Emerging from Magic
HOLLYWOOD bustles with frenzied activity,
and makes use of the most modern technology. Yet at the same time
it gives the impression of being only half awake in its slow emergence
from a dim prehistoric past of illusions, fears, and magical thinking.
More strikingly than any other section of our society, it seems
to span all the ages of mankind. In it, too, are represented all
the ages of individual man, from infancy to adult.
In any human society the presence or
absence of a particular body of ideas limits and affects the development
of behavior as much as do technology and environment.1 Therefore
to comprehend the social organization in which movies are made
and to understand the behavior of people in Hollywood, it is necessary
to know how they think. All peoples, whether in the South Seas
or in Hollywood, try to make the world intelligible to themselves,
and to exercise some control over it. The particular ideology
of any society shapes its institutions and molds the behavior
of its members.
Since its beginning, the human species seems to have been aware that not all phenomena are of the same order. But the division between the animate and inanimate has not always been clear. In order to make the inanimate intelligible, primitive man often ascribed human attitudes and motives to the nonhuman world. (This is called "animism.") It was easier for him to do this than to imagine different processes or to admit his ignorance. As Ruth Benedict has pointed out: "Throughout man's history it has been the mechanistic
theory of the universe that he has found
fantastic, not the animistic one."2 So, in many primitive
societies, human qualities have been attributed to fishes, birds,
trees, rocks, and ancestral sports, and gods. Men could therefore
use towards them attitudes and techniques, such as cajoling, scolding
and making gifts which has been found effective in dealing with
human beings, and expect similar responses. For instance, primitive
peoples sometimes denounce their ancestral spirits and at other
times propitiate them with gifts, to gain their help.
Animistic thinking is not restricted
to primitive man. Many folk tales of historical civilizations
show a confusion between the animate and the inanimate and our
own society still exhibits attenuated forms of the same thing.
Most everyone who has owned an old car has had the experience
of talking cajolingly to it when it mysteriously stalls. A child
who hurts himself by falling over a rug may hit the rug in retaliation,
as if the rug could feel a spanking. In Hollywood, however, there
appears to be a much greater confusion between the animate and
inanimate than in the larger society, although it works in an
opposite manner from that of primitive man's animism. Hollywood
people seem more at home with the inanimate, with property which
can be measured in dollars and which can be manipulated to increase
itself, than they are with human beings. They therefore attribute
the characteristics of what they know best to the unknown-which
is, for them, the world of human beings and the art of storytelling.
These become intelligible as they take on the characteristics
of the known-property-and become functional as they contribute
to the goal of wealth. The psychological process appears to be
the same one by which primitive man makes his environment intelligible
by projecting what he knows about human beings onto his canoe
and ancestral spirits.
Much of Hollywood thinking has the characteristics of this inverted form of animism and, as we have seen, the history of movies helps make this possible: props were early used to produce emotional effects. In the legitimate theater, on the other hand, actors were important from the beginning, and elaborate stage settings
came later. In literature, the art of storytelling preceded the invention of printing, which has never superseded it. But what the men who founded the movie industry knew best was property, the accumulation of which was their highest goal. Artists and the art of storytelling were strange to them.
Among primitive peoples, magic is one
of the techniques used to control supernatural and other forces
which they do not understand. The Stone Age agriculturalists in
the Southwest Pacific were well aware through observation and
experience that the ground had to be cleared before planting their
taro, that the plants should be a certain distance apart, that
weeds must be pulled out, and that a fence built around the garden
would help keep out wild pigs. All these were natural elements
controllable by hard work and foresight. But there remained the
uncertainties of weather and other factors beyond human control,
which also influenced the crop. So before starting a garden, men
made magic to coerce or cajole these elements to bring them success.
The Melanesians did not think the magic eliminated the need for
weeding, or that weeding made the magic unnecessary.
Deep layers of magical thinking still remain in the unconscious of modern men, and sometimes on the conscious level, too. But most of us no longer view magic as an operational tool. We may unconsciously or consciously long for a magical helper and for miracles; but we know that writing a book, getting a job, or making a garden depends on hard work, knowledge, ability and planning, rather than on coercing the supernatural; we usually act on this awareness. We may vaguely feel that disease can be the work of an evil spirit or a punishment for sin, but when we become ill we consult a doctor, who utilizes the latest scientific developments in medicine. Over the centuries of man's development, magical thinking has receded more and more into the unconscious and become less and less; a conscious instrument to achieve his ends. The growth of modern civilization has been due, in part, to a constant widening of that area of our thing based on rational knowledge and experience of reality, and to a corresponding shrinking of the supernatural sphere. It is unlikely that either area will ever disappear, but the propor-
tional significance of each in our conscious
thinking and behavior changes considerably.
In Hollywood, however, there appears
to be a greater use of magical thinking on a conscious level and
as a tool for achieving success than elsewhere in the modern world.
The concepts of breaks to secure success, so emphasized in Hollywood,
belongs to the supernatural sphere. Most successful people, no
matter what their occupation, believe that luck has played some
role in their lives. But they usually emphasize far more the contribution
of hard work, perseverance, training, or of particular gifts and
aptitudes. In Hollywood the quite considerable difference in the
degree of emphasis on luck is important, for according to the
familiar philosophical principle, a sufficiently large quantitative
difference may produce a qualitative one. Almost everyone in the
move industry from front office executives, producers, actors,
directors and writers, to those who play minor roles, such as
assistant directors and agents, attribute their own and other
people's success to forces lying beyond their control in the world
of chance. This belief indeed corresponds with reality as most
Hollywood people have known it. An executive without previous
training or experience in the art or business of storytelling
makes a colossal fortune because he had the breaks; perhaps the
breaks for him consisted of coming into the industry when it was
very young and success easy. A producer becomes a millionaire
and important in the industry, because he had the breaks of knowing
in childhood, or later on, an executive. An actress becomes a
star because a producer chanced to notice her and gave her a role
in a picture which happened to be a hit. A writer has the luck
to work with a sympathetic producer, or to hit on a very clever
gimmick, or to get credit for the script of a movie which makes
big profits for the studio. The profits themselves are believed
to be the result of luck, too, since whether or not an audience
will like a movie seems unpredictable. Most people who live in
Hollywood are wholly committed to this philosophy and regard it
as an inherent and necessary part of movie production.
They do not think movies could be made
This type of thinking, whether in New
Guinea or Hollywood,
produces appropriate attitudes and behavior. The Melanesian puts
his faith in coercing the supernatural
through using a magical formula, which consists of a spell and
rite handed down by tradition. Hollywood people have their formulas
too: stars, gimmicks, traditional plots. Just as the Melanesian
thinks failure would result from changing the form of a spell,
so men in Hollywood consider it dangerous to depart from their
formulas. Each group can point to the times it worked and conveniently
forget or rationalize the other occasions. The Melanesian placates
hostile supernatural forces through a series of taboos; Hollywood
attempts to appease its critics and enemies with the MPAA Code.
Primitive men often make sacrifices of whatever they consider
most valuable-food, animals and occasionally human beings-in order
to court the favor of the supernatural. In Hollywood money is
more highly valued than anything else and this is sacrificed in
It is earnestly believed that the more
money spent on a picture the more successful it will be. How the
money is spent-on the highest paid stars, on the most lavish settings,
or on a series of expensive writers, or whether there are realistic
returns for it, does not make too much difference. Knowing the
right people in Hollywood is also not too unlike the ritual behavior
prescribed in family, clans, and other social groups among primitive
peoples. In each case the ritual behavior is important: not only
the maintaining of one's own status, but the very life of the
people, and of society, is believed to depend on it.
In most societies in which supernatural elements are important in attaining success, some form of divination is practiced, because foreknowledge is one way of control. In parts of East Africa, the entrails of chickens are used for divining the future, while among the Karen of Burma it is the gall bladder of a pig; in Hollywood polls are used to determine the mysterious tastes of the audience. Will they like this or that title and this or that plot, with this or that star? The methods now used to determine, a year in advance, the tastes of potential audiences is not too different from trying to foretell the future by examining the spots on an animal's liver.
This comparative tour de force can, of course, be carried too far, but success in Hollywood appears to be more closely related to
the realm of the supernatural than it
does for primitive men. The average producer seems less clear
in his thinking about those elements in movie production which
are knowable and those where chance plays a role than the Stone
Age man is in his occupations. The latter does not confuse the
practical work necessary to making his canoe seaworthy with the
need for magical rites and taboos. But studio executives have
depended more often on formulas, breaks, and following the Code
than on the quality of script, directing and acting. But enough
good movies (which have also been profitable) have been produced
with intelligent planning to indicate that the prevailing pattern
need not be the only one.
Hollywood seems as wasteful of talent
and brains as primitive peoples are neglectful of many of their
natural resources. Valuable minerals often remained hidden in
the earth which Stone Age men inhabited, because they were ignorant
of their presence or use. Natural resources in Hollywood are its
talent and brains as well as the technological assets. The industry
makes good use of the latter. But the human properties of the
artist, his sensitivity, his imagination, his ability to create,
are utilized in only a very limited way. Most people have more
intelligence and ability than they use, but in Hollywood the discrepancy
between potentialities and actualities is more glaring than elsewhere.
The two major characteristics of Hollywood thinking, the belief in chance or breaks, and the confusion between the human and nonhuman, dominate every concept of creativity there. Creativity is not thought of as human in Hollywood. Human sensitivity to the joys and sorrows of life, human imagination, an awareness of human limitations, the decencies of human relations are relatively unimportant, nor is their portrayal regarded as the part of man's capacity to think and plan. As the original founders of the industry, the executives tend to think of themselves as its totemic ancestors, omniscient and omnipotent. They boast about how they manipulate the emotions of millions in the audience, causing them to tense with excitement or to laugh with relief. Even more important is the executive's control and manipulation of everyone connected with production, from star to script girl. The front office knows in some mysterious way-through instinct, they say-everything about
script writing, about casting, about
cutting, and what the audience will like. Primitive man conveniently
forgets the times his magic does not work, and the executives
also do not remember when their instinct has been wrong.
The emotional ferment of creativity is
an inner one, and there is excitement, with stimulation and satisfaction,
in the creative expression of ideas and fantasies. No matter how
collaborative or how many contributors, behind every human creation
is an idea in one individual's mind. Nor does it spring full blown
into being as an instinctual act: preceding it are training, discipline,
and work. The artist's intuition is quite different from the showman's
instinct. The former rests on deeper than average sensitivity
to human beings and to the complexities in the world about him.
The artist's reaction is personal and individual, and it is this
which he tries to express. He works primarily to please himself,
experiments with new ideas and new forms, and leaps ahead into
the unknown, not sure of the outcome. When he succeeds he has
an inner satisfaction, and he likewise enjoys any honor and payment
which society gives him.
The average movie is produced in an entirely
different way. The excitement has nothing to do with genuine creation,
but is all on the outside. The producer strides up and down his
office at the frequent story conferences, phone calls are made
at midnight, the front office or star demand changes which precipitate
crises, and so on and on. Similarly, in many movies the feeling
of excitement is limited to external factors, such as noise, music,
props falling, thunderstorms. Rarely does the star's passive face
or acting give any indication of an inner emotional ferment. Underlying
the studio's bustle and excitement is the tension of the unanswered
question, "Will the public like it?" Everyone is aware
of the enormous costs of production. Will a large profit be made
after these are covered? In this situation, it is rare for writer
or actor or director or any other artist to feel the satisfaction
of creating something which pleases him and which he respects.
He is a cog in the machine.
Although the idea for a film originates in the mind of one person, its execution and final consummation is the result of collaboration
with many others, who may be equally
creative in their own ways. But collaboration takes different
forms. In the production of most pictures, the relationship of
one individual to another is direct, one personality impinging
on the other in terms of their respective power statuses. In the
production of a few pictures, however, the bonds between the individuals
are those of mutual connection with a creative activity, and this
objective relationship is allowed to take precedence over the
power one. Suggestions from writer, executive, director, actors,
are discussed in terms of their logic and appropriateness to the
film, and the results of the discussion are not foreordained in
terms of who has the most money or power. One idea may be recognized
better than the other, or out of the discussion may evolve a totally
new idea, containing elements from the several points of view.
When problems are discussed in this way and no one person always
has the final word, the creative process functions collaboratively.
The resulting film is the joint product of many minds, even though
the initial idea was conceived by one. Any creative collaboration
is of this type. A good teacher-student relationship, at any level
from kindergarten to university, is oriented to the objective
of knowledge and understanding, rather than to the teacher's using
his authority to impose his ideas on the student, and the latter's
critical remark or contribution is as much part of the teaching
as are those of the learned lecturer. Actually, all human relationships,
including the intimate family ones, are apt to be easier if the
ties of the individuals to each other are based on a mutual objective
interest, rather than exclusively on age, sex or power difference.
In any factory or business, management does not want too much interference from its employees. Although men on the factory assembly line want some say over conditions of work, such as hours 2 and salaries, most of them take for granted that they work rather mechanically under the foreman's directions, and this does not impair their efficiency. But writers and other artists do their best work only when they have some freedom to try and please themselves. Working on the assembly line and following orders do not bring good results and are basically inefficient from the point of view of profits. Hollywood is an industry, but daydreams are its product
and these cannot be successfully produced as if they were cans of beans.
Although Hollywood production has factory
characteristics, the general atmosphere pervading the studios
is no more that of a factory than it is of a creative human enterprise.
Rather it is that of the gamblers' den. The psychology of the
gambler has been well described.3 Outstanding characteristics
of all gambling are the importance of chance in determining success
or failure, and the lack of emphasis on skill. The neurotic gambler,
as Dr. Greenson points out, is driven by unconscious needs and
cannot stop. "It [gambling] has an irresistible quality:
the tension has to be satisfied by action, not thinking, and immediately,
not by postponement."4 Winning, for the neurotic gambler,
means not only the jack pot, but proof that he is favored by Fate,
and a token of power.5 He mistakes his yearnings for omnipotence,
for feeling that he is omnipotent. Yet he cannot quite repress
his doubts, and so he is always looking for signs to confirm his
shaky belief. This longing and belief in omnipotence, is thought
to be a regression to early infancy since infants, too, are thought
to have a feeling of unlimited omnipotence.6 "It is this
feeling which the neurotic gambler unconsciously is attempting
to recapture." 7
Winning in the Hollywood gamble means being connected with a movie which is a box-office hit. This is then regarded both as a sign of having been favored by Fate and as a token of omniscience and omnipotence. The award of an Oscar is another such sign. It is easy to understand that when an actor, writer, or director dares to question an executive's decision, he is by implication attacking the executive's belief in his own omnipotence, and the reaction is accordingly violent. For to permit omniscience to be questioned
would destroy it, and any such attempt
therefore arouses great anxiety.
Just as the neurotic gambler cannot stay away from his game, so also there are many people in Hollywood who cannot leave, who cannot imagine any existence apart from it. Successful or unsuccessful, lucky or unlucky, they must remain. Nor is their gambling limited to the making of movies. The same people spend much of their free time gambling with cards and betting on horses. Gambling is for them a way of life, just as acting is for the actor.
This is the atmosphere in which movies
are made and which is thought to be inherent and essential to
their production. Most people do not imagine that movies could
be made differently, any more than Stone Age man can imagine that
irrigation might replace rain magic. Since crops do grow and many
movies do make money, magic appears to work a sufficient number
of times to make giving it up seem risky and dangerous.
Men usually think that their particular way of life is inevitable and such beliefs are strengthened when the way also answers their neurotic needs. It appears easier for primitive men to replace rain magic with irrigation, once they have learned about it, than it is for many Hollywood people to give up their claims to omniscience and omnipotence, and to substitute thinking. Perhaps they mistake their deep emotional needs for the inherent conditions of movie making. Perhaps they oppose change not just for economic reasons, but because the status quo suits them on a deep and personal level.
Movie production does give many men the
opportunity to live out their deep personality needs for gambling
and power, and in so doing to make great fortunes. Yet they can
never be satisfied because their needs are insatiable. No matter
how large the profits, how many Oscars, they must go on constantly
striving to prove to themselves that they are supermen. A pause
in the activity-and questioning voices might be heard; the only
way to silence these voices is through further activity.
All gamblers and others with pretensions to omnipotence and
omniscience are scared men. For Fate can, and sometimes does, stop smiling; the pretense can never be complete. The only way out is to continue gambling-when not on pictures, then on horses and cards.
While Hollywood provides a situation which meets the needs of gamblers, the conditions for creativity which would satisfy artists are lacking. The artist, as well as the gambler, has deep personality needs. An artist wants to use his talent and training in expressing as well as he can his ideas, his fantasies, his interpretations of life. It is believed that the daydreams which he expresses in his work signify repressed wishes, and that the public acceptance and approval of them reduce his anxieties.8 In Hollywood, however, the writer does not express his own fantasies, but those of a producer or front-office executive. Even when permitted to use some of his own imaginative thinking, he knows in advance that the script will be changed by other writers, producers, stars, directors, and anyone else with power. He knows that at the end his contribution will probably be distorted beyond recognition. To work as an artist, a gifted director must have a script in which he believes, but he usually has to direct whatever is handed him, whether or not he even respects it. For the actor, it is important that he respects both his role and the script, but he rarely has any choice over either, nor is it possible for him to have a variety of roles and not to become stereotyped. He needs likewise a director who can help him make his role an integrated part of the whole, but rarely does he get this help. The artist can rarely even work toward this goal. Other men, front-office executives and producers, have in their omniscience and omnipotence taken over the artist's functions while the artists have replaced their own values with those of the businessmen.
There is nothing inherently bad or wrong about artists making millions of dollars. Money is not necessarily the root of all evil, as the old proverb says. It can be the source of much pleasure and human good. But the making of money has a nature of its own and
follows certain laws. Creativity has
another nature and follows other laws. They are not interchangeable.
The nature of creativity is such that it is defeated if anything
is substituted for its goal. If an artist in expressing himself
succeeds also in giving form to the inarticulate dreams or needs
of many people, and is later rewarded with a million dollars,
that need not affect him, if his creative drive is strong. But
if he works on something he does not believe in or respect, in
order to make a million, then he and his work deteriorate. It
is the change of goals which is important. Very few gifted people
are always at their best. Everyone has his off periods when he
is not up to his own standards-whether giving a lecture, writing
a book, composing a score, or performing an experiment in the
laboratory. But it is a very different matter for either artist
or scientist deliberately to lower his standard in order to make
a lot of money. Corruption of both work and man is inevitable,
and if it extends over any length of time there is no going back.
The artist who thinks he can beat the game, stay in Hollywood
and clean up his million, and then return to his own creative
works, is usually fooled. There are well-known examples of writers
who finally shook the dust of many years of Hollywood from their
typewriters, only to turn out mediocre plays and novels which
resemble far more the movie scripts on which they had made their
million, than their pre-Hollywood work.
This happens much more often to writers than to directors and actors. Of all the creative workers in Hollywood, the writers are the most frustrated because they are allowed to function least as artists. They write to dictation, expressing someone else's fantasies, and even this is later changed and mangled by others. The gifted actor or director, no matter how weak or corny the role or script, can still give it his best. They have at least a partial satisfaction of using initially weak material as well as possible. However, gifted directors also experience some of the writers' frustrations. A director may work hard and creatively on a movie, and at the last minute the front office cuts out certain scenes and so changes others that the effect he has striven for is lost. When the picture is released under his name, he is ashamed of it. An actor doing his best still may not be able to take away the corniness of his role. But the actor and
director at least do play their professional roles regardless of the outcome, while the writer rarely even does that.
Of course the truly gifted people for
whom the problem of creation is important are few everywhere.
Only a small percentage of novelists, painters, musicians, scientists,
anywhere in the world, are talented. But there are many more in
Hollywood than one would expect from looking at movies. The industry
entices them, with big salaries, from New York, London, Paris
and Milan. Once Hollywood gets them, it makes them part of that
system which prevents their gifts from being utilized to the best
advantage. This is costly and wasteful to the studio and to the
banks which finance production. It is corrupting to the artists,
to the movies they help produce, and a decided disadvantage to
the movie-going public.
Many people beside Hollywood artists
are frustrated. College professors frequently feel frustrated
because of lack of money and the difficulties of bringing up a
family and maintaining their social status on the professorial
salary. Many artists outside of Hollywood know economic frustrations.
While these frustrations are wearing and burdensome, they do not
usually cause an individual to lose respect for what he does,
or for himself. This is a heavy load for any personality to carry.
The really important people in the development and growth of the movies, as a popular art form and as a profitable industry, are the small group of artists who continuously struggle to function as such, and the occasional executive who appreciates their goals because they are partly or wholly his own. We have therefore stressed their significance which is far greater than their numbers would seem to warrant. It is these men and women, who are not primarily gamblers, who do not confuse the animate with the inanimate- the human with the supernatural-who are responsible for any human creativity that there is in Hollywood. They have a point of view, the expression of which is important to them; they have a capacity for sustained hard work, and they prefer thoughtful planning to constant crises. They regard people as human beings. Although comparatively few, they can be found in all parts of movie production. They struggle constantly for power within the Holly-
wood system, power not to dominate other human beings, but to bend the system so that creation becomes human. Many times they lose, but sometimes they win; and the fighting, whatever the outcome, relieves some of their frustration.
One strategy for the artist who understands
the system and wants to improve it is, first, to meet the front
office's standards by making money for the studio, following the
conventional formulas. Then by persistent nagging he may gain
the opportunity to create something to please himself. This opportunity
is granted to keep him in good humor and prevent his going to
another studio. If, to the studio's surprise, the humoring of
the artist turns out to be good box office, he is given more control
over his work. But first the artist must show that he can work
within the executive's scheme of values. The executive does not
have to prove that he can work within the artist's scale. It is
a one-way road.
When occasionally an executive does demonstrate
that he understands and appreciates the artist's standards, and
is objectively more interested in the movie than in power, he
can usually have his pick of talent.
The mediocre would be so in any situation. In Hollywood, they enjoy the illusion of being creative and some of them even emulate the frustrations of artists. They work in a system geared to mediocrity, which enables them, if successful, to earn more money than in any other place in the world. They have the same gambling psychology that the front-office executives have; their faith in breaks is so strong that often they hang on for years and years even when Fate has not yet smiled. As the front office manipulates them, so they manipulate everyone else that they can. Their economic insecurities, however, are greater than those of the front office. But if moderately successful they enjoy material comforts and luxuries far greater than anything they could have outside of Hollywood. For people without marked ability, whether they sit in the front office, in the producer's office or in that of the writer's, whether they direct or act, a system in which success depends upon breaks is far more reassuring than one in which talent or special gifts count. For people without imagination or with understanding of writing, acting,
and storytelling, a system which mechanizes the whole process is fitting. For people whose whole lives are concerned with the accumulation of property, a system which emphasizes property above everything else is understandable. For people whose drive is toward power over others, a system which encourages manipulation is desirable. For those whose inner need is the excitement of gambling rather than the stimulation of creation, the system is congenial. It is these people-the majority in Hollywood-who shape and perpetuate that system, in harmony with their own needs rather than with those of movie making.
Yet these people suffer and sometimes
have mental breakdowns. Hollywood gives only a neurotic answer
to their needs, which are therefore not really satisfied. A man
with almost no writing ability becomes an important movie writer
because an executive producer is his friend, or for some other
reason unconnected with writing. Although he is regarded as a
success and enjoys a very big salary, he knows, consciously or
unconsciously, that the success has no foundation in ability,
and suffers anxiety over whether it can last. He plays the social
game in a frenzied fashion to prove to himself and to others that
his position is secure. Since in our culture success is supposed
to be the result of hard work and ability, he may suffer undue
guilt. The anxiety may become too much for him to handle, leading
to neurotic symptoms, to breakdown or failure.
The creative person, particularly if
he has functioned as such in the past, likewise suffers. He, too,
may break down or become maladjusted when his deep aspirations
are repeatedly aroused and then left unsatisfied, when his imagination
is stirred and then not permitted to function. He, too, knows
guilt and anxiety-over his corruption as an artist.
In this collaborative industry, there is also, with a few exceptions, a striking and complete lack of mutual respect as well as trust. The esprit de corps of the industry is exceedingly low. People who do not respect each other cannot work cooperatively. Just as morale is necessary to the successful functioning of an army, so is a high level of esprit de corps important as a motivating force in any in-
dustry. Its absence in Hollywood endangers
the industry, injures both the people who work in it and the movies
In the usual Hollywood production of
movies, the quality of the movie is much less important than the
assertion of the ego of any individual. When the executive insists
on cutting a picture so that the motivation of the leading characters
is lost, when he refuses to pay any attention to a director's
idea about casting, when the star demands that her footage be
increased and that of a minor character cut, when the producer
dominates a writer or writers, insisting on carrying out his own
ideas, good or bad, when the director refuses to listen to suggestions
of a gifted actor about his role, when talented people are fired
because they threaten the power of some one higher up-then, of
course, it is the movie which goes to pot.
As noted, the kind of thinking which
dominates Hollywood stems out of its past. Hollywood is, however,
not a sealed chamber. New people, new ideas from literature and
the theater, new values, have entered and continue to do so. Also,
an increasing number of Hollywood people are now involved in shooting
movies in every part of the world. The industry has been quick
to accept new technological improvements whether in sound, in
color or in some other process, but slow to incorporate those
new ideas, which may seriously threaten the power situation. If
actors and directors and men of literature are successful in turning
out profitable pictures, then the omniscience and omnipotence
of studio executives is endangered. If men with talent, ability
and intelligent planning can produce better pictures, then the
people who have depended on breaks and frenzied activity have
no place. Naturally they are not apt to favor such changes.
Whether or not the industry likes new
ideas, it is forced to meet unsettled world conditions. Foreign
markets and ratios of imported pictures are constantly changing.
There is increased foreign competition at home and shifts in audience
standards and tastes. Federal court decrees separate production
from distribution and exhibition, and costs of production climb
upward. The country goes through inflation and recession. All
these and many more contemporary changes directly impinge on Hollywood.
One very important consequence is that
the margin for error in movie production has very much decreased.
In the early days vast
profits could be made regardless of mistakes,
extravagances, and quality. Movies were at first something of
a novelty and for a long time there was little competition. The
early audiences were mostly working people who went to see any
movie. Much later, during the war years, most people enjoyed larger
incomes than ever before and the tensions of war and long hours
of work increased their need of entertainment. Today, the situation
is very different. While the costs of making movies has spiraled
upward, people have less money to spend on entertainment and their
standards are changing. They therefore exercise more thought in
their choice of what to see.
The upward educational level of the whole
country continues. The vast movements in the popularization of
knowledge through adult education, museums, books, radio and other
media has also done much to broaden the base of the educated public.
But more important than any other change
is the loss of homogeneity in the movie audience. Today, this
represents as much variety in tastes and backgrounds as does the
population of the country. There are still the teenage girls infatuated
with movie heroes who go to see any picture in which their favorite
stars perform, and who squirm in their seats when the hero passionately
kisses the heroine. But in a preliminary study of audience reactions
of high school juniors and seniors a large number, in discussing
a movie or one part of it, used the phrases and adjectives "weak,"
"corny," "no motivation," "couldn't happen."
Moreover, the audience is not limited to adolescents, critical
or otherwise. People over thirty who count movies as one of their
pastimes, naturally have different tastes from those of adolescents.
Hollywood has been slow to catch on to this new audience, which asks for something more than movement and excitement. The success all over the country of the so-called "art theater" has startled some of the Hollywood people. In the postwar period there was an influx of foreign pictures and the art theaters were an outlet for the better ones. Today, many regular theaters play foreign movies part of their time. According to Variety, there are 57 theaters which are out-and-out arthouses, and 226 which play the foreign-made product part of the time. Ten more are now under
construction. It is of interest that the arthouses are called "sureseaters" in this trade paper, which says:
Despite the dwindling grosses which have hit regular theaters, distribs serving the art-house operation claim that the field is generally a lush one. Out of every 10 sureseaters now doing business several are highly lucrative, two are in a wobbly stage, and one is in the red, it is said."9
The same article attributes the success of the arthouses to their low cost of operation without all the "expensive plush" and to their having a steady and stable group of customers. Nor are these art theatres clustered in large cities in the East. Every city of 200,000 or over, except Newark (which suffers because of its proximity to New York) has at least one art theater. Texas is particularly strong in them. In Detroit, four neighborhood movie houses changed into art-houses in 1949. From places as scattered as Syracuse, New York; Salt Lake City, Utah; Tacoma, Washington; Dayton, Ohio, come reports of the opening of new art theaters.10 These are one indication of changing audience tastes.
Hollywood is not unaware of many of the changes and new trends and has attempted to meet the new situation in various ways. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has tried to attract an older audience by casting older people in its movies.
"More than ten Metro pictures are soon to be made with top players over sixty years of age. Eight others are nearing release. It's all part of a drive on Metro's part to lure patrons over 35 back to the theater.11
If this plan is carried through to its logical conclusion, Hollywood would merely develop a new formula of teaming the age of the star to the age of the expected audience, which is even more fantastic than some of its past formulas. It is rather doubtful that
adults now frequenting the arthouses will rush to see MGM pictures because they star actors over sixty years of age.
Studio executives, trying to analyze
the success of Pinky and All the King's Men, classify them as
"gimmick" pictures and are now hunting for other "gimmick
pix" to beat the "b.o. Nix."12 The executives appear
unable to break loose from the bonds of their past thinking in
terms of gimmicks and formulas.
They might learn from some high school
students, who when asked for their favorite type of movie, indicated
their preferences musical, serious, drama, Western and then added:
"But it has to be good." As an example of what they
meant by good, some students mentioned All the King's Men.
Another suggested solution is improved
public relations for the whole industry. Hollywood takes great
pride in its showmanship and spends more than any other industry
on advertising and publicity. Yet, as is well known, its public
relations are very bad. It is a popular pastime to take a crack
at Hollywood at every opportunity. This symbol for sex and lavish
wealth to the whole world is a target for continuous criticism
and hostility. Anti-Hollywood diatribes are familiar to anyone
who reads the American press, and George Seaton, President of
the Screen Writers' Guild, returning from a trip to Europe, said
there is "too much anti-Hollywood prejudice in the world."13
Different causes underlie all the hostility towards Hollywood.
One is probably the envy of fortunes so easily earned; and there
may be resentment or envy, or both, of the supposedly freer sex
life of Hollywood people. But perhaps there is a wider awareness,
more than Hollywood executives' realize, of the enormous gap between
the potentialities and the actual product that is turned out.
The industry knows well that its public relations are bad and suggests many different remedies. An advertising-publicity chief suggested a campaign to combat what he considered the public's misconceptions of the industry: that it is "red," immoral, extravagant, and screwball in its thinking. The office represented by Mr.
Eric Johnston emphasizes more the need
to effect good will within the various sections of the industry
(production, distribution, and exhibition) and the cessation of
publicized intra-industry quarreling. He called meetings for this
purpose. The Motion Picture Association of America tries to sell
what they call "The constructive angle" on Hollywood,
and sends out articles-such as "Music in Films," "Literature
in Films," "How Films Teach History," to critics
and exhibitors and to schools.14 But what historians, musicians
and those concerned with literature would say on these themes,
is another story. Plans are made for an American Film Festival
similar to those held in Europe, to draw the attention of Americans
to their own film industry.15
Other plans are for increasing profits
through economies in production. "Big name" stars under
contract now do more pictures per year. In 1948, Van Johnson made
two pictures, Command Decision and The Bride Goes Wild, while
in 1949 he had a schedule of five pictures. Since he received
$5000 a week whether he worked or not, the savings to the studio
were considerable.16 But against this new trend, the old one still
persists. Deanna Durbin's salary from September 1948 to September
1949 was $300,000 and she did not make a single picture.17
As late as 1948 it was news in the trade press that planning in advance produced economies. Mr. Mamoulian emphasized that he was able to make the technicolor musical "Holiday" (Holiday in Mexico) for the relatively low budget of $1,800,000 because it was shot in 56 days instead of the average 100-125 for musicals, and that this was possible because of "thorough advance preparation."18 Rehearsals which had long been desired by the talented directors and actors, but discouraged or forbidden by the front office, gradually have become part of the economy wave. It has been finally discovered that rehearsals actually save money because they prevent the needless extravagance of the cast and highly paid technicians
standing around while last minute changes
are made. In addition, rehearsals bring some of the advantages
of the stage to both actors and directors on the set, cause better
pictures to be made, and so probably improve the box-office intake.
Stars are as important as ever and even
the economy wave has not reduced their earnings, but there is
a move away from picking up pretty-faced newcomers toward one
of selecting experienced young Broadway players with talent.19
It is no longer so easy, but still not impossible, to achieve
stardom only through beautiful legs, sensuous appearance, or being
brought to the attention of an executive through faked or real
Many executives and producers repeat the timeworn adage, "There's nothing wrong with the picture business that good pictures can't cure." Yet there is considerable difference of opinion on what is a good picture or how to make one. For some, the best method is still to spend more money. Henry Ginsberg, president of Paramount Pictures, warns against "becoming cost-conscious to the point of forgetting the entertainment needs of a picture," adding that "any picture costing less than $1,000,000 is a B." 20 But other executives have gradually learned that money may not be the whole story. The same paper quoted Adolph Zukor, regarded by many as dean of the motion picture industry, as saying, "Pictures require brains, not money. The talk that high-cost films attract the public is not correct. Give me brains and I'll make good pictures. The others can have the U. S. Treasury behind them but if they don't have the talent, their money will not produce good pictures."21 Mr. Nicholas M. Schenck, president of Loew's, Incorporated, also thinks that money is not the most essential factor and is particularly concerned about whether the writers are earning their salaries. He says:
The motion picture industry cannot throw its weight around and its money around without sincerity of purpose. That purpose must be to give the public the best possible entertainment. This cannot be done merely by cutting costs. It
has to be done by making the costs worth while.... It means that writers have to try to fully express themselves in their work and not write pictures as a device to get easy moneyed.22
Mr. Zukor does not consider the problem
of whether the industry knows how to utilize talent, and Mr. Schenck
does not raise the questions of how the costs can be made worth
while and whether writers are permitted, as he says, "to
fully express themselves in their work." A talented writer
would like nothing better, but this is difficult with the present
methods of production.
Both these presidents have gropingly
hit only the surface of the problem. They seem not to know that
gifted and intelligent people cannot function well without a certain
amount of freedom to express themselves, and, even, to take some
chances and make mistakes. Talented people with more freedom to
follow their own goals might find easy money less important to
them, because they would have other compensations; and the studios
might get more for less money.
Even men of acknowledged talent and the highest prestige, winners of Oscars and responsible for many box-office hits, do not now possess this freedom. Mr. William Wyler is widely regarded by everyone as one of the top directors in Hollywood, and he has additional power as a producer-director. His many successes are a matter of record; he is in the unusual position of sharing with the studio the right to pass on story material. Yet Mr. Wyler, in a newspaper interview, talked about the difficulties he experienced because of the "hypercaution" of the studios. He
. . . ruefully added that he had lost considerable time seeking "mutually satisfactory" properties. Half dozen of his suggestions, some of which are now being produced by other companies, have been turned down, he said.... "The safest yardstick for any company is to trust someone to make the right choice or else kick him out. If you don't trust him, the best thing to do is to get rid of him and hire people you can trust."23
It is just this quality of trust which is lacking in Hollywood. Almost no one trusts anyone else, and the executives, particularly, trust no one, not even themselves. Trust is impossible to men whose major drive is to exploit and manipulate other human beings. Gamblers who base their play for huge profits on instinct rather than knowledge, are for all their pretensions deeply unsure of themselves. The structure of Hollywood engenders distrust, which in turn breeds the excessive caution of which Mr. Wyler complains, and the enormous cost of a picture reinforces the caution. Even gamblers pause before risking $1,500,000. They are naturally more scared about taking a real chance than a gifted director whose security lies in his actual knowledge of the art of storytelling. This is a better guarantee for financial success than magical claims to omniscience.
To liberate the unused resources of talent
in Hollywood entails changes in the way of thinking, in the system
of production which reflects the way of thinking and, finally,
in the allocation of power. When men give up an exaggerated emphasis
on breaks as inherent in movie production and a magical form of
thinking, and face the world of realities, which encompass logical
thinking, hard work, knowledge and talent; when they cease being
primarily gamblers reveling in crises and become good businessmen
with a capacity to plan in advance; when they have the courage
to try out new ideas as well as new processes in color tinting;
when power for the sake of dominating other human beings as if
they were property ceases to be the major goal and is supplanted
by a human form of collaboration in which the interests of the
movies and the movie public are important-then only will the real
gold in Hollywood replace the glamorized tinsel.
Change does not take place quickly or by sudden decree. It is slow and happens as the result of many causes rather than of one. The exceptions to the rules are sometimes the beginning of change. A new invention, a new idea, a new form of behavior are usually first introduced as alternatives to already existing ones.24 To replace
them, the new forms must be shown to
be better. When automobiles were first introduced, the horse and
buggy continued to exist, and for some time both were used. In
the beginning many people were afraid of the new cars. By now
the automobile has almost completely replaced the horse and buggy,
because of its obviously greater efficiency.
For the exceptional patterns in Hollywood
to replace the universal or prevailing ones, they must make more
profit. Writers who write to please themselves rather than a producer
have turned out some successful scripts, from which box-office
hits have been produced. Gifted directors and actors who have
gained more control over their work by becoming producers have
likewise turned out successful pictures. Of course, neither they
nor their pictures are always successful. Sometimes, without even
knowing it, they have taken over the standards of their bosses
and then their movies do not improve. But they have a high batting
average. Pictures which carry a ring of honesty in human relationships
rather than phoniness have been box-office hits. Some studios
have learned that while beautiful legs for an actress are important,
a girl with talent may have them as well as a nitwit, and that
there is no reason why legs should preclude other types of actresses.
Many different kinds are needed and are not necessarily in competition.
Whether or not these alternatives become
universal is more complicated than the matter of automobiles replacing
the horse and buggy. It is relatively easy to learn how to drive
a car. It is exceedingly difficult for many of the people in Hollywood,
who follow the universal patterns, to learn how to use the new
alternatives. Their magical thinking, and belief in breaks rather
than ability, their lack of real knowledge and training, their
claims to omniscience, make it almost impossible for them to change.
The alternatives threaten their major goal, the desire for power;
and new ideas which threaten existing authority are always resisted.
When a primitive society comes into contact with Western civilization, frequently the old men, who are the powerful ones in the tribe, fight the innovations which the young ones accept. Rarely in the history of mankind has any group with power given it up voluntarily. But bankers and presidents of the industry, who are
the powerful ones behind the studio executives,
are interested in profits; and if an artist can bring in profits,
he is their man. It is they who asked a former writer to become
vice president in charge of production at a major studio. An independent
studio headed by an executive who has emphasized quality in his
films for a long time has been making money. There are other independent
men and studios with similar values and the number is increasing.
The picture of Hollywood can be painted in many ways, all true
to a degree. It is a place of innumerable contradictions, some
of which represent the norm and others, the exceptions.
No salary can compensate for being dehumanized.
The star and the third assistant director alike realize this,
however dimly. They can strive for more and more money yet they
cannot accept the denial of their own humanity. The front-office
thinking, which attributes nonhuman qualities to human beings,
has more far-reaching consequences than primitive man's projection
of human qualities on to the inanimate, because mere objects can
have no reactions Human beings do react.
The denial of one's human characteristics
is the most degrading insult that can be offered any man or woman.
All members of minority groups in our culture have suffered it
to some degree. In Hollywood, members of minorities can rise to
the highest prestige, wealth, and power positions-but the supreme
insult is offered to them, and to everyone else.
In one sense the psychological situation
is worse than that of slavery. In that situation, owners regarded
their slaves as property, but the slaves themselves did not necessarily
share this attitude. They were in bondage but they did not sell
themselves to the highest bidder. In Hollywood, no master forces
men to sell themselves for the duration of a contract. No one
even forces people to come to Hollywood. They come of their own
will and voluntarily sell their freedom to the highest buyer.
Yet men who have known freedom cannot give it up without resentment
and bitterness. The fact that they give it up of their own will
adds ambivalence and guilt to an already difficult situation.
One of the most hopeful characteristics about the human species is that its members know that man is unique and they do not want to
give up their human heritage. The basic
problem of Hollywood lies in man. Technological improvements,
distribution methods, and foreign markets are all important, and
each brings its own problems. But of even deeper significance
are the problems concerned with human values, with ways of thinking,
with human relationships there and in the movies.
Some element of chance will always exist,
just as some tensions and crises are inevitable among people working
together. But enough successful pictures have been produced with
intelligent planning and the wise use of talent to show that tensions,
crises and superficial excitement are not the essential ingredients
of good movie making. Enough people with humanistic goals have
attained power to prove that successful movie production can be
human, and that people working in Hollywood do not have to lose
all freedom and dignity. The magical thinking and system of production
which flows from it are probably no more necessary to making movies
than the corn dance of the Pueblo Indians is needed to making
Man in his long history has moved more slowly in some areas than in others. It has always been easier for him to use his intelligence, reason and inventiveness to control his physical environment than to apply them to his human relationships. In the less than fifty years of Hollywood's existence, it has recapitulated much of man's thinking. As it gradually emerges from the age of magic into the present, its future is tied with the future of mankind.
1. Ralph Linton, The Study of Man, Chapter IV. New York: D. AppletonCentury.
2. F. Boas and others, General Anthropology, p. 636. Boston: D. C. Heath and Co.
3. Ralph R. Greenson, MD., "On Gambling," The American Imago. Vol. 4, No. 2, April 1947, pp. 61-77.
6. Cf. Sandor Ferenczi, Contributions to Psychoanalysis. Boston Richard Badger. Otto Fenichel, The Psychoanalytical Theory of Neurosis. New York: W. W. Norton.
7. Greenson, op. cit.
8. Hanns Sachs, The Creative Unconscious,
p. 38. Cambridge, Mass.: Scie-Art
9. Variety, July 27, 1949.
11. Ibid, July 13,1949
12. Variety, March 8, 1950.
13. Ibid., March 16, 1940.
14. Ibid, August 3, 1949
15. Ibid.,July 20, 1949
17. Ibid., August 10, 1949.
18. Ibid., April 21, 1948.
19. Ibid., August l0, 1949.
20. Ibid., July 6, 1949.
21. Ibid. July 13, 1949.
22. Ibid., January 5, 1949.
23. Ibid., April 27, 1949.
24. Ralph Linton, The Study of Man, Chapter
XVI. New York: D. Appleton Century.
Link to Chapter 15