I Dare Say – Movies, as usual, target for the minority 'pressure groups' (1-26-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (January 26, 1941)

Movies, as usual, target for the minority ‘pressure groups’
By Florence Fisher Parry

I don’t know where the movie industry draws it patience from! It has been the scapegoat for political, religious, artistic, international, civic and every-other-kind-of-persecution ever since it was born. It has spent more wealth; employed more people; circulated more money; furnished more pleasure; occupied more real estate; created more magazines; paid for more newspaper advertising; engaged more reader interest; encouraged more style trends; benefited more women by making them beauty conscious (hence health conscious); educated more children (yes, EDUCATED them; the movies are the greatest supplementary education the public schools have today); increased more general knowledge; paid more taxes; solved more social problems by providing cheap entertainment; fostered more talent along every creative line; paid higher wages and salaries; developed more talent than any other one institution, industry or art on earth.

It is the youngest of all the world industries except aviation and it is already the fifth major industry on earth.

Yet it is buffeted about in Congress at every pretext, pillories by every “investigation” body; it is ridiculed, defamed, belittled, misrepresented, insulted; it is attacked, censured, censored, maligned (No, I am not consulting a Thesaurus. I threw mine out the window years ago, as do all scribes after they get used to writing – just as taxi drivers don’t use fender finders).

Why? Why? Why make the movies the scapegoat?

I testified once or twice before Senate Committees when the anti-Block Booking Bill (popularly known as the Neely Bill) was being agitated. The Committee in both sessions was composed of well-informed, representative Senators. Those who testified against the Bill were the leaders in the motion picture industry. Many had served twenty or more years in it. They were executives of large producing companies, they were men of dignity and experience.

The Senators on the Committee were courteous and anxious to be informed. But most of them acknowledged a complete ignorance of the movies. One, I remember, admitted that he hadn’t seen a movie for five years. They were met to form a recommendation to the Senate whether or not a bill which vitally affected the motion picture industry, the fifth in the country.

Later, as a matter of fact, the Senate DID pass the Bill. The movies, as usual, was the scapegoat.

Then came the war. It cut off 40% of their distribution; maybe far more by now. But they still went on making pictures, to the tune of millions (no, NOT billions, but a million is still quite a sum). Naturally, they tried a few topical themes – yes, the War, why not? But they soon found out that it didn’t pay. The public didn’t want War. Mortal Storm, rated one of the ten best of the year, did only fair business, and that in spite of its war theme. The others did even worse. Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, which was begun two years before the War broke out, did a lively business, but certainly NOT because it was about Hitler. ANY Chaplin picture would have been entertainment News. I can’t for the life of me remember more than six movies that featured the War in any important way.

As for the newsreels, who doesn’t remember how we all kicked because they weren’t giving us ENOUGH newsreels out of France, Great Britain, Norway, etc.? We beat our breasts in vain for pictures from the Front. What did we get? Bathing beauties, styles and sports. Some newsreels, yes; what meager ones we got were very good.

Then along came The Ramparts We Watch, which was more propaganda against war than for it, being as it was a reminder of how we stuck our necks out in the last World War.

Lately, the March of Time has issued ne of its best chapters: “The United States – Non-Belligerent.” It hasn’t been shown here yet, but they say it brings the plight of Great Britain pretty close. This week, a startling picture of London in flames is being shown at the Senator Theater. But for the life of me I can’t see that the movies have been warmongering to nearly the extent that other mediums of expression have been indulging.

Surely, the radio has carried more speeches from Interventionists than the movies have carried newsreels. Surely the press – with all honor and respect to the Hand That Feeds Me – hasn’t pulled its punches when it comes to delivering its public the Facts, both pictorial AND editorial.

But are these avenues of enlightenment cracked down upon? Are they called warmongers? Are our Senators rising in wrath and suggesting that the radios be silenced, the presses stopped?

No. But Senator Burton Wheeler can get by with a demand that the movies be restrained by law from producing and showing WAR “propaganda” (I’d just love to know how many times the Senator has been to the movies in the past year and a half).