Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood (2010) s01e04 Episode Script

Brother, Can You Spare a Dream?: 1929-1941

NARRATOR: The 1920s witnessed the triumph of an international image empire.
The capital of motion picture production was Hollywood ruled by an unlikely aristocracy of mostly immigrant entrepreneurs and larger-than-life big screen deities.
By 1927, silent movies had reached an economic and expressive peak.
But an unexpected end was near.
[SINGING] Toot toot tootsie Goodbye Toot toot tootsie Don't cry EYMAN: Sound pictures didn't grow out of silent pictures.
It's a different hybrid that kind of choked off this plant that had been flourishing and then in comes this other thing and simply strangles it and renders it extinct.
NARRATOR: In market-driven Hollywood movies without sound were suddenly considered outdated.
During the years that followed 80 percent of silent films were left to decay and disappear.
[CROWD CLAMORING] Wait a minute.
Wait a minute.
You ain't heard nothing yet.
NARRATOR: The Jazz Singer was a landmark, but not as new as it sounded.
Movies with sound dated to the very first films made by Thomas Edison and his associate W.
Dickson in the 1890s.
Technical advances during the early 20s allowed movie engineers to find a way to link a recorded disk with a projector.
Again, the power of technology was transforming a business that reflected its founders' immigrant dreams and ambitions.
ORR: The story of The Jazz Singer in many ways, matches the story of the Warner Bros that you have Jewish brothers, who come from a traditional Jewish background and yet they want to be successful in the non-religious American life the non-Jewish life.
NARRATOR: At first, Warner's sound and disk system was a success but keeping two machines in synch was a problem.
Already, another mogul was eyeing alternatives.
KREUGER: William Fox was probably the most acquisitive man who ever existed in the motion picture industry anywhere in the world.
At one point, either through his corporation or individually he owned one third of all the movie theaters in the entire world.
If those upstarts, the Warners, could have sound on disk, by gum William Fox could do one better.
NARRATOR: Fox was tough and determined.
Left with a withered arm after a childhood accident he became a formidable one-armed golfer.
He prided himself on never wearing a watch.
The day was over when the work was done.
With the coming of sound, Fox was developing an optical system that put both picture and soundtrack on the same film.
Meanwhile, at Warner Bros.
, Sam Warner was the media visionary.
EYMAN: If Sam Warner was alive today, we'd call him an early adopter.
He was a tinkerer.
He loved gadgets.
He loved the latest thing.
MAN: Quiet, please! [BLOWS WHISTLE] NARRATOR: Sam Warner saw the shape of an emerging new multimedia world but the 42-year-old mogul wouldn't live to see it come.
Only a day before the premiere of The Jazz Singer, he unexpectedly died.
Another death added further confusion and uncertainty to a period known as The Great Hollywood Panic.
And the shake-up was just beginning.
Using theaters as his powerbase, Marcus Loew assembled MGM in 1924.
Then, in 1927, just a month before the premiere of The Jazz Singer Loew, 57, died from a heart attack.
William Fox saw his chance.
He launched an ambitious $50 million takeover bid for Loews/MGM.
Everybody started to take note of this lone person out there of "Oh, my God, he could have control of all of this stuff.
" Almost replacing the idea of what Edison had to begin with and I think that scared them.
[CAR SKIDDING THEN CRASHING] NARRATOR: Just as Fox was about to complete his coup like a sudden movie plot twist a serious car crash in 1929 left him hospitalized.
[SIREN WAILING] Three months later, another kind of crash ended Fox's power play forever.
The stock market crash of 1929 wiped out many American fortunes and the movie moguls were not immune.
Much of their empires was built on paper, bank loans and investment credit.
Weighing most heavily were the costs of supporting mortgages on the lavish new picture palaces they had built during the 20s.
Added to this, was the cost of converting to sound.
For now, the days of easy money were over.
BERGMAN: In 1929, average movie attendance was something like 120 million a week.
I mean, a staggering, staggering number.
People think the Depression didn't affect it.
It did.
It cut it in half.
They were dealing with substantial lessening in revenues.
NARRATOR: Ambitious and unrelenting, William Fox was the first to fall.
Creditors wrested control of his company in 1930.
Even with an $18 million buyout William Fox was an emperor without an empire.
By the mid-1930s, despite a string of horror movie hits including Dracula and Frankenstein Universal Studios was also awash in debt.
Uncle Carl rallied his motion picture family.
Fate has dealt us a vicious, crushing blow.
We must recover from it or go down.
And the only way we can stay in business is to fight as we have never fought before in our lives.
NARRATOR: Despite his fighting spirit, Carl Laemmle was forced to sell Universal.
For his niece, a dancer, it was more than a business loss.
She'd grown up on the Universal lot.
I know that I cried myself to sleep a lot of nights because I missed Universal so much.
I mean, it was my home.
It just broke my heart to have to leave.
NARRATOR: While the moguls struggled to maintain cash flow stars were the upfront faces of Hollywood.
For audiences, they were the first to confront the challenge of talking pictures.
STENN: There literally were stars whose future hung in the balance of a sound test where they had to recite "Little Bo Peep".
And they would stand outside while the sound engineer who had become a godlike figure on the set, was ranked higher than the director.
If the director said cut and the soundman said no good for sound, you did it again.
NARRATOR: In 1930, Louis B.
Mayer anxiously waited to learn how MGM's most glamorous property would survive the verdict of the microphone.
Give me a whisky, ginger ale on the side.
And don't be stingy, baby.
NARRATOR: Playing a character that justified Garbo's husky Swedish accent sound only enhanced her exotic image.
The studios began a remarkable comeback aided by the appeal of sound and supported by major investments from Wall Street.
BEAUCHAMP: With the transition to sound, the cost of each film doubled or tripled.
All of a sudden this was a big deal, and banks came into the equation.
It was no longer one or two men running a company it became the moneymen, plural, who were having their say on everything.
If moneymen had power in Hollywood, two brothers, immigrants from Italy were able to wield as much clout as those who had their names over studio gates.
Beginning in 1908, A.
And A.
H Gianinni were probably among the first bankers willing to loan money to some of those in this brand-new movie business.
NARRATOR: The Giannini's Bank of Italy in San Francisco later nationwide Bank of America backed the formation of United Artists and provided independent producers such as Cecil B.
DeMille and Sam Goldywn with the money to make their greatest movies.
As moviemaking became big business the studios evolved into corporations with boards and stockholders intertwined with the world of Wall Street and New York finance.
MALTIN: It's always fascinated me that while we use the word Hollywood to be synonymous with the movie business the movie business was always headquartered in New York City not Hollywood.
[GUNSHOTS] [WOMAN SCREAMS] Movies weren't the only source of mass-media entertainment in the 1930s.
A major challenge to mogul power was radio.
KREUGER: Imagine farmers who'd come home weary because they've been digging furrows with their plows all day.
They turn on a radio and suddenly they're hearing the biggest stars in the country in their living room, free.
It was a miracle.
NARRATOR: RKO had been forged in the 1920s as an amalgam of radio, theater and movie interests but at first, the moguls tried to ignore the radio revolution.
They refused to let their stars perform on the airwaves.
Finally, in the end, they recognized a challenge as an opportunity.
KRUEGER: Radio was not only a threat to the studios but also it enriched the studios by providing so many performers that the audiences already loved.
Imagine how wonderful it was when Hollywood would sign those people to do movies because now they could see them.
Many of the people, particularly at Paramount, were radio stars.
NARRATOR: The most successful radio-to-movie star was Bing Crosby.
GIDDINS: This was the first guy ever to be the number-one box-office star five years consecutively.
No one else had ever done that.
Not Gable, not Stewart, not Cagney, no one.
NARRATOR: In the end, Hollywood didn't defeat the challenge of radio, it absorbed it.
As the moguls added sound to their entertainment arsenal they consolidated their control over all aspects of moviemaking.
Many of the great silent comedians were among the first to be swallowed up by big studio power and industrial-style production methods.
They knew timetables, they knew scripts they knew how to outlay everything in advance.
But Keaton, like Chaplin, like Lloyd, really didn't work well with a script.
And he wanted to have the freedom to experiment.
And if that didn't work to the time schedule then that had problems for MGM.
NARRATOR: Of all of the great silent clowns only Charlie Chaplin maintained his independence and creativity during the sound era.
GIDDINS: Chaplin was a millionaire many times over.
He was one of the few artists of the 20th century who got complete ownership of all his work.
He didn't have to answer to a studio.
NARRATOR: With a worldwide fan base, than included Albert Einstein Chaplin had the popularity and power to release City Lights in 1931 an essentially silent film in the midst of an industry captivated by cacophony.
Soon, a new generation of comics arrived in Hollywood.
The Marx Brothers, masters of anarchic dialogue were four veterans of the Broadway stage.
Unlike silent stars, they weren't improvisers.
Answer the second question first.
NARRATOR: But their verbal irreverence was right for talkies.
Can't you see what I'm trying to tell you? I love you.
Oh, Your Excellency.
You're not so bad yourself.
By the time the Marx Brothers were on film they were doing routines that they had perfected on stage for years on the vaudeville circuit, so they knew what they were doing.
They just took everything apart.
They double-crossed me.
BERGMAN: In a time when you don't have great faith in the institutions of your country, they were everybody's heroes.
Tell them the enemy comes from afar with a hey na nonnie, nonnie and a hot cha cha.
NARRATOR: The winners and losers of the sound era were not only determined by careful preparation pleasing voices and abilities to thrive in the studio system.
Success or failure in Hollywood could be the arbitrary product of changing times.
STENN: Everything Clara Bow embodied in the 1920s the youthful excess, the joy the extravagance of just living life on the edge when the stock market crashed and the banks failed that almost seemed obscene to the public.
It wasn't fun anymore.
You miserable common, vulgar hussy.
STENN: She didn't understand what she had done wrong.
It was the role she played on-screen.
NARRATOR: In real life, Bow alienated Hollywood moguls and movie stars by refusing to deny her impoverished and uncultured background a past that many in Hollywood shared, but were eager to forget.
With the coming of sound, the hyperkinetic actress was forced to stay within range of early microphones.
She became uncertain and self-conscious.
Then worse, there were embarrassing accusations from a former friend and disgruntled personal assistant.
She was portrayed as an alcoholic, drug addict and accused of everything from promiscuity to incest and bestiality.
Based on a mix of fact, rumor and outright lies the accusations were devastating.
Under the pressures of stardom Bow had already suffered from overwork and nervous exhaustion.
In 1931, bewildered and defeated, she left Paramount.
Two years later, only 28, she retired forever.
While silent stars were fading in the early 1930s Hollywood was infused with a new generation of behind-the-camera talent.
Talkies needed talk, and for semiliterate moguls like Jack Warner like it or not, that meant writers.
Jack Warner's famous line about describing screenwriters was that they were schmucks with Underwoods Underwoods being an old typewriter of the period.
NARRATOR: As far as writers were concerned, the contempt was mutual.
Herman J.
Mankiewicz was a New York journalist wit who began writing snappy titles during the silent era.
Mankiewicz had a Chicago newspaperman friend, Ben Hecht.
NORMAN: Ben Hecht is a great example of the artist as scoundrel the artist as art is what you can get away with.
Hecht was eminently prepared to be a Hollywood screenwriter because he was witty and clever and fast.
NARRATOR: The words "power" and "writer" rarely appeared on the same page in Hollywood but during the 30s, Hecht and Mankiewicz thrived.
Hard drinkers, hustlers and gamblers they turned out a series of hits, talking back to hard times.
Hollywood needed new writers and directors for the era of sound but most of all what was needed was stars who could handle dialogue.
Oh, I love you so much, dearest.
Hold me tight for just a moment.
NARRATOR: As they gathered new talent, the Hollywood image factories often reflected the tastes of the studio heads who controlled them.
None more than Warner Bros.
ORR: My grandfather was not a literate guy.
He used to say when reading a script if you can't read it on the toilet it's too long.
Warner Bros.
Starts to attract a new kind of actor an actor from the theater but an actor who is not necessarily handsome or beautiful in any traditional way.
They are people, some have said, who mirror my grandfather.
They mirror Jack Warner's combativeness tough, little, not necessarily pretty.
NARRATOR: A former vaudeville song and dance man who briefly worked as a female impersonator to make ends meet arrived in Hollywood in 1930.
His name was James Cagney.
Just got burned up, that's all.
NARRATOR: Cagney made a forceful impression in the bullet-ridden 1931 crime saga The Public Enemy and came to personify an image of the often-violent ambiguities of the American Dream during the desperate and sometimes lawless years of the Great Depression.
He also was someone Jack Warner couldn't push around.
Jimmy Cagney was a big star but Cagney was also one of the biggest problems for Warner Bros.
He was very demanding.
He spoke Yiddish so he could understand what the Warner Bros.
Were saying in private meetings sometimes and jump in with comments of his own.
[SPEAKING IN YIDDISH] NARRATOR: Romanian immigrant Emmanuel Goldenberg once had ambitions to be a rabbi but he found his true calling as a formally-trained New York actor.
A cultured man who spoke eight languages he changed his name to Edward G.
Robinson and transformed himself into one of Hollywood's toughest hoods another bad guy hero who appealed to Depression-era sensibilities.
Fine shot you are! You obviously couldn't have a credible success story about a guy starting a Laundromat and getting rich in 1931.
In 1931, I believe the unemployment rate was something like 16 percent and by 1932 it was 24 percent.
If you wanna tell a success story and people still liked people who rose to the top and were hard-working well, the way to do it is to be Little Caesar.
And he lived clean, and didn't mess around with girls, and didn't drink.
He just did it by blowing people's heads off.
MAN: Shoot, Rico.
Get it over with.
NARRATOR: After some off-Broadway experience an ingénue who called herself Bette Davis found a place at Universal around the same time as Robinson.
When she moved to Warner Bros her rise to stardom was often frustrated as Jack Warner tried to figure out what to do with his willful new acquisition.
Bette Davis was not so much an actress as she was a force of nature and woe to those who got in her path when she was on a mission.
I thought you'd at least be amusing.
You turned out to be dull, stupid and so afraid.
HASKELL: She went up toe to toe with Jack Warner and this was a totally unusual thing to do, particularly for a woman.
There were a few male actors who went out on their own.
I mean, she made strides for everyone.
So, what Bette Davis did was just astonishing by any standard.
NARRATOR: In the endless battle between moguls and movie stars Bette Davis was on the front lines.
She led the fight to give studio stars some control over their careers.
[HUMMING] In 1933, an independent and strong-willed actress named Katharine Hepburn played hard to get with RKO.
I say, "Look at me, world.
I'm Jo March and I'm so happy.
" NARRATOR: Little Women confirmed her as a star.
Hollywood was looking for an American Garbo and they found much more.
Like Garbo and Bette Davis Katharine Hepburn insisted on being no one but herself.
And she knew her worth.
BERG: Even before she was here, when her contract was negotiated they offered her a certain amount of money.
She wanted much more.
Three times that.
They said, "You've never made a movie.
" And she said, "I don't care.
If you don't want me then don't pay me.
But that's what my price is.
I'm $1,500 dollars a week and that's that.
That's the price.
" All right, places, everybody.
NARRATOR: Even if they were difficult, stars that talked were good singing ones even better.
In 1930, Hollywood produced 70 musicals.
But sound alone wasn't enough.
The visual dazzle of the silent era needed to be learned again.
Dance director Busby Berkeley was made for the movies.
In his musicals, the camera was choreographed along with his chorines.
Despite Broadway success Berkeley was not trained as a traditional choreographer.
His experience coordinating formations in the military was an important influence on the patterns and precision of his numbers.
KREUGER: What he did was come up with the ideas for dance routines creating marvelous rhythms by having one line of chorus people dancing in one kind of meter and having another group dancing in another kind of meter.
So the assembly of these Berkeley visions existed only in his mind.
Only he knew what he wanted and how the final musical number would come out.
NARRATOR: Most of all, Busby Berkeley was a filmmaker.
He created a kind of movie musical that overwhelmed the stage-bound standards of Broadway.
He also brought intimacy to his numbers with close-ups that inspired thousands of American girls who dreamed of stardom on the big screen.
[CHORUS SINGING] Yet even with all his innovations Berkeley's elaborate numbers were still based on the kind of spectacles that were theater traditions.
KREUGER: Berkeley's career burned out because the vision of what a musical number is in film changed and it changed largely because of Fred Astaire.
Fred Astaire didn't need choruses behind him.
NARRATOR: The career of Fred Astaire is an example of how the creative power of a star can change how movies are made.
He persuaded his director and his studio that he should be always shot head to toe.
He said " I don't dance with just my feet, I dance with my whole body".
And he did.
And it changed the presentation of those musical numbers.
And he found a perfect on-screen partner in Ginger Rogers.
Through a series of films in the 1930s Astaire and Rogers lifted the musical to new heights.
NARRATOR: In 1932, at age 3 Shirley Temple may not have had the elegant moves of Fred Astaire but soon she would more than match his star power.
For floundering Fox Studios, Temple was a godsend.
In 1934, the studio signed her to a $150-per-week contract.
That year she sang and danced her way through 12 movies and received a special Academy Award in 1935.
Temple's movies cost 2 to $300,000 to make.
By 1938, they were grossing a million and a half each in their first run alone.
Even dancing beside the legendary Bill "Bojangles" Robinson Temple commanded the spotlight, the embodiment of box-office power.
Shirley Temple didn't own or run 20th Century Fox.
She made it possible.
While Shirley Temple's star was rising at Fox in the early 30s Adolf Zukor's Paramount was still struggling.
How're the girls today? NARRATOR: A quite different actress sashayed to the rescue.
Oh, why Lou, I'm so very, very, happy to see you.
Mae West came out of vaudeville.
She had this show called Sex.
She actually went to jail.
She was considered raunchy, even in the theater.
Oh, pleased to meet you.
She wasn't exactly sexy, and yet she reeked sex at the same time.
I am delighted.
I have heard so much about you.
Yeah, but you can't prove it.
There was ambivalence on the part of the moguls.
They saw that sex sells, salaciousness sells, raunchy the better.
On the other hand, they had become this force, this moral force.
They took it upon themselves to uplift the public.
I'm a little late getting dressed.
NARRATOR: As a talking picture star Mae West challenged Hollywood censors with something new.
Come up again.
She was known for her sly double entendres and overblown sex appeal.
But Mae West was no dumb blonde.
She was a hardheaded businesswoman, as well as a scriptwriter.
She could do it all.
She could produce a movie if she had to.
She could direct a movie if she had to.
Yeah, they'll listen to you.
So I think she had the respect of, not only my grandfather but everybody else in the business.
NARRATOR: In 1935, Mae West was the highest-paid woman in the United States.
But a new code of movie censorship managed by conservative Catholic Joseph Breen began to, sentence-by-sentence water down Mae West's slinky way with words.
It got so tight after a while that nobody could do anything on-screen.
Married couples had to be in separate beds.
You could never show a bathroom or a toilet.
Kisses could only be so many seconds, and all that sort of stuff.
That went on for years.
NARRATOR: An increase in censorship led to a decrease in Mae West's popularity.
Power and fame in Hollywood could be spectacular but as fleeting as a production code kiss.
In the 1920s, Lewis J.
Selznick a fearless, acerbic and opportunist former jeweler found this out when he entered the movie business and took on Louis B.
Mayer and Adolph Zukor.
Everything about Lewis J.
Selznick was abhorrent to Louis B.
He was extravagant.
He was boastful.
He just overextended too far, too fast too many properties, too many stars, not enough money.
NARRATOR: "Live beyond your means," he told his sons, David and Myron.
"It gives you confidence.
" Whether Lewis Selznick did himself in or got help from his annoyed and angry competitors in 1923 he was forced into bankruptcy.
But Hollywood power is often generational.
His sons, who already had a taste of the movie business as teenagers were determined to get even.
SELZNICK: I think from the photos that you can see of my father, he was a dreamer.
So there was this robust charm aggression, drive, combined with a dreamer.
NARRATOR: Early on, the Selznick brothers set out to conquer the world of the movies that had humiliated their father.
To enhance his image, David added a middle initial to his name.
I think he went through the letters of the alphabet and decided, "The O looks good.
" In later years, people thought he might be David O, apostrophe, Selznick the first Irish Jew, but that wasn't the case.
NARRATOR: Hard-working, with an innate sense of story David O.
Selznick became a Hollywood player at RKO and MGM despite being surrounded by moguls with no love lost for his father especially Louis B.
This didn't stop Selznick from marrying Mayer's daughter Irene in 1930.
Despite jokes about "the son-in-law also rises" at MGM he started his own studio in 1935, announcing boldly "I'm 32 and I can afford to fail.
" That was the kind of self-confidence that built Hollywood but the moguls also exercised power far beyond their studio walls.
When Herbert Hoover was inaugurated as President in 1929 Louis B.
Mayer was invited as the new president's first overnight guest at the White House.
The Hollywood studio heads were staunchly conservative and mostly Republicans.
But in the turmoil of the 1930s, America was rife with radical thinking.
When avowed socialist Upton Sinclair looked like he might win the race for California Governor in 1934 the Hollywood image factories were geared up for action.
BEAUCHAMP: MGM, with Thalberg in the front created these faux news reels of quote-unquote "bums coming into California" saying, "Yeah, we're coming to California.
Upton Sinclair's gonna be governor.
We're gonna get a free ride.
" And then played those things as if they were newsreels.
NARRATOR: Ironically, the immigrant moguls, like Louis.
Mayer had arrived in America as less than promising newcomers themselves but movie success allowed them to ignore their past.
Socialist Sinclair was defeated.
Defeating Upton Sinclair was the kind surreptitious power play well known in Hollywood.
And not even Irving Thalberg was safe.
A perfectionist whose eye was more on what was on the screen than on the bottom line it was said that the frail young producer didn't make movies he remade them.
Thalberg never took on-screen credit but by the 1930s, his success and power and demands for a greater share of MGM profits rankled Louis B.
Mayer even though at $1 million a year Mayer was America's highest-paid executive.
To L.
Mayer, the most important thing in his life was Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
He'd built it.
It had his name on it.
It was his.
That was the most important thing in his life.
To Irving Thalberg, the most important thing in life was Irving Thalberg.
NARRATOR: Thalberg's fragile health had always been a concern but it never affected his power at MGM until 1932, when he had a massive heart attack.
While Thalberg was recuperating in Europe Louis B.
Mayer and his boss in New York, Loew's president Nick Schenck ordered a major reorganization.
They created a new inner circle of unit producers all equals to Thalberg.
VIEIRA: It was a coup, no question about it.
Thalberg felt this was a betrayal.
It had been done while he was away.
They used his illness to take advantage of him, to depose him, essentially.
And he said, "They knifed me.
They knifed me.
" NARRATOR: With no choice, Thalberg returned to MGM as just one of several producers but his work still stood out for high standards and an often lavish commitment to quality.
When Thalberg finally died at age 37 the sentimental side of Hollywood celebrated his short but brilliant life.
Irving Thalberg would remain a model of the elusive mix of art and business that was the ideal, if not the reality, of Hollywood success.
Even before the death of Irving Thalberg young, ambitious and independent David Selznick was angling to lead a new generation of Hollywood moguls.
At the same time, his brother Myron was carving a power base of his own as an agent.
Myron was 5'8".
David was six feet tall.
My father had all of his hair all of his life.
Myron started losing his hair in his 30s.
So he was this balding, acerbic alcoholic, driven, charming rascal.
He was ruthless, and I think a lot of people hated him.
Certainly Louis B.
Mayer hated him.
NARRATOR: Once tolerated as pests during the 30s, agents were becoming the bane of movie moguls determined to control the fates of their stars.
Myron Selznick was the first to challenge their power.
He wouldn't be the last.
Opportunities to make it big in the movies were still there for those willing to take on Hollywood power head on.
Howard Hughes was the young heir of an inventive oilman from Texas.
He arrived in the movie capital in the 1920s, a brash and handsome 20-year old.
He was already enthralled by the magic of motion pictures.
MALTIN: It wasn't easy for an outsider to break into the Hollywood inner circle.
Most people who tried to break into the movie business were scrappers and they had ambition, they had drive but they didn't have money, they needed financing.
He didn't.
He had the money.
WANAMAKER: He went to Carl Laemmle, and Carl Laemmle, who was 2 feet tall and Hughes was 7 feet tall, it was quite a combination.
But they respected each other.
This young man was coming and asking all the questions.
How do you make this? How do you do that? What do you do? I mean, who do you hire? And Laemmle knew that he was going to be a force in Hollywood.
NARRATOR: Hughes went his own way but not without some of Hollywood's most famous beauties at his side.
It took him four years, and nearly $4 million the most spent on a movie up to that time but in 1930 Hughes revealed his grandest ambitions with an aerial epic that celebrated his other great passion, aviation.
Hell's Angels took off where the movie Wings had flown before.
In Hollywood, nothing succeeds like repetition.
Instead of Wings star Clara Bow Hughes featured playfully sexy Jean Harlow.
Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable? I'll try to survive.
NARRATOR: There had always been Hollywood power in sex appeal.
Christened The Platinum Blond, Harlow's career rose to the top at MGM.
Unlike jazz baby Clara Bow she never dreamed of stardom or pursued the fast life.
On-screen, she was someone else.
In the way that movies are like shadows on a screen they're images, they're illusions.
Really, all she wanted to be was a housewife.
She liked to hemstitch.
She loved children.
She liked to cook.
She liked to write poetry.
What the? NARRATOR: Harlow was a presence on-screen but MGM image makers made her a star and then mated her to an actor with male sex appeal that was perfect for troubled but irreverent Depression times.
Get out of there.
- Say, what's the idea? - What? Getting in that barrel.
Oh, I don't know.
Maybe I'm going over Niagara Falls.
Whoo! Ha-ha! THOMSON: Gable is country boy.
Cadiz, Ohio.
And yet, of course, what Gable had false teeth and all Come here.
THOMSON: - Big ears he had self-confidence.
You talk too much, but you're a cute little trick at that.
THOMSON: It was the redneck American who'd been put in a good barber shop and given half an hour and was spiffed up.
And there was nothing pretentious about Gable.
"Well, I know I'm up here.
I know you're all looking at me, and I know I'm being paid millions and I know that women are lined up, but you know, I'm just like you.
" Women adored him, but guys adored him too.
NARRATOR: The movie moguls didn't need to be loved, they wanted to win.
Hollywood power was a gambler's game.
Darryl Zanuck was one production head who was unafraid to risk adding an edge to movie storytelling.
He was convinced that controversy could be just as saleable as escapist entertainment.
ZANUCK: He was the youngest of all of the moguls.
He believed you have to entertain but you can also have some substance and say some important things.
MAN: Escape! Escape! My truck! Escape! NARRATOR: Zanuck and director Mervyn LeRoy brought out the big guns with I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang a devastating indictment of the Southern penal system.
Take a look at that.
The skunk.
NARRATOR: It starred Paul Muni a veteran of the Yiddish Art Theater and Broadway.
MAN: You're next.
NARRATOR: Showing the influence of movies beyond entertainment it led to prison reforms.
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang is to me the very nadir of hopes and aspirations as you've ever seen on a screen.
And they just said, you know, screw it, let's make this movie.
BERGMAN: It was the joy of being able to make 50 movies a year.
You know, there was room for this.
- It was all gonna be so different.
- It is different.
They've made it different.
NARRATOR: Big studios like Warner Bros.
, where Zanuck worked could afford to take an occasional box-office risk.
Not fiercely independent Samuel Goldwyn.
GOLDWYN JR: I never saw him as a mogul.
He did not run a large plant with hundreds of people bowing and yessing him lots of little busy assistants and vice presidents and all of that stuff.
He was just one guy.
He says, "The day I put money under the door and wait for something to happen," he says, "I'm out of this business.
" BERG: Every time Sam Goldwyn wanted to make a movie he went to the Bank of America and took out a loan and he would put his house up as collateral.
So there was always a period of sweating it out for him until the returns actually came in.
I remember when my father would come home at night and he'd say And I was just a kid.
I must have been about 7.
And he'd say, "Well, we paid off the bank today.
" And I would get a little glass of beer to drink.
NARRATOR: Sam Goldwyn was an independent who had to make it on his own but during the early 30s in the shadows of the big Hollywood studio gates there was a neighborhood filled with much more marginalized independents.
It was called Poverty Row, home to Columbia Pictures controlled by another street-savvy tough guy, Harry Cohn the son of an immigrant tailor.
Cohn learned to pitch as a song plugger.
In 1920, Harry joined his older brother Jack and Universal executive Joe Brandt in a company called CBC named after the partners' initials.
Hollywood insiders laughed because the letters also stood for corned beef and cabbage.
In 1924, CBC became Columbia Pictures a more high-class sounding name but the Cohn brothers' company was still headquartered in Poverty Row and their product far from prestigious.
When people went to the movies and looked at the screen if they saw the Paramount mountain or the MGM lion they would start applauding.
If they saw Columbia's lady with the torch, they would start booing which tells you something about the movies of the era.
MALTIN: Harry Cohn and his brother Jack were entrepreneurs.
They wouldn't have called themselves that they wouldn't have known what the word meant, but they were.
Cohn was a rough, foul-mouthed character who gained admiration from people who knew how to deal with him and how to dish it out in return.
But he could be abusive.
He could be really abusive.
JAFFE: The stories were rampant that he had phones on the studio lot tapped that he could listen into almost any conversation.
And his brother Jack who lived on the East Coast, and with whom he founded the company they hated each other.
He was at a board meeting where they had to physically be pulled apart because they had a fistfight.
NARRATOR: Harry Cohn may have tyrannized his brother Jack but he found a creative collaborator in a former Mack Sennett gagman Frank Capra.
And a man like Capra needs a man like Cohn as much as a man like Cohn needs a man like Capra.
And that was the beauty of their relationship.
And I think they hated each other, but also loved each other.
Always in Hollywood history we see the conflict between art and commerce represented by the talent, the star, or the director, and the businessman the mogul or the head of the studio.
This is the story of Hollywood.
And out of that conflict has always come something great.
Frank Capra was a classic example of the American-immigrant story of his era.
He came as a 6-year-old boy from Sicily, in steerage to the United States of America where he rose to the very top of the heap.
He found the streets of gold.
NARRATOR: In the roller coaster world of Hollywood all it took was one film to lift Columbia from the depths of Poverty Row to the Academy Awards the ultimate symbol of movie success.
At the 1935 Academy Awards ceremony It Happened One Night swept the year with the five top Oscars.
Overnight, Harry Cohn was playing with the big guys more respectable, and maybe even more hated but certainly a studio head who proved he could turn out good pictures.
With his success Frank Capra went on to make a series of comedy dramas where the little guy still had a chance.
I think it was John Cassavetes said "Maybe there never really was an America in the 1930s maybe it was all Frank Capra.
" Because Capra really defines that decade so much in his movies.
NARRATOR: Frank Capra's artful populism added a sentimental glow to tough Depression times and made a hero of the common man.
But far from the power centers of Hollywood there was one moviemaker who knew American injustice and opportunity, firsthand.
Born in 1884, Oscar Micheaux, was the son of a freed slave.
BOGLE: He was a man who really didn't see boundaries for himself as an African American.
He didn't see the restrictions the dominant culture was putting on African Americans.
I mean, he believed you could really break through them.
NARRATOR: By the 1930s Micheaux had been in the movie business for more than a decade.
Beginning as a farmer, he started writing novels in 1913.
Then, partly as a response to The Birth of a Nation he turned to moviemaking.
His 1920 film Within Our Gates deals with the hypocrisies of racial purity and the horrors of lynching.
Micheaux would go on to direct 42 movies as a market for race films grew among African American audiences who were either stereotyped or ignored by Hollywood.
BOGLE: I mean, this is so audacious.
Who does this man think he is? He was so charismatic.
He looked as if it was God coming to deliver a sermon.
He just had all of this presence and this great fire within him to do something.
So he's really advising the Black community to lift itself up.
Race movie companies just flourished around the country.
They might be in New Jersey using Fort Lee.
They might be in part of Florida.
They might be in Chicago.
When sound does come in, it's expensive.
They don't always understand it.
Micheaux keeps going.
NARRATOR: Until the end of his career in the late 1940s Oscar Micheaux survived with a mix of entertainment sensationalism and social currency.
Like the Jewish founders of Hollywood he was reimagining America on-screen.
With the power of motion pictures Micheaux and other pioneering black filmmakers were creating an on-screen world that was separate and not equal yet it was theirs.
The films of Oscar Micheaux exposed the injustice and unfinished business of the American Dream.
Some of the most entertaining and deeply-comforting movies of the 1930s came from an unlikely mogul and a star who happily worked for nothing.
The mogul was a lanky former commercial artist from Kansas City and his star was an ink-and-paint hero named Mickey.
MALTIN: Walt Disney was a Midwesterner.
Grew up with a father who was kind of a ne'er-do-well.
But Walt had a drive.
Where this drive came from whether it was poverty that instilled that need to succeed in him, I can't say.
But he was always working harder than he had to to make a better product than he had to even if it meant making less money than he could've.
BOTH [SINGING]: Who's afraid of the big, bad wolf NARRATOR: In the 1930s, Disney, ever the innovator, was among the first to embrace the expressive power of the Technicolor film process and his animation was the first to be honored with an Oscar.
At the same time, the song "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?" from his 1933 cartoon short Three Little Pigs became a sassy answer to Depression gloom proving again the power of the movies to inspire as well as amuse.
Walt was never happy repeating himself.
That seems clear.
Having figured out sound and music, having figured out color he knew that the next advance had to be a longer cartoon.
And he thought about a feature-length cartoon.
Nobody in the film industry wanted it.
They said he was a fool.
They said he was recklessly ambitious to wanna produce a feature-length film.
Because after all, who would wanna see one? Who would sit through it? It was actually said that watching a color cartoon that long would hurt your eyes.
[STARTING TO SNEEZE] [DWARFS LAUGHING] In 1937, it took the support of Hollywood's longtime banker A.
Gianinni to get the money to complete Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
But the persistence and power of Disney's imagination produced one of the biggest-grossing movies of all time.
When no one took cartoons seriously, Walt Disney did.
He licensed his work to distributors, but always kept the rights.
And as with Chaplin he was among the first to recognize the power of merchandising.
Walt Disney occupied his own space, both literally and figuratively, in Hollywood.
I think of him as a visionary, truly a visionary.
And I think of him more in league with Thomas Edison than I do with Louis B.
Mayer or Adolph Zukor.
NARRATOR: Despite Disney's artful animation the expressive power of color technology was still new and expensive in 1939.
But when the film The Wizard of Oz changed from black and white to Technicolor the Depression seemed to fade away.
Audiences entered a world of Hollywood imagination and a luminous new star led the way.
Raised in vaudeville, Frances Gumm found her way into the movies and the overwhelming embrace of MGM.
Here, she became Judy Garland.
Although it wasn't a major hit at first the magic of The Wizard of Oz would become more powerful with time.
In 1939, the world was on the edge of catastrophe far more devastating than a Kansas tornado.
Hollywood stars like Judy Garland would not only entertain they would offer hope and a sense of security.
[SINGING] If happy little bluebirds fly Beyond the rainbow MAIETTA: Judy Garland touched audiences with her vulnerability, with her humanity unlike any other star in Hollywood.
She reached out to people and wrapped them up in her arms.
NARRATOR: The Hollywood moguls were always on the lookout for promising stars and great stories.
Like The Birth of a Nation 24 years before Gone With the Wind was based on a novel one of the most successful in American history.
And again, it showed the power of Hollywood to reimagine America's past.
Times had changed by the 1930s.
David O.
Selznick was eager to surpass the record profits of The Birth of a Nation but avoid the controversy that D.
Griffith had created.
BOGLE: One of the things which Selznick set out to do was get to the black press and let them see that we're making this movie and that we wanna give important roles to African-American actors and actresses.
There's also a section in Gone With the Wind, in the novel where the Ku Klux Klan comes into the story and they get rid of it.
NARRATOR: All the movie moguls were tough and driven men.
David O.
Selznick was, perhaps, the most obsessive of them all.
SELZNICK: Long before I was born, my father already was compulsive.
He already said to people, "There aren't enough hours in the day.
That's the problem with the day.
I need 21 or 22 hours.
Why do I have to go to sleep at night?" So when Benzedrine and Dexedrine were prescribed to him during Gone With the Wind, he said, "This is wonderful.
Now I can have 22 hours a day.
" NARRATOR: Grossing more than $20 million in its first run and winner of a record ten Oscars Gone With the Wind was the most successful movie ever produced.
This is one of the happiest moments of my life.
NARRATOR: When Hattie McDaniel was honored with an Oscar it also suggested that Hollywood imagery had the power to change attitudes about race in American movies.
But there was a long way to go.
BOGLE: When they had the big opening in Atlanta and all the stars coming Vivien Leigh back in the United States, Olivia de Havilland.
Of course, Clark Gable with Carole Lombard.
Hattie McDaniel was not there at that opening.
They did not want her there because of the South and the South's attitudes.
I don't know nothing about birthing babies.
BOGLE: And there was criticism of Gone With the Wind within the African-American community.
At the same time, it was enjoyed.
NARRATOR: Even though Gone With the Wind was set during the Civil War for audiences in 1939 the disruption and struggles of Scarlett O'Hara mirrored the dislocations in Depression America.
As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.
NARRATOR: Gone With the Wind represented the Hollywood dream factories at a peak of profitability and power.
For the moguls, it had been a remarkable success story.
Yet as powerful as they had become many of the immigrant studio heads remained insecure.
[SPEAKING IN GERMAN] NARRATOR: When Hitler and Nazism began their anti-Semitic rise in Europe during the 1930s with the exception of the Warner Bros the Jewish moguls hesitated to speak out.
They feared losing vital German markets and calling attention to their Jewish roots which could arouse anti-Semitism in an America overwhelmingly against going to war.
I think one of the most important things for these Jews who came to this country not just the moguls, but for an entire generation or two of Jewish immigrants was to assimilate.
And part of that was not necessarily to deny being Jewish but it was just not to broadcast it either.
That was certainly the case here in Hollywood where they were producing this all-American art.
NARRATOR: While other Jewish moguls were hesitant retired Universal Studios founder Uncle Carl Laemmle hadn't forgotten his emigrant past.
LAEMMLE: He would visit Laupheim, go back to Germany every year.
He'd never miss.
Of course, when Hitler came in power then he was no longer allowed to enter Germany.
And he wanted to do anything that he could to relieve the situation for the Jews there.
He brought between four and five hundred families over.
Some went to other countries, but a lot of them came to the United States.
NARRATOR: When Carl Laemmle died in 1939, at age 72 the Hollywood he had helped create had triumphed during a turbulent decade.
More than ever, audiences were captivated by movie dreams.
But as the United States approached the unknowns of the 1940s the coming attractions would become nightmares and they were real.