- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

On the eve of its annual awards ceremony for movie and television performers, the Screen Actors Guild issued a statement warning of a new blacklist aimed at actors who profess anti-war opinions.
In terms so vague yet alarmist that Joe McCarthy himself could hardly have improved on them, the guild insinuated: "Some have recently suggested that well-known individuals who express 'unacceptable' views should be punished by losing their right to work." Ever vigilant, the guild rose up to "deplore the idea that those in the public eye should suffer professionally for having the courage to give voice to their views."
It is not clear who would punish the celebrated actors. In Hollywood these days, it typically is the famous actors themselves who alone possess the clout to get a movie greenlighted. Neither is it clear how much courage is required to voice anti-war views in Los Angeles. Just last month, the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution opposing U.S. military action against Saddam Hussein. If any are at risk in this anti-war redoubt, it might be America's uniformed personnel.
Not that uniformed personnel are likely to encounter the sort of landmarks that gave Hollywood justifiable pride in its patriotic outlook 60 years ago, during World War II.
No Hollywood Canteen. No bond rallies. Just try getting an impromptu hug from Cameron Diaz or a jitterbug with Angelina Jolie. And no 24-hour movie theaters catering to a triple-shift work force that made just about every film profitable for the war's duration.
Although annual production did decline between 1942 and 1945 from 533 releases to 377 the studios were economizing resourcefully on all sorts of raw material, from film stock to nails. Moreover, so much of the country was a captive audience that not as many replacement titles were necessary a far cry from the current business model, in which any movie that lasts four weeks at a multiplex can be considered a marathon hit.
The advent of television had been postponed by the war, prolonging the public's reliance on radio and the movies for both entertainment and updates from the battle zones. The Hollywood cupboard was so full in World War II that many completed films were kept on the shelf and released after the war had been won.
The armed forces frequently saw new pictures before the domestic marketplace. A vast network of 16 mm distribution and exhibition reached to far corners of the world to place movies at the disposal of service personnel. There was speculation at the time that it might transform the movie industry after the war. It didn't.
Television got that privilege, but a non-theatrical circuit of 16 mm films flourished for decades, specializing in educational, industrial and public-service productions. The studios had contributed to that development by shooting hundreds of instructional shorts for the armed forces during the war.
The most popular director of the 1930s, Frank Capra, finished a movie version of "Arsenic and Old Lace" in 1942 to provide some financial security for his family, then left Hollywood to supervise what became a famous series of historical indoctrination films for the Army, unified by the theme "Why We Fight."
Mr. Capra's screenwriting partner, Robert Riskin, had a similar mission at the Office of War Information and supervised two dozen instructional and propaganda shorts for the agency, which distributed most of them in Allied or liberated countries. Directors John Ford in the Navy, John Huston and George Stevens in the Army and William Wyler in the Air Force completed notable combat chronicles, ranging from Mr. Ford's coverage of Midway to Mr. Stevens' coverage of the liberation of Dachau.
James Stewart was in his early 30s when he joined up, soon after winning the Academy Award for best actor in "The Philadelphia Story." A private pilot for years, he advanced impressively in the Air Force hierarchy, commanding a B-24 squadron in England and then serving as a key administrator with Gen. Edward Timberlake, the commander of the 8th Air Force.
About one-sixth of the Hollywood work force entered the military during World War II. About 1,500 members of the Screen Actors Guild were in uniform, including about 50 leading men. Indeed, the guild specifically asked to be excluded from the directive when the government declared the movie business an essential industry. The membership, exposed to the public eye more than other segments of the film industry, did not want to be perceived as a special pleader for draft deferments.
Circumstances and prevailing attitudes have changed enormously since Hollywood was a willing collaborator in war mobilization and exhortation. The Vietnam War replaced deference to the military with distrust and sometimes loathing. The draft was discontinued a generation ago. Now the anti-war mind-set seems as difficult to alter as the exuberant patriotism that distinguished the industry's war effort and, let's be honest, often diminished the quality of its movies, especially comedies for a brief time in World War I and then a longer one in World War II.

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