Over the room-temperature burgundy and the chopped chicken liver, politics came to Hollywood. As the battle began, the right wing took up prepared positions at the swank Beverly-Wilshire Hotel. The left strung its forces along rows of white-clothed tables at the equally swank palm-studded Beverly Hills Hotel, three miles away. Then the giants fired deadly after-dinner speeches at each other.
The Leftists started it off by announcing a big Free World Association dinner, starring Vice President Henry Wallace. Rightists quickly formed a club of their own, rushed into dinner last week on the eve of Wallace's appearance.
The Hollywood Rightists called themselves "The Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals." Purpose: to correct "the growing impression that this industry is made up of and dominated by communists, radicals and crackpots." The Generalissimo is urbane, greying Sam Wood, who diluted For Whom the Bell Tolls so that Spanish Fascists became "nationalists" and Spanish Republicans came out like the American G.O.P. His general staff includes Walt Disney, Rupert Hughes, one writer from Republic Studios, and ten Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer executives, faithful minions of Tycoon Louis B. Mayer. Gary Cooper, Hemingway's Spanish Republican hero, ate dinner with them. Hearst papers gave the affair pages of pleased attention.
But the Alliance's quickie production stole no scenes from the Free Worlders. More than 300 of screendom's best-dressed thinkers, from Jack Benny's Rochester to Thomas Mann, turned up to hear Henry Wallace. Marquee names on the committee included Jimmy Cagney, veteran Hollywood labor leader, Rosalind Russell and Charles Boyer. Heading them all was Dudley Nichols, who wrote the screen version of The Bell, and put in it what little antiFascism finally peeped through the Technicolor.
Henry Wallace was late for dinner. His motorcycle escort took him by mistake to the Rightists' Beverly-Wilshire Hotel, then rushed him at prerationing speed over to the Leftists' Beverly Hills. He was introduced with confident graciousness by California's Republican Governor Earl Warren ("We like his frankness . . ."). Wallace assured the moviemakers that they would get more business by "understanding the unexpressed hunger in the souls of moviegoers." But Academy President Walter Wanger (producer husband of Joan Bennett), with only a bit part on the program, got the biggest hand. He put aside his scheduled talk, and attacked the Alliance: "Let's keep the record straight. We, too, find home-grown communism as odious as home-grown fascism. . . . [But we do not] intend to be misled by the familiar Hitler line by which communism is made the bogey . . . to confuse us."
The gauntlet was down. From now on, no Hollywood hostess was safe. Try as she might to keep her Max Factor powder dry, her very next swimming-pool party might become tomorrow's ideological battleground.