- Kathryn Cramer BrownellKathryn Cramer BrownellHistory Department, Purdue University
Hollywood has always been political. Since its early days, it has intersected with national, state, and local politics. As a new entertainment industry attempting to gain a footing in a society of which it sat firmly on the outskirts, the Jewish industry leaders worked hard to advance the merits of their industry to a Christian political establishment. At the local and state level, film producers faced threats of censorship and potential regulation of more democratic spaces they provided for immigrants and working class patrons in theaters. As Hollywood gained economic and cultural influence, the political establishment took note, attempting to shape silver screen productions and deploy Hollywood’s publicity innovations for its own purposes. Over the course of the 20th century, industry leaders forged political connections with politicians from both parties to promote their economic interests, and politically motivated actors, directors, writers, and producers across the ideological spectrum used their entertainment skills to advance ideas and messages on and off the silver screen. At times this collaboration generated enthusiasm for its ability to bring new citizens into the electoral process. At other times, however, it created intense criticism and fears abounded that entertainment would undermine the democratic process with a focus on style over substance. As Hollywood personalities entered the political realm—for personal, professional, and political gain—the industry slowly reshaped American political life, bringing entertainment, glamor, and emotion to the political process and transforming how Americans communicate with their elected officials and, indeed, how they view their political leaders.