- Historic Sites
Hollywood Jumps the Gun
December 1991 | Volume 42, Issue 8
That year’s Sergeant York , starring Gary Cooper as the simple blacksmith who went from plunking turkeys in the woods of Tennessee to dropping Huns in the Argonne Forest in the Great War, drew criticism from an ad hoc committee of Senate isolationists. So did Charlie Chaplin’s satirical assault on Adolf Hitler, The Great Dictator . Senators Gerald P. Nye, Bennett Champ Clark, and Burton K. Wheeler ran the hearings and made judgments on films they’d never seen, declaring the nation’s seventeen thousand movie houses places for “mass meetings for war.” On average, the senators pointed out, war pictures lost money; only the propagandistic war aims of “foreign-born” producers kept these films coming out of Hollywood. “Foreign-born” was, of course, a euphemism in the mouths of committee members. “If anti-Semitism exists in America,” asserted Senator Nye at one point, “the Jews have themselves to blame.”
The bombing silenced the Senate committee, and the national America First Committee disbanded on December 11. The bigger story in movies that month was the release of Greta Garbo’s new comedy, Two-Faced Woman , on the thirty-first. It would turn out to be her last film.