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Columbia University Press
Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies / Edition 1

Hearst Over Hollywood: Power, Passion, and Propaganda in the Movies / Edition 1

by Louis Pizzitola
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Hollywood—crossroads of filmmaking, mythmaking, and politics—was dominated by one man more than any other for most of its history. It was William Randolph Hearst who understood how to use cinema to exploit the public's desire for entertainment and to create film propaganda to further his own desire for power. From the start, Hearst saw his future and the future of Hollywood as one and the same. He pioneered and capitalized on the synergistic relationship between yellow journalism and advertising and motion pictures. He sent movie cameramen to the inauguration of William McKinley and the front lines of the Spanish-American War. He played a prominent role in organizing film propaganda for both sides fighting World War I. By the 1910s, Hearst was producing his own pictures—he ran one of the first animation studios and made many popular and controversial movie serials, including The Perils of Pauline (creating both the scenario and the catchphrase title) and Patria. As a feature film producer, Hearst was responsible for some of the most talked-about movies of the 1920s and 1930s. Behind the scenes in Hollywood, Hearst had few equals—he was a much-feared power broker from the Silent Era to the Blacklisting Era.

Hearst Over Hollywood draws on hundreds of previously unpublished letters and memos, FBI Freedom of Information files, and personal interviews to document the scope of Hearst's power in Hollywood. Louis Pizzitola tells the hidden story of Hearst's shaping influence on both film publicity and film censorship—getting the word out and keeping it in check—as well as the growth of the "talkies," and the studio system. He details Hearst's anti-Semitism and anti-Communism, used to retaliate for Citizen Kane and to maintain dominance in the film industry, and exposes his secret film deal with Germany on the eve of World War II.

The author also presents new insights into Hearst's relationships with Marion Davies, Will Hays, Louis B. Mayer, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler, and the Kennedys. Hearst Over Hollywood is a tour de force of biography, cultural study, and film history that reveals as never before the brilliance and darkness of Hearst's prophetic connection with Hollywood.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780231116466
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Publication date: 01/09/2002
Series: Film and Culture Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 540
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.22(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Louis Pizzitola is a visual artist and an amateur filmmaker.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Behind the Scenes


The Tammany Model

In the 1930s a writer described Hollywood as "the creature and the wish-fulfillment of the mob on which Hearst has played all his life." William Randolph Hearst, he said, "will not be understood by those who miss his personal preference for the gaudy features that sold his papers along the Fourteenth streets of the land, and who suppose that he consciously and sardonically stooped to a plane below that which he lived."

    When these observations were made, Fourteenth Street was still fondly remembered by many New Yorkers as its first Great White Way, a gaslight rialto, the cradle of the modern entertainment industry. For several decades before the turn of the twentieth century, this long wide street at the edge of the Tenderloin district and overlooking Union Square was home for the city's most important music and stage periodicals, its most popular actors' hotels, and even show business's most celebrated legends: the offices of the William Morris Agency, located between Third and Fourth Avenues. Some of the "gaudy features" of Fourteenth Street most likely recalled were the embarrassment of brothels, pool halls, and saloons often owned by ex-prizefighters or local politicians. The street—dubbed "the line" because it stood at the junction of the densely immigrant populated Lower East Side—was also famous for its beer gardens. Its most popular were on the south side of the street:Theiss's music hall and Luchow's restaurant and hotel, a rendezvous for celebrated opera singers and less renowned show people from the nearby Bowery dives. Next door to Luchow's was Huber's Dime Museum, a theme park of raucous entertainment. Huber's was most famous for its German brass bands and circus freak show performers. Because its guttural sounds carried well beyond its walls, Huber's was partly responsible for making Thirteenth Street (where it had a second entrance) one of the more affordable places in the city to rent a flat.

    With its reputation for welcoming less established entertainment and less established entertainers, Fourteenth Street was a natural location for the motion picture show to take root. By the late 1890s most vaudeville houses on the street included short films on their programs, and theater managers and stage performers were doubling as part-time film presenters. William Fox became one of the most famous of these theatrical chameleons. He started as a boy selling umbrellas on the sidewalk outside the Clarendon Music Hall on Thirteenth Street, moved inside as one half of a comedy duo, and eventually went on to become owner or part owner of theaters on Fourteenth Street and elsewhere. After saving enough money from his real estate ventures, he went into film distribution and film production, setting up an office in Union Square. By the early twentieth century, the future movie mogul Fox had been joined by the Hungarian-born Adolph Zukor, who presented movies at a penny arcade on Fourteenth Street years before he founded Famous Players-Lasky and Paramount Pictures. Directly across the street from Zukor in those early days was the Biograph Company, where David W. Griffith established himself as a leading film director of the silent era.

    One theater that incorporated film into its lineup of vaudeville acts was in a unique position to play both sides of the respectability game on Fourteenth Street. Tony Pastor's Theater, located on the opposite side of the street from Luchow's, was perhaps the most popular vaudeville house in the entire city in the late nineteenth century, home to rising stars like Sophie Tucker and Harrigan and Hart and a singing waiter it employed named Irving Berlin. In his day Tony Pastor, the theater's impresario and a singer himself, was famous for his knack for finding talent and the quick pacing of his acts, which emphasized comedy and music popular with immigrants. Today, Pastor is best known for being a leader in moving vaudeville into the mainstream by making his shows suitable for men accompanied by their wives. This legend about Pastor seems almost certainly to have been in part a product of press agentry. One of his theater's film presenters in the late 1890s was the pioneer movie producer Albert Smith, who later described how Pastor established a squeaky clean reputation without completely breaking the ties to vice that supported the entertainment business: "It wasn't easy to break down public prejudice. Tony had to entice respectable people into his dingy little theater in Tammany Hall. And he did it by calling in nightly a bevy of damsels wearing conservative dress and soft manners not generally associated with their professions. Properly escorted, these easygoing ladies took seats here and there about the theater. The decoy worked."

    No doubt being located on the ground floor of Tammany Hall, the headquarters for political power for generations, gave Pastor a reason to put the best face on his theater. Tony Pastor's was the official show window for Tammany, but by no means the only popular amusement doubling as a deception.

    Photographs of Tammany Hall in the 1890s show a nondescript building with its upper stories usually bathed in bright sunlight. The commonplace presentation of red brick and marble hardly mirrored the building's inner workings; in fact, Tammany was an oversized octopus that countless editorial cartoonists drew to depict its slippery, untouchable influence. Its dark shadow tumbled down its half-dozen front steps and into the facing street, spreading in all directions, through surrounding tenements, music halls, beer gardens, and brothels. Years before the term came to be universally associated with the Mafia, the Reverend Charles Parkhurst likened Tammany to an "organization of crime." Tammany's weapons were the weapons of gangsters: extortion, intimidation, and worse. There was no aspect of city life that Tammany did not touch and often control. Saloonkeepers, building contractors, fire inspectors, the public transportation authorities, theaters, and hotels all paid handsome and regular tribute to Tammany. Tammany leaders—who were often saloon, theater, or other property owners themselves—made a strange distinction between graft and "good graft." They implied that any alleged excesses and any surplus of money that filled their pockets was excused by the greater good of improving the lot of those citizens who had previously been ignored by everyone, especially the government. But in reality Tammany leaders were mostly interested in enriching themselves, and the poor among them remained poor despite the crumbs cast their way. Tammany Hall played a pivotal role in city, state, and national politics for generations, from the vice presidency of Aaron Burr to the presidencies of Martin Van Buren and Franklin D. Roosevelt, but it was equally influential in shaping business practices and popular culture. Its power was maintained by organized fear and through an expert understanding of the pleasure-seeking masses. It became a model system for those who would create new entertainment arenas successfully linked to political forces and vice.

    Parkhurst, whose widely publicized sermon in 1892 began the first major assault on Tammany and its notorious connections, compared the political machine to Rockefeller's Standard Oil. Tammany, he declared, is a business enterprise that is in the business of coddling and controlling urban criminality. "The material from which it draws prolific dividends," he said, "is crime and vice, such as flourishes in gambling resorts, disorderly houses and corner groceries." Tammany, the master, knew that for it to exist and prosper, its servants had to be kept relatively comfortable. Madams, saloonkeepers, theater owners, and others were provided with protection. Later, as nickelodeon owners sprang up, the same Tammany reward and protection system applied to these new captains of amusement. They enjoyed licensing advantages and escaped the city's fire, liquor, and building rules. And those who did not play Tammany's game found themselves overburdened with regulations or simply denied the chance to build their businesses. In typical monopolistic fashion, Tammany discouraged independent businessmen and encouraged big business, which was always able to provide larger kickbacks and political contributions.

    In the nearby saloons, pool halls, and storefront peep show arcades, whose walls were lined with a photographic hodgepodge of local pugilists, prize horses, and pretty girls, pictures of Tammany politicians competed for the eyes' attention. And outside these venues, like awnings covering the streets, canvas poster-sized pictures or cartoons of candidates for mayor, district leader, sheriff, or even national offices were often strung from banners. One usual destination for these political banners was a theater directly across the street from Tammany Hall. The Dewey Theater was linked to Tammany in more ways than one. Because it was owned by one of the city's most powerful bosses, Timothy D. Sullivan, it had the distinction of being the unofficial entertainment center of Tammany Hall. Tony Pastor's may have been a show window, but the Dewey Theater was the real thing.

    Sullivan—known by constituents as "Big Tim"—was born in 1863, the same year as Hearst, in a tenement on New York City's Greenwich Street. Unlike Hearst, Sullivan lived a childhood in extreme poverty. When Tim was four years old his father died, leaving a young widow to raise four young children. Things went from bad to worse when Tim's mother remarried an Irish immigrant named Lawrence Mulligan, an alcoholic who was physically abusive. Barely seven years old, Tim Sullivan had to quit school and look for a job. He worked as a shoeshine boy in a police station and later as a manual laborer bundling newspapers and loading delivery wagons in Park Row, the great publishing hub in lower Manhattan. Over the next ten years, he gradually worked his way up to becoming a manager overseeing newspaper distribution for a number of different publishers.

    During this period and while still a teenager, Sullivan made his first connection with Tammany Hall. Along with scores of others, he was hired by a district leader shortly before election day and instructed to go from one saloon to another registering voters under different, fictitious names. On election day, Sullivan and his fellow "repeat voters" cast their votes "early and often." Sullivan earned about two dollars per vote, or the equivalent of more than a week's pay loading newspapers. As a young adult, Sullivan was an impressive figure—he was over six feet tall and barrel-chested—but he was also clever and outwardly emotional in manner and speech. He was a good storyteller, fluent in Boweryese, and his best stories were always about his humble upbringing and his innate love of humanity. While he was still working in the wholesale newspaper distribution business, Sullivan made the acquaintance of certain higher-level Tammany men, who must have recognized the bond of devotion that existed between Sullivan and his fellow Lower East Siders and saw in him a modern politician in the making. Picking Sullivan from the anonymous ranks of repeat voters, they hired him to transport protection money and engage in some small-time spying on political opponents. Possibly with some help from or as a reward for helping Tammany, Sullivan opened a saloon near the Bowery in 1885.

    In the late nineteenth century, owning a saloon was an established stepping-stone to political influence, mainly because the system of kickbacks required a saloonkeeper to maintain friendly relations with Tammany. In addition, the saloon itself functioned as a political meeting place, especially among the economically disadvantaged. Evidence that Sullivan was on a fast track to power was indisputable: over the next four years Sullivan became the owner of three more saloons on the Lower East Side, one in a prime location directly across the street from the Tombs police court on Centre Street. During this period, Sullivan was elected to the state assembly. In 1892 he became a district leader under Tammany boss Richard Croker, a former street thug and accused murderer. It was Croker who once tried to elevate Tammany and its nefarious connections by comparing it to Wall Street and other established institutions. "Everything is business," he told Lincoln Steffens, then a reporter for the New York Evening Post.

    Sullivan actively courted press coverage, and most newspaper reporters found that Sullivan was colorful copy. In private, he enjoyed the company of newspapermen, who, almost to a man, fell in line with his liberal attitudes toward drinking, gambling, and sexuality. With few exceptions, the press became his willing accomplice, always playing up the genuinely good aspects of his nature and his various philanthropic works. Press accounts about massive annual shoe giveaways for the poor and regular beer and chowder fests and musical outings to Sulzer's Harlem River Park Casino (future site of Hearst's Cosmopolitan motion picture studio) helped Sullivan to establish a populist persona. At these events, Sullivan's celebrity image was promoted through the sale of his picture, which citizens were encouraged to bring home and hang on their tenement walls.

    Sullivan was not the first to interweave the public's interest in cheap amusements with the corrupt maintenance of political power, and New York was not the only corrupt city. Sullivan's reign, however, occurred at a time and place where sensational journalism and mass entertainment met with explosive force and enormous potential for propaganda. Sullivan's own skill at manipulating these happy accidents cannot be underplayed. When, in rare instances, Sullivan was directly accused of wrongdoing, the press had been well trained to focus on his tearful responses and his homilies about mother and sacrifice. Melodramatic displays and extravagant diversions were simply too tempting for editors interested in selling newspapers.

    The Lexow Committee investigations of 1894 into police corruption exposed a darker side of Sullivan. According to testimony before the committee, very early in his elective career "Big Tim" was seen ordering his cousin Florrie and some other men to severely beat a poll watcher who was resisting Tammany pressure. Along with the threat of violence, Sullivan created a repeat voter system that was cleverly designed to minimize double-crosses. At the time, voters were provided with a choice of ballots to deposit in boxes. Sullivan had the pro-Tammany ballots dabbed with a gum solution mixed with the recognizable scent of sassafras. The repeater was sure about which ballot to choose, and a district leader who got a whiff of a paid repeater afterward was sure his man had chosen correctly. (Sassafras had other Tammany connotations as well: it was an ingredient in drinks prostitutes ordered instead of whiskey to fool their clients into thinking they were drinking alcohol, and it was used by some as a cure for venereal diseases and to induce abortions.)

    Repeaters often doubled as bouncers at saloons, theaters, and brothels, and they were the men who collected protection money from these same establishments during nonelection periods. A madam or a theater owner who wanted to remain in business had little choice but to pay Tammany, and the corrupt system was supported by an abundance of participating allied enterprises, such as preferred brewers, cigarette and cigar manufacturers, clothing and laundry services, newspaper classified pages for soliciting customers, abortionists, and performers to provide entertainment for theater and brothel patrons. James Watson Gerard Jr., who was closely associated with Tammany during this period and went on to become Hearst's attorney, ambassador to Germany during World War I, and a power broker in the Democratic Party for decades, remembered the eve of an election being called "Dough Day." As chairman of the campaign committee, Gerard personally delivered bags of cash—collected in various shakedowns—to district leaders who in turn paid gang members. Sullivan's men were groomed to be some of the most notorious gangsters at the turn of the century: Paul Kelly and his brother "Jimmie" (Italians posing as Irish who mentored Lucky Luciano and Al Capone), "Monk" Eastman, and Arnold Rothstein all rose from the ranks of Sullivan's vote repeaters and strong-arm enforcers.

    One ritual of urban life where Tammany's system of vice and entertainment synergy flourished was the theater. In the theater men and women commingled, the sale of liquor was permitted, darkness provided a modicum of privacy and titillation, and the performances of attractive actors and actresses on the stage played to the audiences' desire for fantasy. The stage shows themselves often included material that promulgated Tammany as the people's friend. Perhaps the most flagrant demonstrations of the theater and prostitution alliance occurred in the so-called third tier. This was a gallery of seats located in the uppermost area of a theater, above the dress and family circles, that was reserved for prostitutes and clients. The convention was first established in the middle of the eighteenth century and commonplace in major American cities by the early 1800s. Theater owners, who sometimes built a special separate stairway in their houses just for prostitutes, encouraged the arrangement. Individual prostitutes (and sometimes an entire brothel) arrived at a theater about an hour before curtain time to avoid meeting other audience members on the street. Liquor was made available for the ladies and their visiting clients at a bar in the rear of their section. From here, the prostitutes made arrangements with men for sexual rendezvous later in the evening at nearby brothels or hotels, although sometimes they used the third tier itself for such sexual encounters.

    By the mid-nineteenth century, under pressure from reformers, many theater owners quietly discontinued the lucrative practice. But, like Willie Sutton, who robbed banks because that was where the money was, prostitutes continued to frequent the places where their clients were. Presumably, a significant number of prostitutes still remained scattered among the audience—the higher-priced women called "stars"—but more often other locations in the theater or nearby the theater became their domain. Frequently, the setting for sexual encounters was the actors' dressing rooms or the greenroom, so called because it was situated in the rear of the theater's scene room where decorative foliage was stored. This arrangement gave rise to the coinage "behind the scenes," used even today, frequently in association with show business, to connote a hidden truth. These in-house provisions for prostitution did not supplant the brothel. There was usually at least one brothel within a block of every theater in New York City, and some, like the brothel in the rear of the Park Theater in Theater Alley, were actually connected to theaters by short hallways, a flight of stairs, or a courtyard. This particular setup was a more elaborate version of the "behind-the-scenes" arrangements and had connections to Sullivan and Hearst as well.

For nearly a decade, beginning in 1895, Hearst was one of the most prominent allies of Tammany Hall. In turn, the official organ of the organization, the Tammany Times, praised his brand of journalism as a populist medium. Tammany's rule of Fourteenth Street and the other streets that stretched beneath its shadow became a model for Hearst, both in his publishing business and in the communications-entertainment industry he was about to help create. The origins of Hearst's affinity with Tammany and its ways almost certainly went back to his formative years, when he learned about the power of putting on a show and the rewards of having a father with powerful friends.

    Two of Hearst's favorite amusements as a child were of a theatrical nature. In a playroom crammed with books, watercolor sets, and mechanical toys, the pièce de résistance was a miniature theater where Hearst could hover over Lilliputian actors, tiny stage sets, and precious dressing rooms. Another, larger theater was for his Punch and Judy shows. From behind its stage, Hearst invisibly controlled a pair of lunatic puppets engaged in a strange mix of comedy and brutality. No doubt Hearst's flashy toys made him a celebrity among his neighborhood friends, and he may have first caught the showman bug from the experience.

    The San Francisco where Hearst was born in 1863 was a rough-and-tumble Punch and Judy show itself, where politics, vice, and entertainment were deftly mixed and political violence shared the stage with sexual bawdiness. The city's earliest female settlers were prostitutes and surprisingly well respected because of their closeness to men in power. Just a few years before Hearst's birth, newspapers regularly presented the San Francisco politician as a rogue or romantic figure; dramatic duels seem to have been an annual event. Like any native son of San Francisco, Hearst would have been acquainted with the Tammany-style bossism that dominated the post-Civil War era. But Hearst had more than a mere acquaintance with such trends because he was not just any son of San Francisco. He was the son of George Hearst, and he never knew a time when his father wasn't interested in politics and political alliances.

    When Hearst was young, Christopher Buckley was the West Coast counterpart to what "Big Tim" Sullivan would become. Buckley actually grew up in New York City, departing for San Francisco on the eve of Boss Tweed's notorious reign at Tammany Hall. Like so many political bosses in the making, Buckley began his career in a saloon, working at the age of seventeen as a bartender at Tom Maguire's San Francisco Snug Saloon. Maguire had also come from New York, where he rose in the entertainment business in the late 1840s as a third-tier bartender at the Park Theater in New York. He parlayed this position into an association with Tammany, and one of its bosses became his partner in a prominent saloon near city hall. Associated at times with producer David Belasco, Maguire became one of the most famous theater personalities in the second half of the nineteenth century. He owned theaters in San Francisco and Sacramento, as well as in the mining town Virginia City. Maguire's Snug Saloon was perhaps the foremost gathering place in San Francisco for politicians, actors, and businessmen.

    Like his boss, Chris Buckley moved effortlessly from bartender to saloon owner. Over the next twenty years, forming alliances with other saloon owners, influential district leaders, and municipal department officials, Buckley delved deeply into politics and successfully managed the campaigns of a number of Democratic Party candidates in San Francisco. His winning qualities echoed those of the Tammany Hall bosses: he knew how to run a tight political machine (which meant perfecting the patronage and repeat voter systems), and he understood the people's need for cheap amusement. In San Francisco, under Buckley's influence, entertainment in the form of circuses and clambakes became a way of life just as chowder parties and clothing giveaways were Tammany's rewards.


Excerpted from HEARST OVER HOLLYWOOD by Louis Pizzitola. Copyright © 2002 by Louis Pizzitola. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Preface: Ourselves as Others See Us
1. Behind the Scenes, 1880s–1890s
2. The Artist-Journalist, 1895–1898
3. Film News, 1898–1906
4. Medium for a New Century, 1900–1907
5. It Pays to Advertise, 1907–1914
6. When Men Betray, 1914–1916
7. Perils of Passion, 1915–1917
8. Trader, 1915–1918
9. The Perils of Propaganda, 1917–1918
10. Fits and Starts, 1917–1919
11. Over Production, 1919–1922
12. Fire and Smoke, 1922–1925
13. Industry, 1925–1929
14. Above the Law, 1929–1934
15. Remote Control, 1934–1940
16. Hollywood Isolationist, 1940–1947
17. No Trespassing, 1947–1951

What People are Saying About This

Rudy Behlmer

Louis Pizzitola's highly original and eminently readable book says a great deal -- and says it well -- about the legendary William Randolph Hearst's influence over the evolution of motion pictures and the culture of Hollywood. Through important primary source materials and a multitude of new interviews -- many of which present fresh and revealing information -- Pizzitola reveals Hearst's strong belief that movies were not only mass entertainment but a powerful propaganda vehicle.

Rudy Behlmer, producer, director, and author of Inside Warner Bros.

Frank Rich

I don't know if there could be a more timely book right now than this particular book...I can't recommend it highly enough.

Tom Doherty

A provocative book that, like its subject, has boundless energy and interdisciplinary range.

Tom Doherty, author of Pre-Code Hollywood

Kevin Brownlow

Hearst Over Hollywood is an impressive work, amazingly well-researched and thoroughly gripping throughout.

Kevin Brownlow, film historian

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