Hollywood's relationship with Washington refl ected the broad political trends of the Great Depression decade. Once scorned as vulgar Jewish hucksters, the studio moguls looked to achieve social recognition through political identification with the largely White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) Republican party establishment. For some, most notably MGM's Louis B. Mayer, conservative convictions reinforced status concerns, as was evident in their opposition to the New Deal, the rise of labour unions, and radical causes like Upton Sinclair's End Poverty in California (EPIC) gubernatorial election crusade in 1934. This form of ‘mogul politics’ refl ected the instincts of its promoters: hardness, shrewdness, autocracy and coercion. In contrast, the crisis of the Great Depression and the coming of the New Deal engendered in other segments of the film community, including directors, writers and a galaxy of stars, a significant degree of liberal political activism – and radicalism in the case of some. This chapter analyses the mogul political response to the Great Depression, assesses the signifi- cance of the EPIC campaign for film community politics, and examines the politicisation of the Hollywood workforce in response to the New Deal and the rise of fascism abroad.
Except for Darryl Zanuck and Walt Disney, all the movie moguls (Carl Laemmle, Harry Cohn, Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, Joseph and Nicholas Schenck, the Warner brothers and Adolph Zukor) shared a common Jewish immigrant heritage. These men embodied the American Dream through their rise from the teeming immigrant ghettos of urban America to make fortunes in the new medium of the cinema. Having experienced the extremes of poverty, they jealously guarded their newly acquired fortunes, downplayed their Jewishness, and assimilated into mainstream society.
While taking pride in their accumulation of riches, the Jewish moguls never forgot the pogroms that had driven their families to emigrate from Eastern Europe and were uncomfortably aware of ingrained WASP prejudice in their new homeland. Hollywood's Jewishness came regularly under attack from anti-Semites like Henry Ford, the moguls found themselves barred from the exclusive country clubs and oldest business groups of their adopted Los Angeles, and their children could not gain entry into the city's best schools. In spite of battling each other for ascendancy in the film business, the film bosses saw their real enemies as the ‘goyim of Wall Street who were constantly plotting to take over their studios’.