February 7, 2012


Left in the Past (Roy M. Brewer, February 2012, LA Times Magazine)

I first became aware of the collection a decade ago, when I was a Washington, D.C., reporter researching Reagan. I was fascinated with this Roy Brewer character. In Hollywood lore, he is almost universally despised because of his alleged Red-baiting. However, in newspapers published during the 1940s and '50s, when he was a representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, he was covered as an influential liberal. But I hadn't read any recent interviews with Brewer and, frankly, thought he was dead.

When I rang Brewer's son to get some background on his father, Roy Jr. agreed to cooperate but suggested, "You could just as easily talk to my dad. He'd love that." [...]

Figures like Brewer are the reason people go into journalism. They are the keepers of the past. A gritty, often misunderstood character, Brewer was a tough union man, yet he would almost weep when quoting Scarlett O'Hara's "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again" line from Gone with the Wind. The line spoke to his personal determination, New Deal loyalties and socialist leanings. A portrait of FDR hung on his wall. He regarded Joseph McCarthy as a demagogue. (In the archive, I found far-right McCarthyite propaganda smearing Brewer as soft on Communism and castigating Reagan as a "flagrant Red.") Politically, Brewer supported Reagan in all his campaigns, but in the Florida recounts, he backed Al Gore. He didn't like George W. Bush.

After meeting Brewer, I spent the next five years traveling between Washington and L.A. and building our relationship. We had suppers at Musso & Frank, milkshakes at the Polo Lounge ("I used to live here," he'd tell the maƮtre d') and pancake-and-egg breakfasts at Jerry's Deli and Carrows, often at all hours of the night. He revealed the archive to me piecemeal, then once he trusted me, I was allowed to go through it on my own. When his daughter and her husband sold their house in 2005, I was given exclusive, unfettered access to the collection.

The archive showcases Reagan the liberal before liberal became a dirty word. While the broad strokes of his Hollywood years are familiar--Warner Bros. star, SAG president, host of the hit CBS anthology series General Electric Theater--what specifically happened during that time is part of the little-known history of Reagan and even Hollywood itself.

The Hollywood in which Reagan worked was very different than the time portrayed in blacklist dramas like The Way We Were, The Front and Guilty by Suspicion. The Communist Party operated more like an underground cult than a political party, recalled the people I talked to, including some who never ended their party membership.

American Communists believed the Soviets represented the future. Today's public perception is that Communists were merely liberals in a hurry. That's because the Reds "wrote their own histories," as screenwriter Richard Collins, a former Communist, shared with me. They erased the part about their connections to Moscow.

Just as Reagan was becoming a movie star at Warner Bros. (more than a dozen pictures in his first four years), Soviet spies Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey began operating in Hollywood. As the L.A. Times reported in 2009, the couple finessed their way into mingling with Hollywood's elite--Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, even staunch anti-Communist Walt Disney. "Many famous people in Hollywood were in touch with the White House...and through them we got the information we needed," the Times quoted the couple from their 2004 memoir.

And what has been typically portrayed as anti-Communist hysteria--for instance, that writers exploited their position for the party agenda--may be true after all, according to documents.

May be?
Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at February 7, 2012 6:29 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus