J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War

J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies: The FBI and the Origins of Hollywood's Cold War

by John Sbardellati

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Between 1942 and 1958, J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a sweeping and sustained investigation of the motion picture industry to expose Hollywood’s alleged subversion of "the American Way" through its depiction of social problems, class differences, and alternative political ideologies. FBI informants (their names still redacted today) reported to Hoover’s G-men on screenplays and screenings of such films as Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), noting that "this picture deliberately maligned the upper class attempting to show that people who had money were mean and despicable characters." The FBI’s anxiety over this film was not unique; it extended to a wide range of popular and critical successes, including The Grapes of Wrath (1940), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Crossfire (1947) and On the Waterfront (1954).

In J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies, John Sbardellati provides a new consideration of Hollywood’s history and the post–World War II Red Scare. In addition to governmental intrusion into the creative process, he details the efforts of left-wing filmmakers to use the medium to bring social problems to light and the campaigns of their colleagues on the political right, through such organizations as the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, to prevent dissemination of "un-American" ideas and beliefs.

Sbardellati argues that the attack on Hollywood drew its motivation from a sincerely held fear that film content endangered national security by fostering a culture that would be at best apathetic to the Cold War struggle, or, at its worst, conducive to communism at home. Those who took part in Hollywood’s Cold War struggle, whether on the left or right, shared one common trait: a belief that the movies could serve as engines for social change. This strongly held assumption explains why the stakes were so high and, ultimately, why Hollywood became one of the most important ideological battlegrounds of the Cold War.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801450082
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 05/15/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

John Sbardellati is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Waterloo.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction: Hollywood's Red Scare 1

1 A Movie Problem 9

2 The FBI's Search for Communist Propaganda during the Second World War 41

3 Producing Hollywood's Cold War 69

4 The Coalescence of a Countersubversive Network 106

5 The 1947 HUAC Trials 131

6 Rollback 159

Conclusion: Three Perspectives on the Death of the Social Problem Film 184

Appendix: Analysis of Motion Pictures Containing Propaganda: An FBI Filmography of Suspect Movies 197

Notes 209

Index 247

What People are Saying About This

Hugh Wilford

In exploring FBI surveillance of and operations against the Hollywood film colony prior to the 1950s, John Sbardellati has illuminated a previously obscure yet clearly important chapter in the history of both the U.S. 'countersubversive tradition' and American cinema. Sbardellati combines the history of the FBI with that of the Hollywood left so as to create the roundest possible account of the subject. His original and wide-ranging archival research informs a valuable and fascinating reconstruction of the attitudes and activities of the Los Angeles division of the FBI. (Hugh Wilford, California State University Long Beach, author of The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America)

Kathryn Olmsted

John Sbardellati expertly blends cultural and political history in this trenchant and lively analysis of the countersubversive attack on Hollywood. The book tells the chilling story of how the politics of un-Americanism dramatically altered film content and left a lasting legacy of fear. (Kathryn Olmsted, author of Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11)

Tony Shaw

No one knows the FBI's movie files like John Sbardellati. His book shines light on the enigmatic J. Edgar Hoover and on the FBI's role in the Red Scare. It is a must-read for students and scholars of the cultural Cold War. (Tony Shaw, author of Hollywood's Cold War)

Lary May

In J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies, John Sbardellati adds a whole new dimension to the story of anti-Communism in Hollywood. His original research in FBI documents and archives clearly demonstrates the intense involvement of the FBI with the House Un-American Activities Committee and their long-term effort to remove any taint of left-wing politics from the nation's screens. Sbardellati shows with convincing detail that the FBI, conservative politicians, and Hollywood anti-Communists were motivated by an intense drive to reshape American culture. (Lary May, University of Minnesota, author of The Big Tomorrow: Hollywood and the Politics of the American Way)

Katherine A. S. Sibley

This penetrating book highlights the FBI's decades-long obsession with the movie industry. John Sbardellati well shows us how Hoover's conservative and patriarchal worldview stifled the making of a wide spectrum of social-problem films after World War II and undermined the very democratic principles he claimed to be defending from Communism. (Katherine A. S. Sibley, author of Red Spies in America: Stolen Secrets and the Dawn of the Cold War)

Daniel Leab

J. Edgar Hoover Goes to the Movies is essential reading for anyone interested in the politics of the American movie industry and the impact on it of J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau, and FBI agents at a crucial time. (Daniel Leab, editor of American Communist History)

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