Once upon a time, there were people in Hollywood who loved America. And when America came under attack from enemies abroad, these actors, producers, screenwriters and directors put aside their partisan differences and created movies that — unlike Michael Moore’s new schlockumentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 — made all moviegoers proud to be Americans.
During World War II, Tinseltown roused the country’s fighting spirit instead of trying to stifle it. In February 1941, the entertainment industry convened an extraordinary Academy Awards ceremony. The president of the Motion Picture Association, independent movie mogul and World War I pilot and intelligence officer Walter Wanger, went out of his way to use the Academy Award ceremony to support the war effort. Wanger invited President Roosevelt to address the crowd.
In an unprecedented radio speech simulcast on all three major networks at the time, FDR praised Hollywood for its wartime fundraising efforts and thanked filmmakers for “sanctifying the American way of life.”
Can you imagine Hollywood extending such an invitation to President Bush today? Can you imagine CBS, ABC and NBC agreeing to simulcast such an event? And can you imagine the howling from the ACLU, ethnic groups, Barbra Streisand and Sean Penn if President Bush were allowed to appear at the Academy Awards to speak in support of “sanctifying the American way of life”?
The best actor award in 1942 went to Gary Cooper, for his morale-boosting performance as the deeply religious backwoods Tennessee Cumberland Mountains farmer and World War I hero Sergeant Alvin C. York in Howard Hawks’ patriotic movie, Sergeant York.
Can you imagine anyone in the entertainment industry (besides Mel Gibson) making a movie about a deeply religious backwoods farmer-turned-soldier today that didn’t denigrate the character’s born-again Christian background and conservative values?
Hollywood celebrities of the past didn’t just play soldiers in front of the cameras. They volunteered to put their lives on the line for America. Clark Gable joined the Army Air Corps at 41, became a B-17 air gunner, and earned the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross. Jimmy Stewart led B-24 bombing raids over Germany. They both appeared in pro-America documentaries, produced by the military-operated First Motion Picture Unit, when not in combat. Director Frank Capra made films for the U.S. government, including the seven-part Why We Fight (1942-44). Big-band leader Glenn Miller led the U.S. Army Air Force band in Europe and died for his country when his plane went down in the English Channel.
Can you imagine George Clooney putting down the basketball and picking up an M-4? Or Chris Rock and Jon Stewart cracking codes instead of jokes? Or Brad Pitt wearing combat boots for real combat instead of a Vanity Fair photo shoot? Or Spike Lee directing films defending the War on Terror? Or Eminem marching in step with the Army Air Force band?
Those who stayed behind during World War II starred in countless films — Action in the North Atlantic; Arise, My Love; All Through the Night; Bataan; The Battle of Midway; Captains of the Clouds; Desperate Journey; Destination Tokyo; Escape; Flying Tigers; Foreign Correspondent; The Great Dictator; Gung Ho!; The Mortal Storm; One of Our Aircraft Is Missing; So Proudly We Hail!; Wake Island; and Yankee Doodle Dandy to name just a few — which rallied Americans through the long, dark days of the war to support the Allied cause. The movies depicted good and evil in stark terms. And there was no politically correct revisionism about who our enemies were.
By contrast, even tough-guy Arnold Schwarzenegger failed to stand up to Hollywood mushies who were afraid to depict Arab terrorists in his post-Sept. 11 movie, Collateral Damage. Instead of encouraging Americans to confront the true face and nature of the Islamist threat, Schwarzenegger and his producers turned the Arab terrorists into Colombian terrorists so no one would complain about “racial profiling.” Similarly, Steven Spielberg’s new movie about an asylum-seeker, The Terminal, indulges in weak-willed liberal escapism by demonizing Department of Homeland Security officials just trying to do their jobs.
Box-office patriotism is dead. And so I ask: If Hollywood refuses to support America, why should we support Hollywood?