Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life

Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life

Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life

Showbiz Politics: Hollywood in American Political Life

Synopsis

Conventional wisdom holds that John F. Kennedy was the first celebrity president, in no small part because of his innate television savvy. But, as Kathryn Brownell shows, Kennedy capitalized on a tradition and style rooted in California politics and the Hollywood studio system. Since the 1920s, politicians and professional showmen have developed relationships and built organizations, institutionalizing Hollywood styles, structures, and personalities in the American political process. Brownell explores how similarities developed between the operation of a studio, planning a successful electoral campaign, and ultimately running an administration. Using their business and public relations know-how, figures such as Louis B. Mayer, Bette Davis, Jack Warner, Harry Belafonte, Ronald Reagan, and members of the Rat Pack made Hollywood connections an asset in a political world being quickly transformed by the media. Brownell takes readers behind the camera to explore the negotiations and relationships that developed between key Hollywood insiders and presidential candidates from Dwight Eisenhower to Bill Clinton, analyzing how entertainment replaced party spectacle as a strategy to raise money, win votes, and secure success for all those involved. She demonstrates how Hollywood contributed to the rise of mass-mediated politics, making the twentieth century not just the age of the political consultant, but also the age of showbiz politics.

Excerpt

Almost seventy years before the movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger launched a successful 2003 campaign for the California governorship on the Tonight Show and used famous movie phrases like “Hasta la vista, baby ” as his political slogans, another California gubernatorial drama played out over the airwaves, on newsreels, and in the printed press to captivate the nation for its entertainment value and political novelty. Long before advertising budgets for electoral campaigns soared past $400 million, the New York Times followed a California race that stood out as “the costliest campaign in the state’s history.” Decades before Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election to the presidency showcased how acting skills and political networks honed in Southern California could pave the path to the White House, journalists penned the “fantastic” and shocking story of how a political campaign on the West Coast had “turn[ed] into a movie set.” This California electoral battle in 1934 showed the political potential of the socalled Hollywood Dream Machine and displayed strategies, assumptions, and tactics that Ronald Reagan and then Arnold Schwarzenegger would deploy to win high political office decades later. Long ago in California, the American public saw traditional political mudslinging meet a new media politics, and journalists and politicians alike watched with unease and concern as Hollywood spectacle transformed political life in Southern California.

Pitted against one another in this 1934 gubernatorial election were show business professionals with celebrity appeal and an intimate knowledge of how to sell a particular message through the silver screen. During the political conflict that unfolded, the players involved understood that success depended on media perceptions of who was the villain and who was the hero. On one side stood the internationally known author Upton Sinclair. With an artfully crafted message designed for mass appeal to the . . .

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