IXTAPA, Mexico — “There is no such thing as a blacklist anymore,” George Clooney declared in 2005 while promoting his black-and-white hagiography of Edward R. Murrow, “Good Night, And Good Luck.”
One eternally optimistic showman who has endured the Red Scare as well as the current Hollywood political disorder (let’s not call it the “b-word” and upset Rosemary Clooney’s nephew) is actor-raconteur - and my father-in-law - Orson Bean, who last week took our entire family to Mexico for his 80th birthday.
Orson was the young, hot comic on “The Ed Sullivan Show” when Mr. Sullivan told him he could no longer perform on the show owing to his 1956 outing in the anti-Commie newsletter, Red Channels. Today, Orson is a conservative Republican and once again on the wrong side of the censors.
Timing is everything.
“Aside from the inconvenience of having a career ruined, being blacklisted in the ‘50s was kind of cool,” Orson recalled over watered-down dark rum pina coladas poolside at Club Med.
“You were doing ‘the right thing.’ Hot, left-wing girls admired you. You hadn’t ‘named names.’ The New York Times was on your side. And you knew it would pass. Things always do in America. The glory of this country is that it’s a centrist nation. The pendulum swings just so far to the left, then it swings back to the right. You have to have lived a long life to experience this. It has a calming effect.”
Unfortunately, this time around the New York Times and the left-wing girls play an integral role in keeping the pendulum right where it is - and that is far to the left. But hope springs eternal.
Even while Mr. Clooney contradicts his bold statement that there is no blacklist in Hollywood (apparently because only a small minority practices it), he basically gets it right.
For ignoring the crimes of brutal dictators while ripping our democratically elected president during a time of war, Mr. Clooney probably wouldn’t be hired by one Hollywood producer - and I think I know him. And he wouldn’t hire Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Penn, Tim Robbins, Woody Harrelson, Jessica Lange, John Cusack or Danny Glover, either. Bias happens.
The problem occurs when the 50-to-1 ratio is flipped and Mr. Clooney and his allegedly egalitarian allies are doing most of the hiring. Remember his pal Julia Roberts’ slurs against Republicans? “Repugnant” Reaganites and “reptilian” Bushies planning to work on the “Ocean’s 14” set have mastered a code of conduct: silence.
And when like minds aren’t meeting each other at work, and they aren’t schmoozing Monday morning at Hugo’s, and they aren’t talking about what they care about, then they aren’t making projects they believe in.
That’s hardly a free and creative environment. But maybe Hollywood stopped being that a while ago.Sorry, George.
When a big star like Bruce Willis sees his New York bar protested for his being a Republican, and his Hollywood pals don’t rally to his defense, it’s no wonder Mr. Willis doesn’t talk openly about politics anymore.
It may not be a blacklist. But it is opaque and effective. And it is repugnant, Julia.
When asked why he made the umpteenth uniquely brave film attacking Joseph McCarthy, Mr. Clooney responded, “I thought it was a good time to raise the idea of using fear to stifle political debate.” (Self-righteous poseurs like Mr. Clooney make the ideological minority’s experience especially torturous when they “speak truth to power” and act as if they are taking on a censorious government Goliath.)
His answer - aimed at the Bush administration, which he knew would not retaliate in any punitive way - takes on a different meaning for his conservative peers in the shadows.
Then there was Mr. Clooney’s famous industry self-congratulations at the 2006 Academy Awards: “We’re the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939, when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community.”
By falsely linkingtoday’s politically correct order to pre-civil rights Hollywood - well before the town was subsumed by baby-boomer moral confusion and when party representation was varied - the perpetually campaigning Mr. Clooney shows why the system pays him well.
His sanctimony is symptomatic of the current Hollywood power structure. He is an unwitting tool that lets the industry get away with political blackballing by repeating the notion that the business is pure and uses art to remedy reactionary mistakes of the past.
While Orson’s trajectory was not typical of the average conservative convert (see his controversial 1971 book on Wilhelm Reich’s sexually liberating psychotherapy, “Me and the Orgone”), he publicly endorsed Richard Nixon and wrote an early piece for National Review.
“When the blacklist hit, I saw actors walk across the street to avoid me. The doorman at 485 Madison Avenue (former CBS headquarters) turned his back as I walked by. But I never felt hated by the ring-wing blacklisters. They just felt we were terribly wrong,” he said.
“These days, the left doesn’t just disagree with right-wingers - they hate them. People actually shudder when I tell them I’m a Republican. I should have to carry a bell and yell, ‘unclean.’ It doesn’t bother me, though. I’ve been on both ends. Being hated is like voodoo. It only works if you feel hated. And I just won’t. I know it will pass.”
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