Khruschev In Hollywood: Sept. 1959
Various: Face To Face With America: The Story Of N.S. Khruschov’s Visit To The U.S.A., Sept. 15-27, 1959
I came across this interesting volume at the local used book store. Nikita Khruschev came to the US in 1959 in what was a sensational visit. I was in the process of being discharged from the Treasure Island Navy base and taking up residence in Oakland at the time thus being otherwise occupied at the time so I have no actual remembrance of the visit.
The Soviet press accompanying Khruschev obviously went back home and got this nearly seven hundred page volume together in a couple months. The book reads very well, almost like a Russian novel of the nineteenth century. Actually very enjoyable. especially as a first hand account. In the course of the book the writers offer this very interesting Russian account of the nature of Hollywood’s effect on America. I quote in full: pp. 217-220
HOLLYWOOD- AMERICA’S FILM FACTORY
While we are on the way to America’s film capital, it is well worth giving a brief account of it, telling why it plays such an essential part in America and why to many ordinary, unsophisticated boys and girls it is the city of dreams.
Hollywood is, in fact, a gigantic film factory of a New York office for propagating and consolidating the American way of life. Gigantic is no exaggeration. Hollywood annually produces hundreds of films which are shown not only all over America but in many other countries as well. Decades of film propaganda and the allocation of a special role in the American way of life and American thinking to films are responsible for the fact that films have, indeed, become part of the average American’s life.
In the American family motion pictures take the place of books, museums, concert halls, the theatre and discussion between friends. Films tell the Americans how to behave, to dress, to eat, treat the family, sweethearts and children, and even how to view world events. Films give them the answers to all their questions- from what brand of cigarettes to smoke to the best buy in TV sets and automobiles. If you want to know why all American boys suddenly adopt the crew-cut fad, go to a movie and see the hair-lay of the latest male star. If, as though in a fairy-tale, the girls of some city unexpectedly, literally within a day or two, change their skirts for slacks, you can rest assured that it is the “dictate” of the new film star- Kim Novak, Shirley MacLaine, or some such.
The omnipotent penetration of Hollywood and its products into the life of the Americans has been going on for years. Billions of dollars, the newspapers and the radio, stories spreading intimate details from the life of the popular film stars, and even the church have been mobilized to create the cult of Hollywood. Far be it from us to say that Hollywood with its dozens of studios has contributed nothing of significance to the world’s cinematographic art. Many good films have been made there, and eminent producers and actors began their careers there too.
But with a cynical indifference to the destiny of individual honest craftsmen, Hollywood has always asserted its principal rule- to drum into the minds of the Americans the idea that they invariably, day and night, at work, at home, in school, at college and in the army, act according to the advice and decisions of the Hollywood gods and its New York bosses.
The American motion picture producers readily underline that Hollywood films are apolitical and have no ulterior motive. Nothing is farther from the truth. To be sure, the whole history of Hollywood is one of trends in American art. Of course, these trends varied with time, always assuming some concrete expression. There was a time when Hollywood did all n its power to assert the cult of the brave cowboy and sheriff, the maker of America’s “democratic” history. Then came a wave of detective films followed by films about the police and “supermen”; a meticulous, almost pathological rummaging in human psychology is a characteristic of popular films today. Hollywood tries to come closer to the church, to sacred themes- but, of course, by recasting them in the American manner. Biblical commandments and other miracles appear with increasing frequency on the screen, the American cinema openly boosting religion.
But whatever the waves in which the Hollywood film production submerges the average American- police, cowboy, detective or religious- the main principals of mass ideological pressure imposed on Hollywood in the twenties, when Big Business and the Catholic hierarchy placed the odious figure of Will H. Hays at the helm of Hollywood, remain in force.
What are these principles? Hays briefly formulated them as follows: “Every American film must assert that the United States way of life is one and only for any person. At any rate, every film must be optimistic and must show the small man that some time and somewhere he will catch his fortune by the tail. A film must not turn the dark aspects of our life inside out and must not kindle any powerful or dynamic passions.”
The last sentence clearly forbade the artist to engage in revolutionary thinking, or in efforts to change the existing state of affairs.
It is in the light of this last “Hays rule” that the end of Charles Chaplin’s work in Hollywood is so noteworthy and tragic. In front of a fashionable cinema in Hollywood there is a concrete platform on which the film celebrities have left imprints of their hands and feet “for posterity”. In our opinion and to our taste this is, naturally, not the best way for an artist to make his mark in history, but the sponsors of this unusual “monument” apparently take a different view.
Be it so. We are referring to something else. When Charles Chaplin, addressing a big meeting during the war, said that it was the Soviet Army that would save the world from fascism, it infuriated the Hollywood bosses and they decided to erase the name of the great artist from history. To them this seemed very simple. They removed the plate containing the imprint of Chaplin’s feet. They hoped that would suffice; they thought Chaplin would cease to exist in the memories of film goers. Then, in order to “finish off” the artist who in all his films debunked the myth about the “American paradise” and was a friend of the little man, they framed Chaplin on a charge of seducing a young actress who had started acting in one of his films. She disappeared from Chaplin’s studio, and soon the newspapers published an alleged letter from her in which she demanded 100,000 dollars to bring up the child which she alleged was Chaplin’s.
This was only the first blow, a small link in the chain of events which soon after the war burst over the heads of scores of eminent Hollywood cinematographers, let alone Chaplin. McCarthyism plunged hundreds of thousands of honest Americans into despondency and fear. McCarthy attacked Hollywood with particular fury. this is understandable, because it was there that McCarthy and his lieutenants wanted to establish a set-up that would ensure the submissive compliance of the men of art for many years to come. Chaplin was summoned before one commission after another. He left the United States, the land where he had lived for 40 years, and went to Europe.
Perhaps when Chaplin bought his ticket to bid America farewell some members of the Un-American Activities Commission heaved a sigh of relief and thought all was over with Chaplin. But Chaplin’s name has remained in the history of American and world cinematography. Even today, when visitors to Hollywood are shown the places bearing the imprints of the hands and feet of Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Deanna Durbin, and many other well-known American film actors and actresses, it is interesting to note that each without fail asks the guide where is Charles Chaplin’s imprint.
The time of the McCarthy witch-hunt was the hardest in the life and history of Hollywood. Ten prominent American film workers were accused of communist sympathies and jailed. The interrogators of the McCarthy commission filled hundreds of pages questioning film actors, producers and script writers one after another. Fear descended upon Hollywood and engendered what fear always engenders- time-serving decay, and servility.
Hollywood needed time to recover, to settle into shape after the terror, distrust, and denunciations. The complex process is not yet finished, although it would, of course, be wrong to assert that nothing has changed in Hollywood and that there are no forces wishing to take a sober view of the world, the relations between the peoples and the problems of the development of art, albeit slowly and timidly, in Hollywood today.
I’m sure the Soviet writers would be surprised that the situation has deteriorated even further. One has to be even more careful of what one says but has to erase any remarks one may have made under duress as much as twenty-five years earlier. Today the punishment is swift and sure for shaking violently after having had a gun put to your head by a Negro with all the fears that has for a woman. Paula Deen uttered the horrific word nigger in reference to the Gentleman of Color who robbed her and might have raped her or blown her brains out. I doubt if he even went to jail. In Nashville you can do worse than what happened to Paula and be defended as innocent. No shit!
Imagine having a lucrative career destroyed, a penalty of possibly tens of millions of dollars for the crime of uttering ‘nigger’ twenty-five years ago. Imagine that. What were the Soviets complaining about? Of course they had no crystal ball for the future or they might have been even more astonished at the course American “civilization” has taken. What new “American” way of life have the asses of Hollywood created? Stay tuned, you may be even more astonished.