Skip to main content Accessibility help

“Movietime U.S.A”: The Motion Picture Industry Council and the Politicization of Hollywood in Postwar America

  • Kathryn Cramer Brownell (a1)
Hide All


1. Letter from Samuel Goldwyn to President Harry Truman, 16 September 1947, folder, British Tax, Official File 73, Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, Independence, Missouri (HSTL).

2. Eric Johnston, “Report from Europe,” file 12, Motion Picture Association of America, box 1, MPIC Records, Margaret Herrick Library, Douglas Fairbanks Center for Motion Picture Study, Beverly Hills, California (CMPS).

3. Telegram from Walt Disney to President Harry Truman, 16 August 1947, folder, British Tax, Official File 73, HSTL.

4. Discussion of this cliché and its popularity can be found in Powdermaker, Hortense, The Dream Factory (New York, 1950), 254.

5. For a deeper look at the changes wrought in American society by the rise of Hollywood, mass entertainment, and the consumer-based society, see Susman, Warren, Culture as History (New York, 1985); May, Lary, Screening Out the Past: The Birth of Mass Culture and the Motion Picture Industry (Chicago, 1980); Erenberg, Lewis, Steppin’ Out: New York Nightlife and the Transformation of American Culture, 1890–1930 (Chicago, 1981).

6. For a discussion of the contested politics of consensus, see Wall, Wendy, Inventing the American Way: The Politics of Consensus from the New Deal to the Civil Rights Movement (New York, 2008). For a look at the place of free-market ideology driving business opposition to New Deal liberalism in other industries across the country, see Phillips-Fein, Kim, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade against the New Deal (New York, 2010), and Fones-Wolf, Elizabeth, Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism, 1945–1960 (Urbana, 1994).

7. Vaughn, Steven, Ronald Reagan in Hollywood: Movies and Politics (New York, 1994), 182–93, has produced the preeminent research of the MPIC. His chapter “Selling Hollywood”focuses on Ronald Reagan’s work with the committee and also argues that the MPIC, along with the Screen Actors Guild, emerged as two organizations that contributed to Reagan’s political education. This chapter focuses on the lessons in public relations that Reagan received as the MPIC worked to sell the industry.

8. Sklar, Robert, Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, 2nd ed. (New York, 1994); Whitfield, Stephen, The Culture of the Cold War, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, 1996).

9. For a deeper discussion of Louis B. Mayer and his relations with the Republican Party and Herbert Hoover in particular, see Ross, Steven J., Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics (New York, 2011), 512–88.

10. “Ambassadors of goodwill” was a term frequently invoked in the MPIC records in the MPICR, CMPS.

11. Powdermaker, The Dream Factory, 11.

12. For an examination of the reception of this book and how this book contributed to the broader history of film studies, see Cherneff, Jill B. R., “Dreams are Made Like This: Hortense Powdermaker and the Hollywood Film Industry,” Journal of Anthropological Research 47, no. 4 (Winter 1991).

13. Chicago Conference Notes of Public Relations, 1949, folder 3, box 1, MPICR, CMPS.

14. Johnston, Eric, American Unlimited (New York, 1944); see also, May, Lary, The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way (Chicago, 2000), 175213.

15. Pamphlet, Eric Johnston, “Utopia Is Production,” address to the Convention of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees and Motion Picture Machine Operators, 23 July 1946, folder 83, MPA Speeches, 1946–52, box 7, Eric A. Johnston Papers, Joel E. Ferris Research Library and Archives, Easter Washington State Historical Society, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Spokane.

16. Johnston, American Unlimited, 22–23.

17. Ibid., 17.

18. Ibid.0,75. /

19. Motion Picture Industry Council Minutes, 20 July 1948, folder 23, Motion Picture Industry Council, 1948–50, box 13, Walter Wanger Papers, Wisconsin Center for Film & Theater Research, Wisconsin Historical Society, Madison (WCFTR).

20. For more details on how the statistical studies of the changing audience brought on by suburbanization and shifting priorities to the home, see Sklar, Movie-Made America, 269–86.

21. For examples the various testimonies of the “friendly witnesses, see Hearings Regarding the Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry, 80th Cong., 1st sess., 23–24 October 1947 (Washington, D.C., 1947). The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of Ideals provided extensive allegations for the HUAC investigators, some based in research and others based in broader, less factually based allegations. The key Alliance members that brought to light these allegations against progressive celebrity activism were John Motiff, Ayn Rand, Lela Rogers, James McGuinniss, Robert Taylor, Walt Disney, and Adolphe Menjou. Two secondary accounts of the details of the hearings stand out: Sklar, Movie-Made America, and Ceplair, Lary and Englund, Steven, The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930–1960, 2nd ed. (Chicago, 2003).

22. Speech by Eric Johnston, “Agreement not Compulsion,” 18 September 1946, folder 83, box 8, Eric Johnston Papers.

23. Speech by Eric Johnston at the opening meeting of the Conference of Motion Picture Industry Organizations, 30 August 1949, file 4, Chicago ’49, box 1, Motion Picture Industry Council Records, CMPS.

24. MPIC Minutes, 20 July 1948, folder 23, box 3, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

25. Proposed Charter of the Motion Picture Industry Council, 18 February 1949, file 348, Motion Picture Industry Council 1948–50, American Motion Picture and Television Production Files, CMPS.

26. “Hollywood Fights Back,” Kiplinger Magazine, July 1950, folder 23, MPIC 1948–50, box 3, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

27. Conference Notes on Public Relations, 1949, folder 3, Chicago Convention, box 1, Motion Picture Industry Council Records, CMPS.

28. See Ronald Reagan, “A Guest Editorial,” 11 December 1951, Hartford Times, news clipping in folder 352, MPIC Clippings and Reprints, box 36, American Motion Picture and Television Production Records, CMPS. See also Rosalind Russell, “They Still Lie about Hollywood,” Look, July 1951, news clipping in folder 13, box 24, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

29. For more details on the role of Hollywood in publicizing Father Peyton’s “Family Theater of the Air,” see Gribble, Richard, “‘Family Theater of the Air’: The Radio Ministry of Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., 1945–1952,” U.S. Catholic Historian 19, no. 3 (Summer 2001): 5166. For the MPIC promotion of the connection between Father Payton and Hollywood, see letter from Art Arthur to Taylor Mills, 11 April 1951, folder 349, Motion Picture Industry Council, 1951–55, box 36, American Motion Picture and Television Records, CMPS.

30. News clip included in the MPIC minutes, 26 March 1952; Emmet Lavery, “Some Live by Faith: The Other Side of Hollywood,” Catholic World (February 1952), folder 1, Motion Picture Industry Council 1952–55, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

31. Russell, “They Still Lie about Hollywood,” Look, July 1951.

32. In her landmark study on grassroots conservatism, Lisa McGuirr explores how this libertarian view infiltrated suburban households, in Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (Princeton, 2001). The message proposed by the MPIC was not the same as the Far Right, which mobilized many in Southern California to support organizations like the John Birch Society. The MPIC message was right of center and spoke to movie fans who read Hedda Hopper’s columns; this is explored in Frost, Jennifer, Hedda Hopper’s Hollywood: Celebrity Gossip and American Conservatism (New York, 2011).

33. Reagan, “A Guest Editorial,” Hartford Times, 11 December 1951.

34. Speech, “Hollywood’s Public Service Record,” file 355, MPIC Speeches, AMPTP Records, CMPS.

35. “Some Sampling of Audience Reaction to Speeches in UPT-MPIC Program,” file 349, MPIC, 1951–55, n.d., AMPTP Records, CMPS.

36. Statement of Hon. Sheridan Downey of California, “The Motion Picture Torch of Freedom,” 12 October 1949, Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 81st Cong., 1st sess.

37. Eric Johnston, “Finds Trade Barriers Impinge Screen Freedom: Eric Johnston Replies to Sir Alexander Korda’s Charges Against Hollywood,” Speech reprinted in the New York Times, 15 December 1946, folder 7, MPA Articles and Statements, 1946–58, Box 6, Eric Johnston Papers.

38. News clipping, Allen Chellas, which appeared in This Week Magazine, 3 April 1949, folder 12, MPAA 1947–50, box 1, MPIC Records, CMPS.

39. See, for example, letter from Kay Lenard, president of the Motion Picture Industry Council, to Borden Chase, chairman of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, 18 February 1955, and letter from the MPA Board to its members, 28 February 1955, both located in folder 3870, Hedda Hopper Papers, CMPS.

40. See, for example, correspondences in Hedda Hopper Papers about anticommunist issues between the MPA and the MPIC in Hopper’s file on MPIC member, Walter Wanger: File 3520, Walter Wanger File, Hedda Hopper Papers, CMPS.

41. For a discussion of the wide circulation and the various responses to the Screen Guide for Americans, see Lillian Ross “Upward and Onward with the Arts,” New Yorker, 21 February 1948, 42; see also a discussion of this in May, The Big Tomorrow, 203.

42. Motion Picture Association Release, 13 December 1949, file 1, Ambassadors Abroad, MPIC Records, CMPS.

43. Speech, American Films: Ambassadors of Democracy,” by Valentine Davies, file 355, MPIC Speeches, AMPTP, CMPS.

44. Various of these reports are found in “General Reflections on the Constructive Influence of American Films Abroad in Behalf of Democracy,” folder 23, box 13, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

45. Remarks of Hon. Joseph F. Holt, “Films Building Good Will for America,” 27 April 1953, Congressional Record, folder 7, Congress, box 1, MPIC Records, CMPS.

46. Minutes overview, 11 December 1950, folder 23, box 13, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

47. Telegram from Harry S. Truman to Dr. John R. Steelman, 20 November 1946, folder, A White House Motion Picture Conference, Official File 73, HSTL.

48. Remarks of John R. Steelman, “Motion Pictures and the Government Program,” folder, A White House Motion Picture Conference, Official File 72, HSTL.

49. “A Plan for Cooperation with the U.S. Government in the Making of Armed Forces and Information Films,” circulated to MPIC members on 13 December 1950, folder 23, box 3, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR. For earlier forms of the plans for cooperation under the OWMR with John Steelman, see letter from S. H. Fabian to Katherine Blackburn and John Steelman, 6 March 1947, folder, January–October 1947, Official File 73, HSTL.

50. MPIC member letter, 12 March 1954, folder 1, Motion Picture Industry Council 1952–55, box 14, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

51. Reagan, Ronald and Hubler, Richard C., Where’s the Rest of Me? (New York, 1965), 331.

52. “Tax Exemption Hit on Church Activity,” 28 January 1958, New York Times, 19.

53. MPIC minutes, 20 February 1958, folder 2, MPIC 1956–58, box 14, Walter Wanger Papers, WCFTR.

54. For a look at the role of Lemuel Boulware and General Electric in stimulating Reagan’s turn toward conservatism, see Evans, Thomas, The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of His Conversion to Conservatism (New York, 2006).

55. For a look at the various other Hollywood experiences that shaped Ronald Reagan’s political outlook, see Vaughn, Ronald Reagan in Hollywood.

56. Reagan and Hubler, Where’s the Rest of Me? 330.

57. For a look at the variety of types of academic work that point to Reagan’s Hollywood experience as a training in style that helped him communicate with the American public during his presidency, see Cannon, Lou, President Reagan: The Role of Lifetime, 2nd ed. (New York, 2001); Gabler, Neal, Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality (New York, 1998); Kernell, Samuel, Going Public: New Strategies of Presidential Leadership, 3rd ed. (Washington, D.C., 1997); Rogin, Michael, Ronald Reagan: The Movie (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987); Troy, Gil, Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s (Princeton, 2005).

58. Memorandum re: Hollywood Volunteer Effort, 14 September 1952, folder, Hollywood for Stevenson Sparkman II, box 371, Television and Radio Division, Democratic National Committee Records (DNCR), John F. Kennedy Library (JFKL), Boston.

59. Memorandum re: Distribution, From Hollywood for Stevenson to Tom Durrance, 22 September 1952, folder, Hollywood for Stevenson Sparkman II, box 371, Television and Radio Division, DNCR, JFKL.

60. In the 1944 election, for example, Hollywood liberals worked to establish strong networks with liberal and progressive wings of the Democratic Party and actively refused to support southern conservatives. They pushed for policy changes, in particular, dismantling the poll tax and removing discriminatory barriers for African American participation in the political process, and creating adequate child-care programs and expanding the social welfare net begun by the New Deal. For details of this policy push that coincided with electoral support and publicity, see Report, “Hollywood Democratic Committee Background,” folder 1, History, box 1, Hollywood Democratic Committee Records, WCFTR.

61. Letter from Darryl Zanuck to Cary Grant, folder, Political, 1952, box 64:33, Jack L. Warner Papers, USC.

62. Letter from Darryl Zanuck to Cary Grant, folder, Political, 1952, Box 64:33, Jack L. Warner Papers, USC.

63. For a brief discussion of “Citizens for Eisenhower” and its role in the 1952 and 1956 elections in pushing the Republican Party toward a candidate-centered politics, see Bibby, John F., “Party Organizations,” in Partisan Approaches to Postwar American Politics, ed. Shafer, Byron E. (New York, 1998), 153.

64. For accounts of this collaboration between Hollywood figures and Young & Rubicam in the organization, “Citizens for Eisenhower,” see Jack L. Warner Papers, USC, and Citizens for Eisenhower Files of Young & Rubicam, Inc., 1952–61, Staff Files, Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Abilene, Kansas. And for a broader discussion of the publicity strategies invoked by Eisenhower during the 1950s, see Allen, Craig, Eisenhower and the Mass Media: Peace, Prosperity, and Primetime TV (Chapel Hill, 1993).

65. Discussion of the publicity potential of late-night television for the Republican Party can be found in a variety of news clippings in the CORE Collection, Actors and Actresses in Politics, 1964–66, CMPS. For a discussion of the sunbelt appeal of entertainers like Ronald Reagan, see Michael Miles, “Reagan and the Respectable Right,” folder, Reagan: Articles Re: California Politics and Government, box 1, PPS 501, Ronald Reagan, Special Files, Research Files, Campaign 1968 Materials, Pre-Presidential Papers, Richard Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, California.

66. Ross, Hollywood Left and Right, 167. For a longer discussion on the transformation of Murphy and Reagan into movement politicians for the right, see Ross, Hollywood Left and Right, 131–83.

67. Memo to H. R. Haldeman from Jeb Stuart Magruder, 6 December 1971, folder Celebrities, 4 of 4, box 14, Subseries B: Alphabetical, Series II: Subject Files, Jeb Stuart Magruder Papers, Committee for the Re-election of the President Collection, Richard Nixon Library, Yorba Linda, California.

I would like to thank Don Critchlow and the reviewers at the Journal of Policy History for extremely insightful suggestions for revisions of the article. I would also like to thank Bruce Schulman, Ian Scott, Steven Vaughn, Lary May, Jennifer Frost, Anne Blaschke, and Sarah Phillips for their helpful comments, critiques, and suggestions as I developed and revised the article.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Policy History
  • ISSN: 0898-0306
  • EISSN: 1528-4190
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-policy-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed