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Confessions of a Hollywood Propagandist: Harry Warner, FDR and Celluloid Persuasion



In the hands of motion picture makers lies a gigantic obligation, honorable but frightening. We must have the courage and the wisdom to make pictures that are forthright, revealing and entertaining, pertinent to the hour and the unpredictable future. 2 —Harry Warner The motion picture industry could be the most powerful instrument of propaganda in the world, whether it tries to be or not. 3 —Franklin D. Roosevelt Harry Warner was Roosevelt's man in Hollywood. He was not the bold, brash, bombastic and ever-tan brother Jack Warner, the public face of Warner Bros., who made up a story about being offered a diplomatic post after Roosevelt's victory in 1932, to which he replied, " I think I can do better for your foreign relations with a good picture about America now and then. " 4 More than Jack, Harry displayed a genuine passion and commitment to lofty ideas that promoted America's national security and vital interests. The moral conscience of Warner Bros., Harry became President Franklin D. Roosevelt's chief persuader in Hollywood, a valiant and courageous advocate for U.S. involvement against the rise of national socialism bellicosity abroad at a time when many in the United States remained isolationist. 5
In the hands of motion picture makers lies a gigantic obligation, honorable
but frightening. We must have the courage and the wisdom to make pictures
that are forthright, revealing and entertaining, pertinent to the hour and
the unpredictable future.2
—Harry Warner
The motion picture industry could be the most powerful instrument of
propaganda in the world, whether it tries to be or not.3
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
Harry Warner was Roosevelt’s man in Hollywood. He was not the
bold, brash, bombastic and ever-tan brother Jack Warner, the public
face of Warner Bros., who made up a story about being offered a
diplomatic post after Roosevelt’s victory in 1932, to which he replied,
“I think I can do better for your foreign relations with a good picture
about America now and then.”4 More than Jack, Harry displayed
a genuine passion and commitment to lofty ideas that promoted
America’s national security and vital interests. The moral conscience
of Warner Bros., Harry became President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s
chief persuader in Hollywood, a valiant and courageous advocate for
U.S. involvement against the rise of national socialism bellicosity
abroad at a time when many in the United States remained isolationist.5
Betty Warner Sheinbaum recalls her father as:
(A) very serious, moral man. He was the company’s conscience
and driving force. It was up to him to provide the money and
watch carefully what lms were being made. He dealt with
bankers constantly as the studio was in constant need of funds to
continue productions. Harry loved being in America, away from
the frequent pogroms against Jews in his native Poland. The U.S.
was ‘the land of opportunity.’ He often spoke of his responsi-
bilities as a lmmaker and insisted on making lms about the
Constitution and the Founding Fathers and people like Louis
Pasteur, Emile Zola, the prison system, the underworld and other
socially committed dramas.6
The writer Neal Gabler describes Harry Warner, in An Empire of
Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood, as the conscience of the
Hollywood studio due largely to his devotion to Judaism and Judaic
principles, which made him “tirelessly and often tiresomely messianic
about racial and religious prejudice,” the downtrodden, the persecuted,
the losers and the forgotten.7 Harry’s father, Benjamin, a devout Jew,
had studied the Torah in secret in Poland, where the Jewish faith was
under constant watch by the Polish police. Harry would recall his
father telling him, “Son, you’re going to have to ght with the weapon
you have at your command so that the children and their children
may have a right to live and have a Faith, no matter what their Faith
may be, in our great country, America.”8 Gabler notes, “Other Jewish
moguls shied away from their Judaism and hid it. Harry paraded it.”9
Like his father, Harry grew to love the “ism” that was America, its
Confessions of a Hollywood Propagandist:
Harry Warner, FDR and Celluloid Persuasion1
by Nancy Snow
39. Harry Warner in 194 0.
promises as well as its challenges, its promotion of racial and religious
tolerance, if not always fully idealized, as well as the educational
potential that the lm medium presented to share lessons for hu-
man betterment. “The motion picture presents right and wrong,
as the Bible does,” said Harry Warner. “By showing both right and
wrong, we teach the right.”10 Harry would say these words in his own
defense when later brought before the top lawmakers in the country
who accused him and his industry of inciting pro-war sentiment. He
would pay tribute to his father’s moral lesson to ght with the celluloid
weapon he had most at hand, through his public support for religious
freedom in the face of persecution in a speech, “United We Survive,
Divided We Fall,” which he presented to over 6,000 Warner Bros.
Studio employees and their spouses on June 5, 1940. The speech was
noteworthy for its cautionary message that America could and should
not remain silent when it had an obligation to speak out against totali-
tarian ideologies playing out in Europe that were now laying roots in
the United States:
As I see it, we have a very simple problem here and that is: United
we survive and divided we fall. We must unite and quit listening
to anybody discussing whether you or I am a Jew or a Catholic or
a Protestant or of any other faith—and not allow anyone to say
anything against anybody’s faith—or we will fall just the same as
they did over there, because we are confronted with the greatest
organized machine, subversive or otherwise, that the world has
ever had. And what bothers me is how we can have supposedly
sane-thinking Americans who consciously or unconsciously are
playing into the hands of Dictators and helping to divide us. I
would think that if we know that the man who is coming into the
second story window is going to kill either ourselves or one of our
family, that we would try to defend ourselves. This is no different
from anybody coming into any part of our country and using all
of these methods to divide and destroy us.11
As the rst major Hollywood studio to shut down operations in
Germany and take an openly hostile stance toward Hitler’s Germany,
Warner Bros. signaled the possibility that in Hollywood, civic-
mindedness and turning a prot need not be in perpetual conict.
Symbolically, it is important after the events of September 11, 2001
to note the possibility that celluloid prot and political responsibility
need not be mutually exclusive. Though Harry Warner has been
dead for over forty-ve years and the heyday of the studio era in
Hollywood has been gone for over fty, his position as “the rst
producer to make a denite declaration on the course the industry
should take during the war,” offers some important lessons for a
war-torn global communications era of our own.12 He felt strongly
that there was no place for any “ism” in Hollywood except for
Americanism. Consider the producer’s words in March 1937, almost
ve years before America’s ofcial entry into World War II:
The men and women who make a nation’s entertainment have
obligations above and beyond their primary commercial objective,
which is the box ofce. In the long run, Hollywood collectively,
and producing companies individually, will succeed or fail, in my
opinion, exactly in the proportion in which they recognize these
obligations….The motion picture producer shares this obliga-
tion with the schools, the churches, the service organizations of
all kinds which stand for tolerance, for decent thinking and fair
relations with the rest of mankind. I do not mean that we should
attempt, in the theater, to teach all the lessons, preach all the ser-
mons or solve all the political problems of the world….We cannot
do this, but we can and should give a helping hand to the cause
of good government and of fair play. The motion picture can be
a great power for peace and goodwill or, if we shirk our obvious
duty, it can stand idly by and let the world go to pot. I think we
are making an honest effort to use the screen’s inuence for the
greatest general good of humanity. I am proud that my company
has had some part in this.13
Harry Warner took his moral and deeply religious obligations to heart,
despite the decidedly anti-Semitic prejudices against Hollywood that
still linger today. Both before and after Pearl Harbor, books were
published that cast suspicion upon the motives of Jewish producers
and studio owners like Warner. With titles like Hell over Hollywood:
The Truth about the Movies, What Is Wrong with the Movies and An
American’s History of Hollywood—The Tower of Babel, American readers
were exposed to ugly stereotypes of greed and immorality surround-
ing Jews: “Hollywood debases, debauches and deles—the characters
and the lives of those who are brought within reach of its contaminat-
ing power and propaganda.” Hollywood “has perverted the character
of our people…. We have lost much of the force of patriotic, moral
and spiritual motivation.”14 Flyers like the anti-Semitic “Boycott
the Movies,” with its devilish graphics, were dropped from the Taft
Building like a California snowstorm on Hollywood Boulevard pedes-
40. The
Warners collected
materials like
this yer ( circa
1939) as part
of their ef fort to
track anti -Semi-
tism and Nazism
in America.
Granddaughter Cass Warner Sperling writes in Hollywood Be Thy
Name that the anti-Nazi propaganda lm Confessions of a Nazi Spy
(1939) became nalized after Harry Warner received a telegram
describing the murder of Jewish employee Joseph Kaufman by a group
of German thugs who stormed into the Warner Bros. Berlin ofce.
Harry immediately ceased all lm operations in Germany, and at
the movie’s premiere in 1939, police showed up to monitor threats of
bombing the theater or killing its producers Harry and Jack Warner
for bringing to the public’s attention that Germany was anything but a
“friendly” nation.16 Despite the threats and box-ofce disappointment
of the 1939 release of Confessions, the brothers re-released the lm in
May 1940 with new clips of Hitler’s latest triumphs of the will. As a
“thank you” for warning the world of the Nazi threat against de-
mocracy, Harry Warner was invited to speak before Congress for his
efforts to propagandize the American public. Congressional isolation-
ists would attack Confessions of a Nazi Spy in 1941 as “creating hysteria
among the American public and inciting them to war,” and Senator
Gerald P. Nye (R, North Dakota) decried the end of entertainment
and the beginning of political propaganda in the movies, “When
you go to the movies, you go there to be entertained….And then the
picture starts—goes to work on you, all done by trained actors, full of
drama, cunningly devised….Before you know where you are, you have
actually listened to a speech designed to make you believe that Hitler
is going to get you.”17
In a radio speech under the auspices of the isolationist America First
Committee, Nye accused major studios like Warner Bros. of having
become “gigantic engines of propaganda in existence to arouse the war
fever in America and plunge this Nation to her destruction” and noted
that the foreign policy of the United States was so in line with the
foreign policy of Hollywood that G-men or government agents were
swarming around studio lots checking lm scripts for their pro-war
content. The Roosevelt Administration was acting as a provocateur
to the lm industry, converting them “into the same kind of propa-
ganda agencies that the German, Italian and Russian lm industries
have become.”18 Nye, who denied being an anti-Semite, did point out
that Hollywood was under Jewish control. “There is Harry and Jack
Cohn (Columbia Pictures), there is Louis B. Mayer (of MGM)…the
three Warner brothers, Arthur Loew, Nicholas Katz and David
Bernstein.”19 Within that incendiary atmosphere, Harry Warner
would have to defend his lm and reputation before the Nye com-
mittee investigating Hollywood propaganda activities. Nevertheless,
Confessions of a Nazi Spy, arguably the most anti-Nazi lm in
Hollywood history, stands as a milestone for advocating intervention
in international conict in order to preserve democratic ideals. Harry
told a dinner crowd on St. Patrick’s Day in 1939:
Our producing company is making right now a picture reveal-
ing the astonishing lengths to which Nazi spies have gone in
America. We are making this—and we will make more like it,
no doubt, when the occasion arises. We have disregarded, and we
will continue to disregard, threats and pleas intended to dissuade
us from our purpose. We have deed, and we will continue to
defy, any elements that may try to turn us from our loyal and
sincere purpose of serving America. 20
Harry Warner understood the intersection between Hollywood and
Washington that occurred during the pre-war and W WII period.
More than any point in its short history, Hollywood in wartime was
a propaganda weapon for the Roosevelt Administration and unlike
what Nye said, it was a different type of propaganda agency than
that of the Russians, Italians or Germans, one in oppositional battle
against totalitarianism. As Gerald Nash points out, the opportu-
nity that Hollywood had to become a messenger of democracy and
Americanism in a global conict cannot be underestimated:
Among the manifold changes spawned by the global conict, two
were preeminent. As propaganda became a crucial weapon in the
ideological struggle with totalitarianism in which the United States
was engaged, manipulation of the mass media—and particularly mo-
tion pictures—became essential to the war effort. And, ipso facto, since
the most skilled manipulators of mass or popular culture were already
concentrated in Holly wood, that western lm center assumed a new
role in wartime. Already by 1939, the skillful direction of the Nazi
propaganda machine under Joseph Goebbels in Germany had aroused
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s advisors who urged him to develop
an American propaganda effort which would sustain morale at home
while spreading war aims abroad. More than ever, the portrayal of
American values and American lifestyles assumed a major importance.
The mass media occupied a central place in this effort. In the battle
for men’s minds, Hollywood now acquired a prominent place. 21
Harry Warner presaged the gravitas of the war years by giving up
gangster movies that had been the studio’s bread-and-butter. He
shifted his focus to historical gures that would inform, inspire and
educate the American movie-going audience in the pre-war 1930s,
like the French scientist Louis Pasteur, who was deemed a criminal in
his day for publishing a pamphlet urging doctors to wash their hands
before surgery to avoid infections. The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936)
garnered an Academy Award for Best Actor for Paul Muni, and Harry
would later say about the lm, “When we made this picture, we didn’t
consider money. We know that it is difcult to get people to see and
take an interest in that which educates them, but in spite of this, we
took up this lm. We must show the people the good and noble things
in life.” Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940), the rst Hollywood movie to
mention the formerly taboo word “syphilis”, was about the life of the
German doctor who developed Salvarsan, the rst treatment for the
disease, while Voltaire (1933) told the story of the French philosopher
famous for the line, “Those who can make you believe absurdities
can make you commit atrocities.” Another lm, The Life of Emile
Zola (1937), received critical acclaim from the New York Times as “the
nest historical lm ever made and the greatest screen biography. It
illustrates how injustice is combated by an idealist, how truth nally
becomes victorious.” While Zola won Jack Warner France’s highest
award, the Legion of Honor, for his service to the “glory of France, of
science, of men of good will throughout the world and to the enduring
art of the cinema,” its persuasive message was a mirror to the soul of
Harry. As granddaughter Cass Warner Sperling notes in Hollywood
Be Thy Name, the lm’s ending speech by Zola foreshadowed to her
grandfather Harry Warner the death and destruction looming across
the Great Pond:
I see it clearly now. The Cause and Effect—the roots and the
tree…What matters the individual if the idea survives? It’s not
the swaggering militarist—they’re puppets that dance as the
strings are pulled. It’s those others—those who would worth-
lessly plunge us into the bloody abyss of war to protect their
power….The world must be conquered, not by force of arms, but
by ideas that liberate. Then the world can build anew—build it
for the humble and wretched.22
Harry Warner’s most memorable brainchild was the Old Glory
patriotic short lm series, produced between 1936 and 1940, which
lost the studio over a million in prots. The American Legion and the
Daughters of the American Revolution heaped praise upon Warner for
instilling values of what it means to be an American in trying times.
The shorts used excerpts from speeches like Patrick Henry’s “Give Me
Liberty or Give Me Death” and were played before the start of feature
length lms in American theaters in the time slot devoted today to
42. A July 1944 photo of
Warner Bros. Teddington
Studios in London.
41. In this speech from 194 0,
Harry Warner warned
employees of the presence
of the Fifth Column in
Americ a.
43. FDR pre pares to d eliver
a Fireside Chat.
advertising Coca-Cola. He would later add cartoons to the war pre-
paredness mix, with Porky Pig, Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny taking
the patriotic plunge. One cartoon, Old Glory, depicts Porky Pig as a
young piglet who is frustrated with learning the Pledge of Allegiance.
In a dream sequence, he is visited by Uncle Sam who explains to Porky
the signicance of learning the Pledge and its historical precedents
in Paul Revere’s ride and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. When Porky
awakens, he knows the Pledge because he understands the mean-
ing behind the words. Another cartoon series created for the U.S.
Army was Private SNAFU, written by Cat in the Hat author Theodore
Geisel, who in World War II was designated a captain in Frank
Capra’s Signal Corps Unit.23 Harry Warner would say about the Old
Glory patriotic shorts and about the exaltation of American democ-
racy in its pictures generally:
Hollywood will fail in its most important duty in trying times
if it does not present an honest and forthright collective picture
of American life, manners and privileges. A truthful picture
of the American background is added assurance to a troubled
world that our countr y will protect its rights and liberties while
demonstrating the advantages of a democratic form of govern-
ment….Accidentally and purposely we are advertising America
to a world that is obviously a little weary of trouble….I am more
than ever convinced that we have a double duty to perform. We
must ‘sell America’ while we entertain the world.24
Media critic Harry Martin called for a “21-gun salute to the Warner
brothers for their motion picture studio’s superb series of patriotic
shorts in Technicolor, as ne and timely a collective contribu-
tion to the perpetuation of the American ideals as ever has come to
Hollywood….While these are propaganda lms of course, propaganda
for the American system of government and society, and it is most
heartening to nd at least one of the studios willing to enter the eld,
even if it must do so through the back pages of yesterday’s history
books.”25 Along with the patriotic shorts, Harry Warner insisted that
the American national anthem be played in its theater chain, which
prompted Variety in February 1939 to report that “a wave of patriotism
is sweeping the nation’s showplaces, though not ofcially inspired.
‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is growing in popularity in theatres and
cabarets, remindful of the period prior to and when America was in
the World War.”26
While Harry Warner would occupy a formidable central place in the
Hollywood-Washington wartime propaganda effort, he had to urge
President Roosevelt to do more than the Lend-Lease Act to provide
assistance to America’s ghting allies, particularly the British. On
May 20, 1940, brothers Harry and Jack sent an impassioned telegram
to the White House that told FDR that his patriotic counterparts
in Hollywood “cannot stand by and watch while others die for the
civilization which is ours as much as theirs….We cannot content-
edly sit still out here and do nothing while the world echoes with the
march of savages to destroy everything we hold dear. We would rather
die in an effort to be helpful than live to see barbarianism triumph.
Will you please tell us, Mr. President, what you think we should do?
President Roosevelt, for his part, had not shown up at the premiere of
Confessions, nor did he respond directly to the pleading letter. “If these
many dogs were being killed, then we, the United States, would have
come to their defense,” Harry said behind closed doors.27
A little more than a year after the Warner letter was sent to FDR, the
President, in one of his famous reside chats to the nation, declared an
unlimited national emergency that seemed to draw from the “United
We Survive” speech Harry had given his employees that admonished
them to not repeat the mistake of inaction in the face of aggression
that Europeans had made before World War I. FDR warned the
American people as Harry Warner had warned his own employees:
The rst and fundamental fact is that what started as a European
war has developed, as the Nazis always intended it should
develop, into a war for world domination. Adolf Hitler never con-
sidered the domination of Europe as an end in itself. European
conquest was but a step toward ultimate goals in all the other
countries. It is unmistakably apparent to all of us that unless
the advance of Hitlerism is forcibly checked now, the Western
Hemisphere will be within range of the Nazi weapons of destruc-
tion….The nation will expect all individuals and all groups to
play their full parts without stint, without selshness and without
doubt that our democracy will triumphantly survive.28
Harry and Jack wired the President with praise for such a declaration,
but Roosevelt remained commander-in-chief of a nation divided over
how involved the American people and its government should be in a
European war. A strong isolationist movement permeated the country,
which essentially meant that Roosevelt’s speech ser ved primarily
as a warning that tougher times were ahead. Tough talk prevailed
over tough action. Harry Warner continued his involvement in the
industry-wide Motion Picture Committee Cooperating for National
Defense, which had been formed in October 1940 to help support
national defense through producing training lms for the armed
forces and patriotic short lms for the masses. The U.S. government
would support in an unofcial capacity the production of anti-Nazi
lms and positive portrayals of the U.S. armed forces.29 Will Hays,
the “standards czar” in Hollywood and head of the Motion Picture
Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., which was responsible
for the Motion Picture Production Code, a self-regulatory charter of
do’s and don’ts that became known as the Hays Code, thought that
the sole function of Hollywood was as an entertainment medium, not
an instructional one, and certainly not one that was an extension of a
studio’s personal crusades. On July 20, 1941, he issued his own state-
ment in response to FDR’s call for a national emergency:
The great function of the entertainment screen is to entertain,
and in both scope and variety the pictures nor planned or in the
making in Hollywood Studios will live up to that principle….
While informational, educational and inspirational elements in
pictures are growing, when the public lays down its money at the
box ofce, it is primarily for entertainment.
Those who demand that the screen subordinate its wholesome
function of recreation for any cause, however sincere, are sadly
mistaken. Signicance is not achieved at the expense of enter-
tainment: It is the result of entertainment. Pictures do not need
any other horse to ride in order to play their part in the prepared-
ness of mind and body which results from such recreation. There
are those who would use the lms to bemuse, rather than amuse,
the American public. The screen has no room for such propa-
ganda. 30
Hays did agree with Harry Warner that celluloid had a national
defense purpose, and thought that lm, more than any other mass
medium, could boost morale around Roosevelt’s national defense
program. He released a statement that said, “Public morale must be
maintained. It can only be maintained through the knowledge of
problems that face us and of the far-ung efforts of the Army, the
Navy, the Air Corps and of the many civilian groups now operating
in the eld of national defense. The screen…can make such achieve-
ments speak as no other medium can.” In effect, Hays was supporting
lm for propaganda purposes, just not the propaganda of the dictator-
ship but of the democracy. He said that the Hollywood version “was
achieved under freedom, not under the duress of dictatorship which
can create only propaganda.”31
While many, like Hays, distinguished acceptable mass persuasion in a
democracy from the kind of deceitful propaganda undertaken by dic-
tatorships, his distinction is somewhat futile when one considers the
true etymology of the word propaganda. Richard Alan Nelson writes:
Those who interpret propaganda as a negative phenomenon tend
to see it as a form of rhetoric designed to persuade without reveal-
ing the true intentions or even strategies of the communicator…
44. Harry Warner’s invitation to
F.D.R.’s 1945 inauguration.
45. F.D.R. shakes hands with WW I
hero Alvin York (circa 1941).
46. Jack Warner
propaganda is neutrally dened as a systematic form of purpose-
ful persuasion that attempts to inuence the emotions, attitudes,
opinions and actions of specied target audiences for ideological,
political or commercial purposes through the controlled trans-
mission of one-sided messages (which may or may not be factual)
via mass and direct media channels.”32
A similar denition of propaganda that came out of a conference on
Contemporary Soviet Propaganda and Disinformation sponsored by
the U.S. Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency
concluded that propaganda:
Involves the dissemination of information—facts, arguments,
rumors, half-truths or lies—to inuence public opinion. As a
systematic effort to persuade, it is an act of advocacy in mass
communications, involving the making of deliberately one-sided
statements to a mass audience. In this, it is not necessarily decep-
tive. Propaganda, then, is a process—a form of manipulative
communication designed to elicit some predetermined response—
‘the organized spreading of special doctrines, information, ideas
or beliefs to promote or injure a cause, group, nation, etc.’33
The support by Will Hays and Harry Warner for national morale
lms gave proof to American isolationists that not only was the
lm industry creating propaganda in support of Roosevelt, but also
manufacturing propaganda to further the lm industry’s own agenda.
In opposition to the isolationist movement, Harry and Jack Warner,
as well as Darryl Zanuck and Samuel Goldwyn, were major nancial
contributors to the Fight for Freedom Committee, the most outspoken
of all the interventionist committees forming in the months before
America’s involvement in the Second World War. Chairman Bishop
Henry W. Hobson described the group’s purpose in an April 1941
radio address:
We believe, rst, that freedom is worth ghting for. Second,
that for us to say that Hitler’s defeat is essential to insure man’s
Freedom is a cowardly and immoral position unless we are will-
ing to face the dangers and sacrices others are suffering in this
struggle for freedom. Third, that it is dishonest to engage in a
wholesale material support of those ghting to defeat the dictator
aggressors, who seek to enslave man, without facing and admit-
ting the fact that we are in this war. Fourth, unless we act now,
with a recognition of the fact that we are at war and a readiness to
do whatever is necessary to make certain Hitler’s defeat, we shall
lose the present war.34
Fight for Freedom was fashioned along the lines of the Committee on
Public Information (CPI) or Creel Committee, the rst modern pro-
paganda organization, founded in 1917, that had helped turn a then-
pacistic American populace into a nation at war. Progressive journal-
ist George Creel initiated the CPI and urged President Woodrow
Wilson to allow him to undertake all mass media means necessar y to
shift public opinion from conscientious objection to conscription. In
his book, How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing
Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of
Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe, Creel described his efforts as
“a plain publicity proposition, a vast enterprise in salesmanship, the
world’s greatest adventure in advertising.”35 Fight for Freedom did
the same. Like the Four-Minute Men speakers’ program of the Creel
Committee, Fight for Freedom sent out its own speakers like author
Dorothy Parker, Republican nominee for President-turned FDR ally
Wendell Willkie, Public Works Administrator Harold Ickes, Sergeant
Alvin York (whose life story was a popular Warner movie), OSS
founder William Donovan and actor Burgess Meredith. The commit-
tee staged rallies, wrote letters, distributed pamphlets and petitions
and advertised “V for Victory” national unity campaigns. Fight for
Freedom was not the only interventionist organization—there were
many others, like the Committee to Defend America and Friends
of Democracy, that had formed to promote national unity after
Roosevelt’s election in 1940. Harry Warner produced his own patri-
otic short, A Plea for National Unity, which called on the American
people to use Roosevelt’s election to unify behind one president and
not allow the divide and conquer crowd to deny “the man of the
people’s choice” for president.36
By the summer of 1941, separate rallies both for and against American
foreign intervention were being held, most notably at the Hollywood
Bowl, which staged a very popular America First rally featuring
Charles Lindbergh in June 1941, followed by a pro-interventionist
rally featuring Wendell Willkie in July. Harry Warner warmed up the
Willkie crowd by giving one of his pep rally speeches to his employ-
ees, many of whom later paraded from the Hollywood American
Legion Post to the Holly wood Bowl. Other studios closed down early
and allowed their employees to join the Warners’ parade. Willkie
told the 25,000 gathered, “The real issue is whether we are going to
live in the future as free men, or whether the attack of the totalitarian
powers is to destroy our prospect of freedom and force us, in despera-
tion, to undertake another form of government…we are not arguing
for war, we are arguing for Freedom. War may come and probably
will, whatever course we take.”37 Isolationists in Washington took
note of Hollywood’s Willkie rally and Senator Wheeler noted that
“the motion picture industry has been carrying on the most gigantic
campaign of propaganda for war that was ever known in the history
of the United States.”38 On August 1, 1940, Senator Bennett Clark
(D, Missouri) drew up Senate Resolution 152, co-authored with
Senator Gerald P. Nye, that called for a congressional investigation
of the Hollywood war propaganda machine. The hearings, while less
than a serious inquiry, were mostly designed to serve as a platform
for isolationist perspectives that were thought to be drowned out by
the Hollywood war machine. They presaged the anti-communist
McCarthy hearings that would come around a decade later. Gerald
Nash writes that “it is doubtful if the investigation had much practical
effect except to reect an increasing recognition by politicians of the
growing signicance of propaganda and image making in American
domestic as well as foreign policies.”39
A July 1941 Gallup survey indicated that 79% of Americans polled
were still against the U.S. entering the war against the Germans and
Italians, but Harry Warner had his own interventionist foreign policy
in mind. He sent a letter to FDR asking him “what fault could anyone
nd if we undertook to man the Island to protect it from invasion, so
as to allow the English Army to go wherever they may be needed.”4 0
The President thanked Harry Warner for bringing the plan to his
attention but kept it at the level of a suggestion until the sinking of
British ships carrying Lend-Lease supplies forced the U.S. to escort
Lend-Lease shipments to Iceland where British ships took over patrol.
Nevertheless, by fall 1941, the country remained deeply divided about
intervening on the side of the Brits and it would be an incident in
the Pacic, not the Atlantic, which would spur the nation to join the
Allied cause.
On December 7, 1941, Harry Warner went to war. Jack Warner was
on the golf course at the time, and when told of the Japanese bombing
he replied, “Pearl Harbor. Where the hell is that?41 Unlike some of
the other studio bosses who either panicked or stuck their heads in the
California sand, Harry Warner responded like a dutiful soldier called
to public service. He did not ask FDR what he thought his studio
should do, or send letters of suggestion about ratcheting up the Allied
effort. Harry would make lms in support of the war effort. In one of
his many pep rally speeches before studio employees, Harry said:
Our company is about to start the largest program of pictures
for the government that has ever been undertaken to be made by
any company in the industry. We have agreed to make from four
to ve hundred reels of training pictures in the coming year. We
are also going to make Ir ving Berlin’s This Is the Army. In making
these pictures, we want them made at absolute cost. When I say
absolute cost, I mean exactly that. I don’t want to make a single
dollar of prot out of these pictures.42
The Warner Bros. “three E” founding motto, “Educate, Entertain and
Enlighten,” was soon replaced after the start of World War II with
a more tting sign of a Hollywood and Washington nexus obtained
from a New York Times review that commended the Warner Bros.
Studio for “combining good citizenship with good picture making.”
Harry was now an industry spokesman for the war effort. He declared
that “the glamour era has vanished. Glamour belonged to the decade
which brought us the war….Another decade of glamour and frolic
may come back to us. If it does, I hope this monstrous war will have
taught man to leaven his fun with some thought.”43 Before Pearl
Harbor, much of Hollywood produced entertainment lms with very
little propaganda value—Harry Warner and Warner Bros. Studios
was an exception. Now even President Roosevelt understood fully how
motion pictures could be used to inuence, entertain and provide valu-
able persuasive information in support of a war effort. By the 1940s,
more than eighty million Americans were going to the movies every
week with another 100 million going to the movies overseas.
Within six months of Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt would cre-
ate a special division for motion pictures within the Ofce of War
Information, which distributed a motion picture manual offer-
ing guidance to lm makers on major themes like democracy, the
homeland and the role of the United Nations in promoting a view of
America’s involvement in World War II as a people’s war for democ-
racy and against fascism.44 By 1943, Warner Bros. would produce the
most protable lm in its history, Irving Berlin’s This is the Army, with
prots of over $10 million donated to the Army Emergency Relief
Fund. The lm ends with soldiers performing in Washington before a
Roosevelt look-alike. Film historian David Culbert explains why This
is the Army was the most-watched and most-protable movie to come
out of Hollywood during the war years of 1940-1945, “(It) denes
what Americans thought to be their own peculiar virtues: lack of
sophistication combined with technological wizardry; a salesmanship
perhaps overstated, but connected to an understated, almost simple-
minded ideological commitment. In this respect, the lm should be
the rst place to look for an insight into how Americans understood
the nature of their nation’s participation in the battles of the Second
World War.”45 Harry Warner released a statement around the time
of the lm’s debut to his fellow producers in Hollywood. Despite
rumors to the contrary that the public was becoming bored with war
pictures, Hollywood had a continued obligation to make them and
Warner Bros. would lead the way. He urged theater owners not to be
intimidated or coerced into not showing war pictures and said that if
the motion picture industry did not attempt to explain and inform the
public about the current struggle “there would be little justication for
our existence…. Any arbitrary exclusion of war lms, either to satisfy
a small appeaser element or for personal reasons without regard to the
general public interest, is equivalent to sabotage.”46
Harry Warner, perhaps unlike any other Hollywood movie mogul
before or since, understood the intersection of education, entertainment
and inuence that only Hollywood could deliver in volumes. His patri-
otism fueled his passion for a medium with a message. His relationship
with President Roosevelt, though not always of one mind, left a lasting
legacy of the line of political persuasion and propaganda that became
a permanent xture in the post-World War II America and that now
extends from the White House to the movie set. There are many in
Hollywood who see no clear function of the movie industry other than
to entertain the masses. A nation at war requires little extra effort to
mobilize Americans to a coordinated message. Harry Warner would
likely be frustrated with the cynicism, apathy and all-mighty prot god
that pervades Hollywood movie making today. This is why the words
of poet Carl Sandburg afrm the idea that Harry Warner, though not
college-educated and never a Harvard man, had a greater impact:
I meet people occasionally who think that motion pictures, the
product that Holly wood makes, is merely entertainment and has
nothing to do with education. That’s one of the darndest fool
fallacies that is current. When I was a motion picture editor on
the Chicago Daily News, we used to report what was a four-hand-
kerchief picture as distinguished from the two-handkerchief
picture. Anything that brings you to tears by way of drama does
something to the deepest roots of your personality. All movies,
good or bad, are educational and Hollywood is the foremost edu-
cational institute on earth…. What, Hollywood’s more impor-
tant than Harvard? The answer is, not as clean as Harvard, but
nevertheless, farther reaching.47
1. Author’s note: This article is dedicated to Betty Warner Sheinbaum,
daughter of the great Harry Warner. On October 1, 2003, I had the
pleasure of meeting Mrs. Sheinbaum and hearing her read her father’s
memorable words. I hope that this article, in its own small way, will add to
Betty’s fond memories of her father Harry and the enormous impact he had
in promoting Hollywood’s role in educating, inuencing and informing
global publics about humanity’s strengths and weaknesses.
2. Harry Warner, Correspondence, Speeches and Assorted Papers, Jack L.
Warner Collection, School of Cinema-Television Library, University of
Southern Ca lifornia.
3. Philip M. Taylor, Munitions of the Mind (Manchester and New York:
Manchester Universit y Press, 1995), 229.
4. Cass Warner Sperling et. al., Hollywood Be Thy Name (Rocklin, CA: Prima
Publishing, 1994), 161.
5. Michael Birdwell, Celluloid Soldiers: The Warner Bros. Campaign against
Nazism (New York: New York University Press, 2001), 66.
6. Betty Warner Sheinbaum, “Obligations Above and Beyond: Remembering
Harr y Warner,” this volume, 11.
7. Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood
(New York: Doubleday, 1988), 195.
8. Gabler, 123.
9. Gabler, 140.
10. Gabler, 196.
11. Harry M. Warner, “United We Survive, Divided We Fall,” Jack L. Warner
Collection, University of Southern California.
12. Warner Sheinbaum, 12.
13. Warner Sheinbaum, 12.
14. In Our Own Backyard: Resisting Nazi Propaganda in Southern California,
1933-1945. December, 2003 <
15. In Our Own Backyard, Item 6.
16. Warner Sperling, 232-233.
17. Clayton R. Koppes and Gregory D. Black, Hollywood Goes to War: How
Politics, Prots, and Propaganda Shaped World War II Movies (New York:
The Free Press, 1987), 40.
18. John E. Moser, “‘Gigantic Engines of Propaganda’: The 1941 Senate
Investigation of Hollywood,” The Historian, Vol. 63, Issue 4, 20 01.
19. 76th Congress, 2nd session, Senate, Subcommittee of Committee on
Military Affairs, Hearings on Motion Picture Industry, Washington, D.C.,
1942; Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. 7 (September 15, 1941), 720-723.
20. Warner Sperling, 233.
21. Gerald D. Nash, The American West Transformed: The Impact of the Second
World War (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), 178-179.
22. Warner Sperling, 224-225.
23. Birdwell, 25.
24. Christine Ann Colgan, “Warner Brothers’ Crusade against the Third
Reich: A Study of Anti-Nazi Activism and Film Production, 1933-1941.”
Ph.D. diss., University of Southern California, 1985, 270.
25. Colgan, 273.
26. Colgan, 279.
27. Warner Sperling, 235.
28. Colgan, 659- 60.
29. Colgan, 662.
30. Douglas Gomery, editor, The Will Hays Papers, Part II: April 1929-
September 1945 (Bethesda, MA: LexisNexis), Cinema Histor y Microlm
31. Colgan, 664.
32. Richard Alan Nelson, A Chronology and Glossary of Propaganda in the United
States (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996), 232-233.
33. Nelson, 232-233.
34. Colgan, 674.
35. George Creel, How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing
Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of
Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe (New York: Harper & Brothers,
1920), 6 -7.
36. Colgan, 675- 676.
37. Colgan, 677.
38. Colgan, 678.
39. Nash, 180.
40. Colgan, 667.
41. Nash, 240.
42. Nash, 240.
43. Nash, 245.
44. Nash, 182.
45. David Culbert, “This is the Army,” History Today, Volume 50, Issue 4,
April 2000, 43.
46. Los Angeles Examiner, May 20, 1943.
47. Reinhold Wagenleitner, Coca-Colonization and the Cold War: The Cultural
Mission of the United States in Austria after the Second World War (Chapel
Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press), 222.
47. The ad campaign for
Sergeant York (1941) often
juxtaposed Gary Co oper
(top) with the real Sergeant
Alvin York (middle) .
48. An a d from the s econd
run of Sergeant York
depic ts the World War I
hero chasing down
World War II enemies.
De probleemstelling die de basis voor dit onderzoek vormt luidt als volgt: ‘Hoe komt propaganda tot uiting in de tekenfilms van Warner Bros. uit de periode van de Tweede Wereldoorlog?’. Het doel van dit onderzoek is om de manier waarop propaganda tot uiting kwam in de tekenfilms te analyseren. Hiermee wordt een opening geboden tot vervolgonderzoek op dit gebied. Het analysemodel dat in dit onderzoek gevormd en gebruikt is, kan ook toegepast worden bij analyses van vervolgonderzoek. Er is bij dit onderzoek in eerste instantie gekozen om de tekenfilms van Warner Bros. te analyseren, omdat er een keus gemaakt moest worden om het onderzoeksveld te beperken. Dit onderzoek biedt een opening om hetzelfde analysemodel toe te passen op tekenfilms van andere filmstudio’s uit de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Op deze wijze kan een compleet beeld van de propagandatekenfilms uit deze periode gegeven worden. Dit onderzoek bestaat uit twee delen. In de eerste vier hoofdstukken wordt er een basis gevormd voor de analyse van de tekenfilms. In de eerste twee hoofdstukken worden het concept ‘propaganda’ en het fenomeen animatie gedefinieerd. Vervolgens wordt er in het derde en vierde hoofdstuk een schets gegeven van de historische context waarin de propagandatekenfilms geproduceerd zijn. In het vijfde hoofdstuk wordt er, aan de hand van de conclusies uit de eerdere hoofdstukken, een analysemodel gevormd. Aan de hand van dit analysemodel zijn vervolgens een selectie tekenfilms van Warner Bros. geanalyseerd. In het zesde hoofdstuk worden uit de analyses conclusies getrokken met betrekking tot de probleemstelling van het onderzoek. Door de conclusies van het historische en theoretische onderzoek te combineren met de resultaten van de analyse wordt vervolgens in het zevende hoofdstuk een conclusie gevormd. Propaganda blijkt een fenomeen te zijn dat op vele verschillende manieren toegepast kan worden. Opvallend is dat er ten tijde van oorlog geen morele barrières meer lijken te zijn op dit gebied. Alle propaganda lijkt geoorloofd te zijn. In de tekenfilmindustrie was dit duidelijk zichtbaar. De tekenfilms van Warner Bros. vertonen veel propagandistische elementen. Opvallend is ook dat de onschuldig ogende tekenfilms, die in eerste instantie geen propaganda lijken te bevatten, toch vaak kleine propagandistische verwijzingen bevatten, waarin de ideologie van de makers c.q. de overheid tot uiting komt. Het filmgenre ‘tekenfilm’ blijkt ook een apart te onderscheiden genre binnen de propaganda te zijn. Door een kenmerk als het hyper-realisme krijgt de tekenfilm unieke eigenschappen ten opzichte van ‘live-action’ film. Deze eigenschappen maken de animatie tot een interessant genre om apart te analyseren en niet onder zomaar onder het fenomeen propagandafilm te scharen. Dat juist Warner Bros. propaganda heeft gemaakt blijkt niet verbazend. De actieve weerstand van deze filmstudio’s ten opzichte van nazi-Duitsland en de betrokkenheid bij de Tweede Wereldoorlog blijken uit zeer veel secundaire bronnen. Hiernaast blijkt ook uit de primaire bronnen, de tekenfilms, het politieke standpunt van de studio’s. Warner Bros. speelde een actieve rol in Hollywood en beïnvloedde de rol van het medium film zeer sterk. In tekenfilms wordt er vooral met humor getracht de kijker te overtuigen van het gedachtegoed achter het getoonde. Wanneer er propaganda tot uiting komt in de tekenfilms wordt deze over het algemeen vergezeld van humor. Hiernaast speelt het patriottisme een belangrijke rol. Het gevoel van nationale trots wordt veel gestimuleerd. De macht van het vaderland en de domheid van de vijand zullen volgens de propaganda tot een Amerikaanse overwinning leiden. Er valt te concluderen dat de tekenfilm als filmgenre kritisch bekeken dient te worden. Propaganda kan op vrij eenvoudige wijze geïntegreerd worden in dit genre. De combinatie met humor blijkt zeer effectief. De humor verhult het propagandistische gedachtegoed dat in de tekenfilm verscholen zit. Onderzoek van recente tekenfilms zou tot opvallende conclusies kunnen leiden.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Southern California, 1985. Includes bibliographical references (leaves 786-800). Bound in two volumes with continuous pagination. Photocopy of typescript.
2 nd session, Senate, Subcommittee of Committee on Military Affairs, Hearings on Motion Picture Industry
th Congress, 2 nd session, Senate, Subcommittee of Committee on Military Affairs, Hearings on Motion Picture Industry, Washington, D.C., 1942; Vital Speeches of the Day, vol. 7 (September 15, 1941), 720-723.
How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe
  • George Creel
George Creel, How We Advertised America: The First Telling of the Amazing Story of the Committee on Public Information That Carried the Gospel of Americanism to Every Corner of the Globe (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1920), 6-7.
I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Sheinbaum and hearing her read her father's memorable words. I hope that this article, in its own small way, will add to Betty's fond memories of her father Harry and the enormous impact he had in promoting Hollywood's role in educating
  • Author's Note
Author's note: This article is dedicated to Betty Warner Sheinbaum, daughter of the great Harry Warner. On October 1, 2003, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Sheinbaum and hearing her read her father's memorable words. I hope that this article, in its own small way, will add to Betty's fond memories of her father Harry and the enormous impact he had in promoting Hollywood's role in educating, influencing and informing global publics about humanity's strengths and weaknesses.
Obligations Above and Beyond: Remembering Harry Warner
  • Betty Warner Sheinbaum
Betty Warner Sheinbaum, "Obligations Above and Beyond: Remembering Harry Warner," this volume, 11.