Using the figure of the liberal hero as a locus for discussion, my research explores the production and reception of Hollywood's socially conscious filmmaking. My project looks at crusading liberal protagonists as underexplored projections of idealised white, middle-class masculinity in the post-war era. It charts the rise and fall in popularity of this figure alongside the careers of the filmmakers who felt compelled to bring him to screens.
Through archival research I explore the internal and external pressures exerted on filmmakers as they negotiated the balance between profit, entertainment values, and their varying political commitments in an industry where the old adage “if you’ve got a message, send it Western Union” freely circulated. I am particularly interested in the careers of independent producer Stanley Kramer, Twentieth Century Fox’s production chief Darryl F. Zanuck and Dore Schary, who worked for David O. Selznick, RKO and MGM. In different ways and at different times, each of these producers publically aligned themselves with their on screen heroes, claiming their bravery in producing such content was an act of industrial uplift. In trade papers, newspapers and monthly periodicals, they competitively framed themselves as Hollywood’s mature voices. Further, I am interested the ways actors associated with liberal hero roles (including Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda, Spencer Tracy and Kirk Douglas) sought greater authorship over their liberal images - and this type of filmmaking - through independent productions. My work considers the personal, political and industrial benefits of this self-fashioning, charting its shifts and decline.
Across several research trips I have made use of the archival holdings at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Warner Bros. Archive at USC; Special Collections at USC; Special Collections at UCLA; the Historical Society of Wisconsin; the Lilly Library of the University of Indiana; The Howard Gotlieb Library at Boston University; The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University; The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin and the National Archives, Washington D.C. I have also conducted research at Boston Public Library, the New York Public Library, Library of Congress, the BFI, The National Archives and the British Library.
Dr. J.E. Smyth
j dot e dot smyth at warwick dot ac dot uk
Doheny Memorial Library, USC