Vignettes from my new book Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes About the Stars and Legends of the Movies!
Don’t Practice What You Preach
Warren Beatty was fired up to direct and star in the 1981 drama Reds, which told the story of John Reed, the founder of the American Communist Party. The forty-four-year-old sex symbol Beatty had scored big at the box office with the 1978 comedy Heaven Can Wait, and now wished to tackle much more serious subject matter. Leery of the politics, but wanting to be in the Warren Beatty business, Paramount Studios’ executives reluctantly agreed to pony up twenty-five million. Warren led a large cast through a punishing nine-month schedule in which they recreated the 1917 Russian Revolution. The completed Reds got great reviews, won a Best Director Oscar for Beatty, but struggled to earn back its costs. The leading man’s passion for his project inadvertently drove up the film’s expenses; at one point during the production of Reds, several extras became so inspired by one of Beatty’s anti-capitalistic speeches that they went on strike.
Depression at the Box Office
The 1921 recession was devastating to the US economy including the movie business, but it was also a mere blip on the historical radar screen. President Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) decided to cut taxes, spending and regulations; both America and its movie houses came out of the financial downturn very quickly (Vice President Calvin Coolidge, who succeeded Harding after his death in 1923, maintained similar policies – United States unemployment fell from 20 percent in 1921 to a peacetime record of 1.8 percent five years later). It was quite a contrast to the 1929 stock market crash. Both the Hoover (1929-1932) and Roosevelt (1933-1945) administrations chose to interfere greatly with the free market. In 1933, almost one third of American movie theaters went dark and salaries were cut throughout the film industry. Patrons got two features for the price of one and some cinemas gave away free china with an admission ticket. One film lover upon receiving a teapot asked,”Do you have a good movie to go with this?”
Dead Shot Shirley
Ten-year-old Shirley Temple felt compelled to dispense justice when she attended a barbecue at Eleanor Roosevelt’s Hyde Park estate in 1938. The child star had recently made the first lady an official member of the Shirley Temple Police Force; Eleanor had asked for two extra badges for her granddaughters. Shirley graciously complied after explaining that this was a serious organization with strict rules. Participants had to wear their emblems in public at all times, otherwise Shirley was authorized to collect fines, which were then given out to charities. And now at the party, the Roosevelt granddaughters were breaching protocol and refused to fork over the required cash. Clearly, Eleanor had failed to deputize them properly. While Mrs. Roosevelt was busy bending over the grill, the little actress subtly pulled out a slingshot from her purse and nailed her hostess in the rear with a pebble. The target straightened right up while her young punisher quickly hid the weapon before the secret service men noticed. Eleanor never mentioned the incident. Shirley remained proud of her action, even after she was walloped later that night by her mother who witnessed the whole thing.
Extra: Later that year, Shirley met Boston Governor Charles Hurley (1893- 1946). The Democrat politician accidentally slammed a car door on Temple’s hand and chased kids away from his limo. The ten-year-old star didn’t like the way Hurley treated others and decided that she would be a Republican.
Ronald Reagan’s Talent
In the 1930s, liberal Democrat Ronald Reagan resisted friends’ suggestions that he give up his movie career to run for office. Gosh, couldn’t a guy just be interested in issues without going into politics? Didn’t people think he had talent? As the years passed, his Hollywood opportunities slowed down, public service became more appealing and he became less defensive. In 1981, the seventy-year-old conservative was able to laugh about a meeting with a congressional Democrat. “We are going to cut taxes!” Reagan told him. “And do you know why? Because back when I was at Warner Bros. in the forties, I suddenly found myself in a ninety percent tax bracket. Ninety percent! Now nobody in this country should pay ninety percent. Well? What do you have to say about that?”
The congressman whistled. “Ninety Percent…My God, Mr. President…I never thought you were that good of an actor.”