Some 41
October 16, 2018 12:34 AM   Subscribe

The dawn of television promised diversity. Here's why we got "Leave It to Beaver" instead.

The Broadcast 41 is Carol Stabile's research into the concerted efforts of former FBI agents to shape 1950s television by silencing the progressive voices of 1930s and 1940s broadcast media, including forty-one women influencing television and radio production in New York City.

Carol Stabile has recently written a book about these women who wanted to change television and the organizations determined to stop them.
posted by Arson Lupine (15 comments total) 83 users marked this as a favorite
 
Wow. Incredibly interesting post.
posted by medusa at 2:03 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


rainydayfilms: the Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media might give you the hard numbers/stats you're looking for on Gender in the modern Entertainment Industry. Their homepage is Seejane.org
posted by Faintdreams at 3:23 AM on October 16, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've been listening my way through the Blacklist episodes of the You Must Remember This podcast. That focus is more on film than television, but she's doing a good job in the subtext of talking about how so much of the progressive voice in the 50s was shut down, and why - and how far back it started.

And also how arbitrary and unfair it was. A lot of those called on the carpet by HUAC were targeted because they'd participated in some pro-Russia films in the 40s - films that the government had asked them to make in the first place, to normalize the fact that the USSR was our ally during World War II.

Women on the list got special attention - formally it was because of "red" connections, but you could tell that there was unconscious "and you're not behaving like a woman should be" going on too.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:49 AM on October 16, 2018 [36 favorites]


Wow, that was fascinating. Thanks.

EmpressCallipygos's added context is also really interesting.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:15 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


A lot of those called on the carpet by HUAC were targeted because they'd participated in some pro-Russia films in the 40s

I'm listening to that same miniseries right now, and was fascinated to learn that one of the things that would get you on the HUAC list was being "prematurely anti-fascist" -- i.e. speaking out publicly against the Axis powers prior to Pearl Harbor. It gels with what most of us here already knew about American corporations and financiers happily doing business with the Third Reich up until the U.S. entry into WWII, but it does underline the fact that plenty of powerful people in our country were (and still are) surprisingly tolerant of fascism both before and after the war.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:09 AM on October 16, 2018 [34 favorites]


Why was it that when politicians talked about family values, they never used images of their own family?
Well, the sort of pol who talks about "family values" generally has none.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:17 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


After we abolish ICE, we should probably take a long, hard look the FBI as well. From this to COINTELPRO to their harassment of nonviolent leftist groups (and benign neglect of violent right-wing groups), it's clear the whole institution has been deeply sick and, yes, un-American since Hoover founded it.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:23 AM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


EmpressCallipygos: I've been listening my way through the Blacklist episodes of the You Must Remember This podcast. That focus is more on film than television, but she's doing a good job in the subtext of talking about how so much of the progressive voice in the 50s was shut down, and why - and how far back it started.

Does it go back to the pre-Hays Code days? While most of the focus after the fact was on prohibiting displays of "lewd" content, the Motion Picture Production Code was very heteronormative and was against mixed-race "relations."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:07 AM on October 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Not surprising but always enlightening on how the huge post-war rightward revanche was deliberate and orchestrated and not some natural outgrowth of popular will
posted by The Whelk at 9:10 AM on October 16, 2018 [23 favorites]


After we abolish ICE, we should probably take a long, hard look the FBI as well.

Yeah, I was coming in here to say that it feels like every 30th or so FPP is framed, "Here's something neat you didn't know about from the past; here's how the FBI ruined it." I feel like we'd be a lot better off if most of those guys were doing something else with their lives, like cleaning windows or building roads.
posted by Caduceus at 10:21 AM on October 16, 2018 [8 favorites]


Does it go back to the pre-Hays Code days?

I think it may be post-Hays code, but only just - I think they said that the Hollywood organization that started lobbying to push back against "Commies" was founded in 1938.

The whole thing was kind of a mess. What Strange Interlude says is true about how HUAC targeted people who were "prematurely anti-fascist" - but you also have the people spearheading the blacklist casting a really wide net. There were some people who were clearly and obviously Communist Party members, with membership cards and everything; but then you also had the people who attended like one meeting once to check it out and then deciding "nope". Or the people married to those people. And then you also had the people who didn't care one way or the other about communism, but thought that "hey, races should be equal". Or thought "hey, sexuality should be one's own personal business and not criminal."

If you wanna go back even further there is probably evidence that there's a knee-jerk response to some of the things that FDR's New Deal was doing for the theater world - the person they appointed to run the Federal Theater Project was suuuuuuper progressive to the point that she freaked the government out (check out the movie Cradle Will Rock; it gives a decent, if biased, depiction of one of the Federal Theater Projects' biggest incidents).

But there's enough evidence to suggest that that wide-net may have been kind of tweaked a little. A lot of the super-big names in Hollywood managed to stay free of the fray, and it was smaller-fry people like writers and supporting actors who tended to be most affected. (The podcast dryly points out that if the Communist Party really had been conspiring to take over Hollywood, it did a really crappy job of recruiting the people with the actual power.) I just listened to an episode today that discussed Ronald Reagan's activity during the blacklist time - he was in deep cahoots with the FBI, and even reported people who belonged to Veterans' organizations that stated support of racial equality. There may have even been a corporate involvement - GE launched an anthology TV series in the 50s and got Reagan to host it, and threw in all these brand-new GE appliances for his house on top of his payment.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:25 AM on October 16, 2018 [15 favorites]


Hit "post" too soon - someone apparently was digging through one of the movie studio's financial records and discovered a file of payments to J. Edgar Hoover for "story ideas". He discovered similar records at other studios. The YMRT Podcast says that "hey, it's certainly possible Hoover was a frustrated screenwriter...." but it's also possible that these were payments the studios were making to the FBI in exchange for "Gregory Peck's a box office draw, can you leave him alone?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:28 AM on October 16, 2018 [12 favorites]


I thought I knew how bad the McCarthy era was, but wow. Thanks for posting this, and thanks for all the enlightening comments.
posted by rednikki at 12:38 PM on October 16, 2018 [2 favorites]


The YMRT Podcast says that "hey, it's certainly possible Hoover was a frustrated screenwriter...." but it's also possible that these were payments the studios were making to the FBI in exchange for "Gregory Peck's a box office draw, can you leave him alone?"

Hoover does get writing credit on four movies that were based on his book Persons in Hiding, and one on an article of his. The movies weren't really notable at all, modest b-movies, but I'm sure Paramount wasn't making them just for the stories.

My guess is for other studios, that there was a mix of things involved. I suspect they did pay him for "story ideas" that were never used, but also as part of a more complex relationship where Hoover wanted Hollywood to present the FBI to audiences in a good light, and that he almost certainly had dirt on many of the biggest names in Hollywood, and not just regarding the politics. The worry over him revealing some of the sexual involvements, something Hoover seemed to enjoy wielding as a threat, would be at least threatening to the studios as the communist concerns. Hoover had many levers he could use. Studios were all too willing to show the FBI in a good light if it gave them some access and some security.

Hoover and politicians undoubtedly understood the power of Hollywood. They didn't want to destroy the studios by going after the big stars and likely didn't want to risk potentially alienating their fans either. What they needed was the publicity of going after some familiar names to both pressure the rest of Hollywood and to convince the public they meant business. That pressure would cause some stars to come out against communism and some would give names legitimizing the process. That didn't stop some movies from being slyly critical of capitalism, but it did make flag waving and anti-communism a lot more common in movies.

One of the interesting things about the Hays Code was in how it seemed to really help solidify the importance of genre films to Hollywood. Pre-code films were much more wide ranging in subject matter and the different stories were more diverse because of that. Genres were still in a somewhat embryonic stage of development and the change to sound technology further created some real flux in what was being made. When the Hays Code killed a lot of the avenues that were being explored and narrowed what kinds of movies could be made, Hollywood turned more to genre and formula. That would eventually have happened to some large extent anyway, but killing off the other avenues of exploration was something Hollywood never fully recovered from in many ways, leaving us even today with options that sometimes seem less adventurous than during the pre-code days.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:55 PM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


Another timely reminder that J Edgar's on my Time Machine List.
posted by symbioid at 3:46 PM on October 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


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