Steven J. Ross tells an important story that has escaped public attention: the emergence of Hollywood as a vital centre of political life and the important role that movie stars have played in shaping the course of American politics.
Ever since the film industry relocated to Hollywood early in the twentieth century, it has had an outsized influence on American politics. Through compelling larger-than-life figures in American cinema–Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Edward G. Robinson, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, and Arnold Schwarzenegger– Ross reveals how Hollywood’s engagement in politics has been longer, deeper, and more varied than most people would imagine. The Left and the Right each gained ascendancy in Tinseltown at different times. From Chaplin, whose movies almost always displayed his leftist convictions, to Schwarzenegger’s nearly seamless transition from action blockbusters to the California governor's mansion, Ross traces the intersection of Hollywood and political activism from the early twentieth century to the present.
Ross challenges the commonly held belief that Hollywood has always been a bastion of liberalism. The real story is far more complicated. First, Hollywood has a longer history of conservatism than liberalism. Second, and most surprising, while the Hollywood Left was usually more vocal and visible, the Right had a greater impact on American political life, capturing a senate seat (Murphy), a governorship (Schwarzenegger), and the ultimate achievement, the Presidency (Reagan)
Steven J. Ross
Steven J. Ross is Professor of History and chairman of the History Department at USC. The first person in his family to go to college, Ross received his B.A. from Columbia University, a Bachelor of Philosophy from Oxford University, and a PhD from Princeton University, where he worked with famed historians Arthur Link and James McPherson. Professor Ross has written extensively in the areas of working-class history, social history, and film history.
His first book Workers On the Edge: Work, Leisure, and Politics in Industrializing Cincinnati, 1788-1890(1985) was adapted for the screen by Cincinnati unionists and made into an educational video entitled They Build the City: The Working People of Cincinnati. His second book, Working-Class Hollywood: Silent Film and the Shaping of Class in America (1998), received the prestigious Theater Library Association Book Award for 1999.
Ross' work on movie stars and politics has led to appearances on "The Today Show," ABC Evening News with Peter Jennings, Nightline with Ted Koppel, CNN's "American Morning" and "The Situation Room," Fox News, NBC News,and programs broadcast on Canadian, British, and French television”as well as numerous documentaries about Hollywood. He has also lectured at universities throughout the United States and England. In addition to his academic day job, Ross is co-founder and co-director of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities at USCnow in its 10th year.
Steven J. Ross, professor of history at the University of Southern California, explains why right-wing celebrity politicians such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been more successful than their liberal counterparts. "The left has a harder time because it works to initiate reform, while the right works to maintain the status quo," argues Ross.