Going unnoticed amid this week’s entertainment news — the various selfies and jokes of jester-in-chief Barack Obama — came news that, according to a Harris poll, John Wayne is currently the seventh most favorite actor in America. Yes, you read that right. And while it’s true he was mostly the pick of conservatives and the “mature,” it is surely a measure of his greatness and longevity that he is the only actor who has been on the list every year since its inception in 1994.
Of course, the left’s hatred for Wayne is perhaps only surpassed by its total derangement at the election of President Ronald Reagan. Now, I’m the first to admit that Reagan’s acting talents were not strictly first rate, but, much like Wayne, it was his manly good looks and readily apparent integrity that shone through in all his roles, making him a target for the derision of his effete critics who much prefer the nuanced performances and politics of modern artistes like Johnny Depp. And were it not for his long association with John Ford, Wayne’s career would have been looked upon as one long Bedtime for Bonzo, as was Reagan’s.
But Wayne is not the only actor from old Hollywood who is treated with eternal disdain by leftist critics and chroniclers. There has been no great appreciation for the urbane and witty Robert Montgomery, father of Bewitched actress, Elizabeth, whose fascinating portrayals ranged from the creepy psychopath in Night Must Fall to the good-hearted palooka Joe Pendleton in Here Comes Mr. Jordan. But probably Montgomery’s best effort was his starring role in They Were Expendable, where the former Navy lieutenant commander who took part in the D-Day invasion, teamed with Wayne and Ford to deliver an achingly sweet, yet brutal account of PT boats during the Battle of the Philippines. Why no love for Montgomery? Well, he was the first entertainer to have an office in the White House, acting as television advisor for Dwight Eisenhower.
And you can search far and wide to find praise for Robert Taylor, whose performances in Camille and Waterloo Bridge alone should put him in the Hollywood pantheon. But alas, he has been stereotyped as dull and wooden by those who maintain eternal praise for the likes of Kevin Costner. Taylor’s crime? He and his wife, Barbara Stanwyck, were staunch Republicans and founding members of Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPAPAI), a group established to fight the rise of communism and fascism in Hollywood. And here we get to the crux of the matter.
All of the above were members of the MPAPAI and along with other patriotic artists, were so-called friendly witnesses before the House Un-American Activities Committee, investigating the infamous Hollywood Ten; a group of mostly screenwriters who had communist ties. To counter the supposedly anti-First Amendment bent of the MPAPAI, a group of actors, writers and directors led by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Huston, William Wyler and Gene Kelly flew to Washington in support of the Ten. But reality soon made fools of them all, when it became clear that the noble intentions of the Ten weren’t so noble after all. Said Huston later:
It seems that some of them had already testified in California, and that their testimony had been false. They had said they were not Communists and now, to have admitted it to the press would have been to lay themselves open to charges of perjury.… And so, when I believed them to have engaged to defend the freedom of the individual, they were really looking after their own skins. Had I so much as suspected such a thing, you may be sure I would have washed my hands of them instantly. But, as I said before, the revelation was a long time coming.
And what of the other actors that originally supported the Hollywood Ten? Bogart wrote a piece for the March 1948 issue of Photoplay magazine entitled “I’m No Communist,” in which he admitted being “duped.” His trip to Washington, he said, had been “ill-advised.” John Garfield wrote a similar article called, “I’m a Sucker for a Left Hook,” while Edward G. Robinson lamented “the Reds made a sucker out of me.” Would that any of today’s actors be so forthcoming about their roles as useful idiots for a flawed and failed ideology.
No, there is no love lost, even today, for the marvelous actors and actresses who not only excelled at their profession, but in love of country. Part of the statement of principles released by the MPAPI in 1944 perfectly illustrates the reasons for the left’s never-ending bitterness against them and why those who revere Wayne and old-time Hollywood continue to say: they just don’t make ’em like that anymore.
As Americans, we have no new plan to offer. We want no new plan, we want only to defend against its enemies that which is our priceless heritage; that freedom which has given man, in this country, the fullest life and the richest expression the world has ever known; that system which, in the present emergency, has fathered an effort that, more than any other single factor, will make possible the winning of this war.
As members of the motion-picture industry, we must face and accept an especial responsibility. Motion pictures are inescapably one of the world’s greatest forces for influencing public thought and opinion, both at home and abroad. In this fact lies solemn obligation. We refuse to permit the effort of Communist, Fascist, and other totalitarian-minded groups to pervert this powerful medium into an instrument for the dissemination of un-American ideas and beliefs. We pledge ourselves to fight, with every means at our organized command, any effort of any group or individual, to divert the loyalty of the screen from the free America that give it birth. And to dedicate our work, in the fullest possible measure, to the presentation of the American scene, its standards and its freedoms, its beliefs and its ideals, as we know them and believe in them.