Ayn Rand and the Motion Picture Alliance

Kevin Brianton, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, La Trobe University, Melbourne, University

During the Cold War, while the studios were beginning to bring out anti-communist films, the right began to look for other targets. Not content with driving communists out of Hollywood, the right turned its attention to films with liberal messages. Ayn Rand wrote a Screen Guide for Americans in 1947 for the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals which said that free enterprise, industrialists, and the independent man shouldn’t be smeared; that failure and the collective shouldn’t be glorified; and that communist writers, directors and producers shouldn’t be hired. The alliance did not see it as a ‘forced restriction’ on Motion Picture studios, rather that each man should do ‘his own thinking’ and for the guide to be adopted as a ‘voluntary action’. Rand wrote that the guide aimed to keep the screen free from any ‘collective force or pressure.’ The irony was that this was precisely what the alliance was doing.

The real point of Rand’s pamphlet was that only a conservative vision of America should be allowed on the screen. The alliance wanted the present wave of films that attacked or criticized capitalism halted. One of the alliance’s supporters, Cecil B. DeMille was making similar speeches:

The American people know that with all its faults capitalism has given them the highest standard of living and the greatest personal freedom known in the world. The communist cannot deny that. But they can – and do – make a banker or a successful businessman their villain. They can – and do – pick out the sordid and degraded parts of all of America, leaving the audience – especially the foreign audience – to infer that all America is a vast Tobacco Road and successful people are all ‘little foxes’.

The impact of the guide has been overstated. Rand later claimed her ‘Screen Guide for Americans’ was printed in full on the front page of The New York Times drama section.[1] The claim has then been repeated by historians such as Steven J. Whitfield and then in turn by Rand scholar Robert Mayhew.[2] In reality, only a short article appeared on the screen guide with a few sentences describing its contents on page 5 of the supplement.[3] The article only took up one-third of a regular column.

[1] Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, Anchor, USA, 1987, p. 203.

[2] Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1996, p. 131. Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia: Communism and Anti-Communism in 1940s Hollywood, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md., 2005, p. 176.

[3] The New York Times, 16 November 1947

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