The Hollywood Revolt, Part 2: Roger L. Simon Turning Right and Breaking the Silence
Read part one of this series here.
In William Strauss and Neil Howe’s Generations, the babies born 1925-1942 are classified as members of the “Silent Generation.” These were the kids who grew up during the crises of the Great Depression and World War II, entered young adulthood at the postwar high of the 1950s, and hit middle age during the cultural chaos of the late 1960s and '70s. This life sequence puts them in Howe and Strauss’ “Adaptive” archetype, a recessive generation less populous in numbers than the ones before (the GI Generation) and after (the Baby Boomers.)
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When this generation started making movies they transformed Hollywood. Peter Biskind’s 1998 book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex-Drugs-and Rock 'N Roll Generation Saved Hollywood lays out the popular narrative. The tail of the Silent Generation and the beginning of the Boomers (filmmakers born 1939-1946) put out major dramatic work that challenged the more bland conventions of mid ‘60s Hollywood cinema. The 1970s were the R-rated decade. Francis Ford Coppola made “The Godfather.” Martin Scorsese released “Mean Streets” and “Taxi Driver.” New serious actors like Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Jon Voight, and Robert De Niro delivered legendary performances. This was a film generation inspired by the French New Wave to treat movies as serious art.
Oscar Nominated-screenwriter, award-winning mystery novelist, and now Pajamas Media CEO Roger L. Simon was a member of this clique. Born in 1943, Simon is like others born at the edges of generations, a blending of both appears in his re-titled memoir Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine, recently released in paperback with new material.
Part 1 of this series established the unique nature of the Hollywood Left with Ben Shapiro’s Primetime Propaganda. This West Coast socialist colony of wannabe revolutionaries is superficial and anti-intellectual in its politics. It’s this aspect of Hollywood leftism more than any other that destined Simon to one day escape.
Simon was a serious leftist and Turning Right establishes his credentials. The Civil Rights Movement was his first taste of activism. His second chapter describes a misadventure in 1966 when en route to integrate a segregated bathhouse in Myrtle Beach he encountered a racist Southern cop and severed his finger while changing a tire. Turning Right is filled with these narratives of the strange situations Simon’s leftist politics took him. One chapter recounts his journey through Red China, another his trip to the Soviet Union, another to Cuba. In one chapter Simon describes the KGB’s attempts to recruit him via a crime writers’ association front group. (Simon was the creator of the Moses Wine series of mystery novels, a hippie detective conceived long before the Coens dreamed of The Dude.)
This is a far deeper political experience than Simon’s Hollywood peers and in the hands of an award-winning novelist it makes for an infectious page-turner.
Simon did not have a Road-to-Damascus moment that pushed him to the Right. It was a slow surrender over the course of decades. He notes that by 1987 he was no longer a Marxist but still a man of the Left. During the 1990s the O.J. Simpson trial’s racial politics were another nudge. However, it was not until 9/11 that the Left’s disgraceful reaction pushed Simon to the edge and eventually overboard.
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But did he emerge as a conservative?
I have often said that I’m uncomfortable being called a conservative—it’s so square—but these days I almost always find myself getting along more with conservatives on political issues—except for social ones, as you can tell.
On religion Simon identifies as an agnostic. His conservatism takes a similar open-minded, anti-ideological path:
What I am left with is a collection of ideas with which I have dabbled throughout my life, never fully discarding any of them, even though some are completely contradictory of others. I regard Marxism, Freudianism, libertarianism, laissez-faire capitalism, Zen Buddhism, Quaker pacifism, neoconservatism, neoliberalism, that whole galaxy of isms, as arrows in a quiver to be drawn at will, depending on the adversary or the necessities of the situation. That may sound dangerously close to yet another ism—cultural relativism—but I assure you it is not. I do think there is almost always a good and evil, a right and wrong—although often you have to look closely—and the relativist view of the world is at best lazy and at worst a stalking horse for fascism. Those arrows in my quiver are no more than an arsenal for helping me find that elusive truth. And perhaps for taking action. Sometimes one is not enough. Sometimes I don’t need or want any of them.
Such is the endowment that the Silent Generation of Hollywood Apostates: skepticism toward easy ideology and a celebration of serious thinking across the disciplines.
This is a different message than that of a solid Baby Boomer like the 1957-born David Mamet. In Part 3 of the Hollywood Revolt we’ll consider the lessons of Mamet’s exciting essay collection The Secret Knowledge.
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Check out the new Chris Weitz-directed "A Better Life," based on a screenplay written by Simon 20 years ago.