Hollywood Celebrities in American Politics

AHA Session 98
Friday, January 7, 2011: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Boylston Room (Marriott Boston Copley Place)
Clayton Koppes, Oberlin College
A Retake on Conservatism in Hollywood
Donald Critchlow, Arizona State University
Celebrities and the Civil Rights Movement: Birmingham 1963
Emilie Raymond, Virginia Commonwealth University
Edward Berkowitz, George Washington University

Session Abstract

This panel will explore how Hollywood figures and organizations have shaped post-WWII American politics on both the left and the right. Incorporating archival sources overlooked by traditional political histories, these papers will investigate the active role that celebrities have played in mobilizing for civil rights, selling free market ideology, and organizing a new conservative structure for the Republican Party. Despite the popular conception of celebrity activity as a superficial component of American politics, this panel will demonstrate how Hollywood celebrities have contributed their unique publicity talents, networking connections, and fundraising skills to political parties, ideologies, and movements. Donald Critchlow will explore how California businessmen, politicians, and Hollywood celebrities reinvigorated the Southern California Republican Party. With a commitment to traditional values and anticommunism, the Republican Party in Southern California laid the organizational and ideological groundwork that shaped the rise of modern American conservatism. Exploring the activities of the Motion Picture Industrial Council, Kathryn Brownell will show how various actors traveled throughout the country during the 1950s to sell the image of Hollywood, the politics of consensus, and the virtues of private enterprise. Brownell and Critchlow’s work will demonstrate the various regional and national organizations that opened new doors for the political advancement for celebrities interested in the revitalization of the Republican Party and postwar conservatism. Emilie Raymond will present research on the liberal activities of Hollywood celebrities during the civil rights campaign. Hollywood personalities brough publicity and organizational knowledge to the civil rights movement and Raymond’s paper will highlight the activities of the “Leading Six”—celebrities who brought the movement to the attention of the national media while also making important local strides for African American civil rights in Los Angeles. By presenting the significant history of Hollywood in mobilizing political activities in local, state, national, and movement politics, this panel will explore the influential role the entertainment industry has played across the political spectrum in shaping the course of postwar political history.

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