops, sorry. I shouldn’t interrupt. No more editorializing).

On Blaming Convenient People and Other Profiles in Courage:

DREYFUSS: It has become about his testimony. It has become…

KING: But that’s not why they gave it. That’s unfair, Richard, to blame them for giving it for his work.

DREYFUSS: No, no, no. I am not saying that. I am not saying that. I am saying in the months since this has happened, it has grown like top seed. It’s not as simple as black and white. And because of that, I can’t support it.

STEIGER: I couldn’t support Albert Speer no matter how good of an architect he was. I mean, I think the example was we had a man who was our leader in the arts who’s — who is supposed to set an example of leadership, and denied it in his actions for his personal ambition.

(Can anyone say Clinton? Damn. Sorry. Shhh, I’ll be quiet now.)

More Moral Equivalence:

HESTON: Oh, I know that. But Kazan did not create the blacklist. The studios created the blacklist.

DREYFUSS: No, of course he didn’t. He didn’t create it, and he wasn’t responsible for that, nor is he being accused of that.

HESTON: He did not endorse it.

STEIGER: Well, I didn’t create Nazism, but I wouldn’t join it. I don’t understand that.

(Maybe you don’t understand that because you ate a whole deep-fried turkey and half a pound of blotter acid in the greenroom. Okay, this isn’t Jonah now, it’s his couch I sneaked in. Don’t blame him.)

Don’t Blame Us for Being Wrong:

DREYFUSS: Right now, since 1989, it’s been easy to say that everyone should have known before the fall of Communism that it was — it was wrong. That’s to a great extent true. But it can’t — it can’t make up for individual sins.

(Ahhhhh. Well, hmmm. Um: Does this mean that the people who were right shouldn’t get credit? Should we have had a wait and see attitude with Rosa Parks, just in case it turned out she was wrong about Jim Crow?)

On Our President:

CALLER: Hollywood supported President Clinton for his work and not his character, so how can Hollywood justify judging Kazan?

HESTON: I don’t follow that, do you?

KING: Richard, do you want to take that?


KING: Well, Hollywood supported Clinton for his work, not his character. They are — they are endorsing Kazan for his work, not what he did.

STEIGER: Under those circumstances, Clinton can’t name anybody unless he wants to be buried.

KING: But Celeste, that’s backing you up, isn’t it? They’re honoring him for his work.

HOLM: Exactly, yes.

HESTON: Good point.

DREYFUSS: That’s what they say now, but it’s become something else.

(Maybe Chuck Heston is getting a contact high off of Rod’s body odor?)

Richard Dreyfuss, the George Stephanopoulos of Hollywood:

KING: Would you have worked with him?


KING: You would not have? If offered a script, you would have turned it down, even if you loved it?

DREYFUSS: Well, you know, it’s all hypothetical. I’d like to think, at one point, that I wouldn’t. In another way, if it’s a great part, I probably would. And at the core of every actor…

KING: Actors!

(Yes, Larry. Actors!)

Well, I don’t know if any of that made any sense. But you know what tomorrow is? Clarification-and-Correction Friday! We may even have some poll-stuff too. So stay tuned; Same Bat Web-Page, Same Bat-URL…


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