Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics by Steven J Ross - review by Frederic Raphael

Frederic Raphael

Principle Actors

Hollywood Left and Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics

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Oxford University Press 500pp £18.99 order from our bookshop
 

The interplay of show business and politics goes back at least as far as fifth-century Athens. The young Perikles acted as producer for Aeschylus’s Persae, which advertised Athenian naval power. Thanks to the play, the Battle of Salamis is taken to be the moment of Europe’s salvation from oriental domination. In fact, the later land battle of Plataea was more decisive, but that victory owed most to the Spartans, who had no theatrical genius for the mythologisation of fact. In Rome, the actor Roscius served as elocution teacher to Cicero, as Warren Beatty would to Gary Hart; Nero – like Ronald Reagan – never saw any difference between playing the leading part and being a leader.

In his well-researched and competently spliced Hollywood Left and Right, Steven J Ross is impartial enough in the treatment of his ten choices – five from either wing of the political spectrum – to verge on the obsequious. His hat keeps coming off for Chaplin, Jane Fonda, Harry Belafonte and

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