Political Hollywood started much earlier than most people realize. In 1918, FBI leaders William J. Burns and J. Edgar Hoover were so worried about the power of movie stars to affect the political consciousness of a nation that they ordered secret agents to maintain close surveillance over suspected Hollywood radicals. Four years later, Bureau agents confirmed their worst fears. “Numerous movie stars,” they reported, were taking “an active part in the Red movement in this country” and were hatching a plan to circulate “Communist propaganda … via the movies.”1 The Cold War politicians who launched the Red Scare’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s also feared the power of movie stars to alter the way people thought and acted. They understood that movie audiences were also voters, and they asked themselves: Who would people be more likely to listen to: drab politicians or glamorous stars? What if left-leaning celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn, and Edward G. Robinson used their star appeal to promote radical causes, especially Communist causes?
Such fears about radicalism in the movie industry reflect long-standing conventional wisdom that Hollywood has always been a bastion of the