Andrew HamiltonClassic Essays

Theodore Dreiser on Early Hollywood

poster4From “Hollywood: Its Morals and Manners” (Shadowland magazine, 1921-1922)

by Theodore Dreiser

Introduction by Andrew Hamilton

THE GERMAN-AMERICAN novelist Theodore Dreiser was a Leftist, eventually became a Communist Party member, and praised Stalin — but he wasn’t 100% enamored of Jews.

At the time he wrote this four-part series of articles on the culture — and casting couches — of Hollywood, Dreiser lived in southern California as a result of having contracted to write screenplays for Jesse Lasky’s Famous Players studio. Dreiser’s cousin Helen Richardson, whom he would eventually marry, also worked in the film industry. We are presenting the first two parts of this series — the sections which deal with the exploitation of White girls and women.

Regrettably, the opening portion of Part One of this series is not yet available in digital form. It contains very interesting material in the same vein as the main theme of the overall piece — how Hollywood actors are exploited by the studios, very much in line with what I noted in my article on Olivia De Havilland. But it is reportage based upon Dreiser’s firsthand experience in Hollywood, not puerile Communist propaganda by any means. The underlying theme of (primarily) Jewish exploitation of (primarily) White talent, though never stated explicitly, is clearly evident to any racially aware reader.

What is particularly interesting is that Dreiser considers not only Jewish behavior, but the psychology and behavior of the Whites involved as well, particularly sexually exploited White girls and women. In all fields Jews are able to select and use for their own purposes the cream of the crop of our people, despite exploiting, brutalizing, and degrading them callously. Dreiser captures this element of the Jewish-White symbiosis extremely well. It is clear that Jewish domination of our race involves both sides of this coin.

As noted, Parts One and Two focus on the sexual exploitation of young White girls and women: “There is no one in the profession today who does not know that sex is the principal and hence the determining factor in the rise of most of those of beauty among the women who hope to go far.”

In retaliation for this piece Los Angeles’ Jewish moguls compelled Photodramatist Magazine to cancel a planned series of articles by Dreiser.

Part One: The Struggle on the Threshold of Motion Pictures (November 1921)

Theodore Dreiser
Theodore Dreiser

[DREISER begins by describing some of the problems — and the intense competition — faced by the thousands of young Whites who flock to Hollywood, dreaming that their beauty will give them entrance to a world of fantasy, fame, and untold wealth . . . ]

. . . At this moment, then, literally hundreds of girls and women, for that matter, of the rarest beauty, to say nothing of emotional and dramatic sense, in many cases, business judgment, force, energy, tact and determination, are concentrating with a single-mindedness that would do credit to a Rockefeller or a Schwab, on the above problems. Deprivation, for the moment, is nothing. The tang and sting of the game makes up to them for that. Insults and annoyances are nothing. There are those, no doubt, who even like them. Compromise, if need be, is nothing. They will do anything, all to win, and then smile condescendingly upon those still in the melee, or who retire beaten, having scarcely the time or the spirit to assist any, even if they had the inclination. And if the truth were known, they would not, in many cases, spiritually wipe their feet upon the many who from time to time, in the course of their upward struggle, have compelled them to yield their favors for a price. It is a part of the cost in nearly all cases but not to be looked back upon in many cases with much pleasure. They took it into consideration at the opening of the contest.

Here and there, unquestionably, is a producer, a casting director, a director, etc., who would not, as a rule, disturb anyone, and who seeks only the merit that is necessary for the adequate representation of a given film. But for every one such there are at least five who have no such ethical or commercial standards. They combine business with pleasure as much as they dare, and in not a few cases one might safely add, no pleasure, no business, at least for the more attractive beginner. It may seem a coarse and vulgar thing to report, but so it is. And happy the girl or woman who, a bargain being struck, is so fortunate as to find someone who will honestly endeavor to further her interests.

poster2Now nothing could be further from the purpose of these articles than to set up a sentimental defense of the assumed reserve and virtue of many who take up pictures as a profession. Neither is there any puritanic desire to condemn. By far the greater number of girls and women who essay this work know very well beforehand via hearsay or exact information the character of the conditions to be met. And if they do not know it beforehand, they could not be about the work a month before they would be aware of the general assumption of those connected with the work, the males in particular, of course, that all women connected with the work are potentially, if not actually, of easy virtue. Therefore, if they resent this and still linger about the scene, ambition or not, the responsibility is at least in part theirs. And a very large number linger, not only quite willingly, even though they may possess ample means to go elsewhere if they choose, but they rather relish, I think, the very lively war that is here persistently on between the sexes. They are by no means innocents or lambs being led to the slaughter. And not a few relish the personal and emotional freedom which life in this realm provides. For most of those who eventually undertake the struggle are already mentally liberated from most of the binding taboos which govern in the social realms from which they emanate. And many of them have already long resented them. Anyone familiar with this realm could spin a long tale as to this. Nevertheless it is not to be doubted that here and there among the many who essay the work are a few who have not previously scented correctly the nature of the conditions. And others who, knowing of them, have either not been willing to believe or they have concluded that whatever the conditions they themselves are bomb proof and can make their way despite these conditions.

But they find it difficult, just the same — very —, and never doubt it. I have in mind, for instance, certain comedy producing masters and owners of studios who, apart from establishing character interpreters of a humorous turn who can make their way anywhere, of course, will give no opportunity to the novice of the female persuasion who is beautiful unless she is not married, or is most careful to conceal the fact. And what is more, even emotionally engaged applicants need not apply. Not that the work itself is of such a nature as to preclude its proper interpretation by one who chances to be so engaged but because these lords of these very pretty domains are, Solomon-wise, determined to attach to their already extended harems (potentially, if not actually at the time) all those of sufficient charm who hope to prosper by their favor in any way. This may sound crude and exaggerated to a degree but I am here to assure you that it is not. They want these beauties at their beck and call at all times, apparently, and for no other reason than that they prefer them socially even more than they do as screen workers and they cannot endure the thought of another who may, by any chance, have a prior claim. No immediate and willing response at any time, night or day, seemingly, to their demands and there will be no more work for them in that studio. Crude? Exactly. But efficient. And I might add that any and all of those high-salaried and comfortable vice-snoopers, who are even now so busily engaged hailing before the courts of the land respectable publishers, to say nothing of serious authors whose only crime is that they seek via admirable letters to set forth pictures of the social state of the time, might better be engaged in bringing to light the truth of this, if only such truth were sensibly and honestly dealt with. But they are cautious and self-preserving as well as self-advantaging company, these same who have the morals of the country in charge. You will find them taking no note of what is here set forth, for the good and sufficient reason that it is far more dangerous to attack any of these barons of the movie realm than it is the average hard-pressed publisher and author of distinction. For the former have the means and the courage to make trouble for these snoopers. And would. Hence the wide berth given them by these same salary-hunting purists who will devote months and years even hounding to earth the less “well-heeled” but serious worker and publisher who can make no expensive and hence very damaging defense. If you are not prepared to believe this, I commend your attention to the undisturbed social conditions in the moving picture and theatrical worlds generally. Not that I desire to stir up trouble for these very worthy and thirst satisfying industries which are unquestionably meeting a wide public demand. But rather that the burden of enduring all of the petty and self-advantaging industry of the snoopers may, in part at least, be lifted from the shoulders of the hard-working author and his publisher.

But the above is mere fact. There is the commonplace director of the smaller comedy and other film companies who, invariably and almost as a matter of course, makes overtures to every attractive worker who enters upon a set that he chances to be directing. Not that he thereby, and by reason of his position, is able to force himself into the good graces of those who chance to fall within the range of his authority as that, in many instances, he makes it all but a condition of further employment under him that something be done by the worker of physical charm to assuage his very emotional and yearning temperament. It seems a little petty to say the least, especially where the worker in question has secured the brief employment in question by the most arduous and persistent industry and where the salary connected with the work, and especially for the brief time that work is to be had anywhere on any set, is entirely incommensurate with the ability and service required. Yet so it is. And you may hear some of the very comfortable employers of labor in this sense laughing over or boasting of their several conquests, while at other moments, yet in the same connection, they may be heard denouncing such and such a worker thus used in the past as a this or a that. It might be a little amusing if it were not quite so drastic.

Then there are the casting directors of some of these institutions — not all of them, by any means, I must hasten to add — who are not above selling opportunities to the needy, or at least the fame-hungry among those who apply to them and who chance to take their fancy, for a return of a pleasurable nature to them, of course. Not that all of them have so very much in the way of an opportunity to offer to anyone. Or, that those for whom they bid do not, in many cases, know that. Or, that they succeed so very often. I do not think they do — certainly not in the cases of the more exceptional of their applicants — at least, not often. Yet notwithstanding, there is this type of overture about. And there is the type of aspirant who is not above advantaging herself in this rather shabby fashion. Around the meaner type of studio I have good reason to know that they are very common. The illusion or vain hope is that it will do them good “artistically.” The thing takes on a disgusting look at times. But so do aspects of certain other professions — nearly all of them. Yet there is no one in the profession today who does not know that sex in one form and another is the principal and hence the determining factor in the rise of most of those of beauty among the women who hope to go far. And that there have been and will yet be many compromises of a decidedly sordid character in order that screen success may be attained. The most irritating features of the whole thing though, really, are these constantly and decidedly brazen overtures on the part of so many who are among the humblest of the attaches — the general assumption on the part of so many call-boys, cameramen, assistant directors, and who not else, that all of those who work in this realm are of easy virtue and that their favors are among the rightful perquisites of those who work about the studios or in the profession, even. Also, that unless they submit they should be made to pay the penalty of ostracism. It sounds a little wild to the outsider of more conventional views, but so it is, just the same.

Poster for Eric Stroheim's Blind Husbands. Stroheim, a Jew from Austria, enjoyed great success in Hollywood as an actor (despite his notable ugliness) and director. When he entered the US via Ellis Island in 1909, he claimed to be Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall, a member of the Austrian nobility. He could barely speak German, and claimed to have "forgotten" his native tongue.
Poster for Eric Stroheim’s Blind Husbands. Stroheim, a Jew who claimed to be from Austria, enjoyed great success in Hollywood as an actor (despite his notable ugliness) and director. When he entered the US via Ellis Island in 1909, he stated that he was “Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall,” a member of the Austrian nobility. He could barely speak German, and later alleged that he had “forgotten” his native tongue. Part of his notoriety stemmed from his film portrayals of strutting, nasty “German” villains.

Part Two: The Commonplace Tale with a Thousand Endings (December 1921)

I HAVE in mind a certain director, one of the staff of directors of one of the larger studios, who is, to say the least, a rather ridiculous illustration of what I mean. At one time he was a butcher’s helper and made a humble wage at cutting steaks and chops. At present he is a fairly capable “shooter” of five-reelers and is not at all disliked by those who employ him. Yet mentally he is not much above a certain type of director in filmdom, which is not saying very much, you may be sure. Although a bachelor via the divorce court, he has his “home,” his butler, his car, his this, his that, with a little home-brew thrown in for good measure. About the studios and among the flappers he poses as being a — well, a member of a certain rather popular faith. Among directors and film-workers generally, those who know of him at all, he is known as a “chaser” of sorts, one of those who are more than inclined to annoy the novices of beauty who chance to come in contact with him on his sets. Well, there you have the stage set, as it were.

poster1Now we will say it is nine o’clock of a certain Los Angeles morning, and Cerise, aged nineteen or thereabouts and but newly engaged to play the part of a charming niece in a comedy which our director is about to direct, has come upon the set for the first time and is looking joyfully and gratefully about. She is pink and vigorous, with golden or black hair, as you will, and eyes with that haunting freshness that is among the requisites of beauty in youth. Also there is a smile that is truly winsome, because devoid of make-believe and because it is suggestive of pleased wonder.

At sight of Cerise, who has been “handed him” by the casting director, and who, as he latterly phrases it, has proved to be a “pippin for once,” he is all eyes, and yet distant. For so difficult has “the game” become of late, so watchful the money-power, so tricky and ungrateful the various vamps and succubi of the profession who, to say the truth, have not used him any too well, that at last he is developing a little caution. Yet so great is the lure of youth in this instance, as in that of so many others, that he can scarcely keep his mind on his work. He begins, forthwith, to talk more loudly, to give more directions than are absolutely necessary, to direct “with a vengeance” as some unhappy thespian of his set now makes bold to comment to another, “and all on account of that young skirt over there.” ‘Tis the way of a portion of the directors of moviedom, at least.

And within the hour of her arrival, if you will believe it, and after the direction of many, many pictures, he is her slave, yet still at a respectful distance. The sight of the “heavy” of this set setting down beside her and beginning an enticing conversation is sufficient to cause him to all but suffocate with envy, fear and rage. “What! That waster! Is he about to attempt an additional conquest here?” Forthwith he proceeds to give said actor instructions in regard to something in order to divert his mind or his mood or both. “Just stay over here near me, Williams. I want you to see what is going on here so you can get into the spirit of this thing for once.” Note the “for once.” A little later it may be an extra who has intruded upon the newcomer with kind words and a smile. At once he is aflame with secret rage and envy. “Off the set! Off the set! That means you, Fisher. I don’t want any but principals and the members of the cast around here now.” Exit the abashed and angry Fisher, silent because he needs, very much, to court the favor of all in these trying days. By nightfall, after sidling near at many points of the day and work with pleasant if inane references to the character of the work in hand, his plans for it, the impossibility, almost, of finding ideal types for the several roles, he is ready for his coup or play. “But you certainly have beauty. Just the person I have been looking for. If I had known of you when I was casting my last picture, I certainly could have made a place for you.”

1920s starlets

Now Cerise, like so many others of her years and sex, is all aflame with what it means to be a star or within the ranks of those who may reasonably aspire to stellar honors. Fortunately or unfortunately, as you will, she has a mother who, to further her picture ambitions, has left her native state with her and journeyed to far Los Angeles in order to open a millinery establishment or to herself work in a store. The apartment, that between them they can afford, is the humblest. In addition, it is with the greatest difficulty and care that Cerise has achieved the few attractive garments which she now possesses and by the aid of which she hopes to forward herself as much as possible. More would be welcome, of course. Hence the thrill at the thought of making so marked an impression and of being made to feel that additional work may be in store for her here. At the end of the day, then, when Sir Director lingers and offers the service of his car, she is appropriately elated, of course. He is taken with her as a screen possibility. He will be glad to forward her career because of her innate fitness for the work.

Now the conclusion of this particular incident may be as your fancy dictates. But depend upon it, however you, personally, may decide to end it, it will have had, at some time or other, a counterpart in real life. It depends on the temperament and hence the practical judgment, or lack of it, of the one thus enthusiastically approached or often her mother or friends, or the character of her bad friend in some other way. By far the largest number of those who decide to test this world are sophisticated beyond their years, whatever their years may be. They are, in the main, practical to this extent, that they are here to realize on their ability and charm as swiftly as possible. Ushered into the very much benickeled car of a personage in this realm and offered a dinner or at least a little chocolate en route and told very plainly and earnestly as to what the prospects of advancement are — well — the matter would certainly be taken into consideration and thought upon at length, if not decided upon immediately. Such a seemingly real impression is not made every day. If the situation of the aspirant is very complicated and her need for aid pressing — well. Yet, as a rule, they know enough that no situation is likely to be injured by a little waiting. Also, that one should look most carefully over the cliff before they leap. Beyond this, and a little time taken, the thing may end most any way. And does. It might well be called “The Commonplace Tale with a Thousand Endings.”

Yet in this case, as in all others of the same type, unless the situation is handled by the aspirant with the utmost tact, the director failing will see to it that no more favors of any kind are extended her by him. He may even become very disagreeable in connection with the work in hand, so much so that she might well find it impossible to complete the work then and there doing. The theory is that if he is not good enough for her, and she thinks so very well of herself, let her get someone else to do favors for her. Depend upon it, he will not. And more than one director has had to be released from one and another studio before he would cease his annoying tactics. Not all beginners will endure such assaults without complaint. Yet in the main they do. And it is thus that one opportunity after another, with one director after another, has been lost, and advancement all but closed because the aspirant chanced to be of exceptional charm and was desirous of making her way without compromise except where her affections were honestly engaged.

Indeed, the more one wanders about and wins to wisdom in this matter of picture production, the more one comes to note the shabby and pinchbeck point of view that holds, not only in most of the counting offices of all these great concerns where the petty and often pretty beginner is concerned, but also in the minds of directors, casting-directors, assistant-directors, cameramen, the heavies and even leads of the male persuasion who have anything to do with or can, by any hook or crook, contrive any possible claim upon the time or attention or services of those of the feminine persuasion — the younger and prettier and less experienced, of course — who are seeking to make an ill-paid way in this, in the main, grueling realm. The shabby and even shameful impositions! The sharp exactions in the matter of time and money! (Hours, for instance, that stretch from eight to six and even longer, on the set and in costume, for a wage which, when measured by the number of employed days one will come by in the course of a year, is ridiculously and even pitifully inadequate.)

The general assumption on the part of many directors, assistant-directors and even stage carpenters and electricians is that, somehow, because these hundreds and even thousands of girls are compelled to or, at any rate, are desirous of making their living or their way in this field, and have all too little, financially, wherewith to do that, therefore they are, and of right ought to be, the sexual prey of these men. Also that any opposition on their part to being so used or pursued can only be based upon a disagreeable and even reprehensible vanity — or “better than thou” spirit, which should never, for a moment even, be tolerated by one in so lofty a position as any of the above. The often undesired and in many cases resented overtures and insults which, nevertheless, because of the nature of the work and the driving character of the ambition of those insulted, may never be properly rebuked! And, where one such chances to be usually winsome and earnest, and eager to make progress without compromise, the rebuffs, impositions and preventing or delaying oppositions, even though all the necessary talent for the situation may be properly presented, may endure for a period of years, in some instances quite until hope is exhausted.

In writing this I have in mind not one but something like twenty-five aspirants of exceptional beauty and ability and admitted screen charm who, nevertheless, and because of a lack of means combined with an unfortunate determination to fight their way upwards without compromise on the emotional side are still, after several years of unremitted struggle or intelligent application, as you will, about where they began at first. And that in the face of others of no more ability who have risen much more rapidly. It is true that during that time, and by reason of some little money with which they came, plus the employment they have had, they have managed to live and take their part in the movie social world about them. Also that they have acquired much of the necessary screen technique which, coupled at this time with an opportunity of some kind, might easily lead to recognition of a very grateful character. They are among those who, whenever some exceptional minor part that takes ability but not much time is to be “cast,” are sent for. And in such things they appear quite regularly. Their faces, for brief intervals, are to be seen in many pictures. But will they succeed eventually? That certainly depends to a degree upon the presence of others of equal attractions who are not so frugal with their favors. During the time they have been upon the scene not one of them but has had, over and over, advances made to them by one and another of force and distinction in the realm in which they seek to shine. But in each and every case, for reasons best known to themselves, these opportunities have been allowed to slip by. Speaking of one of them, a scenarist of no little popularity once observed to me: “For the life of me I can’t see why Mary hangs on out here. She has ability — tons of it. And if she were only backed by someone she would make a strike, all right. A few of the right sort of posters, a good vehicle, and a press-agent, and she would get over with a bang. But here she is, drifting along, and here she will be five years from now, trailing others who haven’t a fourth of her genuine charm, unless she quits. What’s the answer? She isn’t coarse-fibred enough, that’s all. She can’t bring herself to do the things that most of them do. If she would…” He said no more than the truth . . .

* * *

Source: Shadowland magazine

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Anthony Collins
Anthony Collins
21 January, 2016 9:39 am

I can’t resist juxtaposing the text accompanying the poster for Eric Stroheim’s Blind Husbands above and what Revilo P. Oliver wrote in his article “New Lies for Old,” recently published on this website: “Stroheim, a Jew who claimed to be from Austria, enjoyed great success in Hollywood as an actor (despite his notable ugliness) and director. When he entered the US via Ellis Island in 1909, he stated that he was ‘Count Erich Oswald Hans Carl Maria von Stroheim und Nordenwall,’ a member of the Austrian nobility. He could barely speak German, and later alleged that he had ‘forgotten’ his native tongue. Part of his notoriety stemmed from his film portrayals of strutting, nasty ‘German’ villains.” “Most Americans have the stinking swill [of the ‘Holocaust’] squirted in their faces every… Read more »