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tv   Reel America 1934 Newsreels - California Governors Campaign  CSPAN  February 21, 2021 4:00pm-4:40pm EST

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modern attack ads. the civilian conservation corps or ccc, its emergency conservation corps and the smoky mountains parks in 1936. in 50 minutes, we travel back to 1937 outdoors in the garden state shows young men employed by the ccc working to protect and maintain new jersey state parks. and, finally, in about 55 minutes, rebuilding indian country. on interior film on preservation status and across the country. ♪
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>> ladies and gentlemen, all day i travel around california, the highways and the byways, the downtown districts, the factory districts, all districts. i stop people in the streets, i knock on the doors of homes. all for the purpose of digging out homeowners of california to express their views. member, they are not actors. they are nervous. you would be scared the first time you face the camera and microphone. i don't rehearse them, i am impartial. i only ask questions and have them express themselves. now for the votes, house wives, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. already for the votes? >> would you mind telling us we are fully very -- for your favorite candidate for governor is? >> different man with different
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principles. >> have you made the study of his plans? >> yeah, i studied the little bit. they were radical but i think they will be modified. >> do you believe he can end poverty in california? >> i don't think so. well, i don't know to say about that. -- i don't know what to say about that. >> have you made up your mind on your own vote for? do you mind telling us who? >> i want a job. if you drive all the capital out of the country, who is going to pay us? >> do you think he would be the safest for us all? >> absolutely.
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>> that was the first two minutes in a 1934 newsreel. we are joined now by greg mitchell, he spoke on their campaign of the century and the birth of media politics. the announcer said he was the inquiring cameraman and these were not actors. what can you tell us about what we have just seen? mr. mitchell: in 1934, the famous author upton sinclair who had written the jungle decades before but then wrote other muckraking books and novels that made him one of the most famous authors in the world, decided to run for governor of california in the depth of the depression. switching his party allegiance from socialist to democrat. at a time when fdr was popular. lo and behold, he inspired one of the greatest mass movements in the history of the country
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called and property -- called and poverty. they could push their own newspaper, they had drawn the state, so forth. amazingly, he went on to win the democratic primary in a landslide. in august of 1934. and appeared headed for victory. so all the forces against them, republicans, sir -- conservatives, moderate democrats, others, big business, hollywood certainly. form together to defeat him at all costs. and, of course my book goes into all of this at great length. the wild schemes to defeat him. and among them was an important brush was importantly, -- was
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importantly, hollywood employers docking employees base pay and taking other steps, most importantly mgm creating three newsreels that were then shown in theaters of the campaign. at that time, newsreels in film in general was tremendously popular. people were tremendously affected by these shorts. so, thought bird set out -- so, he set out to make three newsreels that would alter the race and move sinclair to defeat. host: what do you see in these new reels that is included you that they are not what they say they are? mr. mitchell: i think as we go along, it will be pretty obvious. even if you want to take the word of hollywood people and others who use not the time, they would recognize actors from
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the mgm stable. b actors, i'm not well-known actors. -- not well-known actors. with scripts that were written for them, some were reading lines. some more authentic, some were actors performing a script written form them. -- written for them. people at the time would howell, sinclair supporters would laugh at it. maybe not realizing the impact newsreels would have on the average voter which was, indeed, considerable. i would at the outset, this is unusual. i call them the first attack ads on screen. which became television 25 or 30 years later. but, these were the first use of the screen to defeat a candidate with what window because attack
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ads. host: what we watch the rest of the first newsreel and come back and talk about it a little more? >> are you going to vote in the coming election? who are you going to vote for? >> i'm going to vote for mr. sinclair. >> d have a good reason? >> he has something new, i think this is the time we try something new. >> do think that plan will work? >> i don't know but i'm willing to take a chance. >> i'm going to look for marion, because i need prosperity. >> the first reason, we need a complete rejuvenation of the governmental systems. that is the main reason. >> i think marian is the better
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man for the position. >> where you base that on? >> i don't believe that due to mr. sinclair's socialistic comment, he should be our governor. >> you mind telling us who you support? >> governor marion. i think it would be a pity to put a man who is is much of a theorist as the other candidate. >> you believe that mr. merriam is good for both parties? >> i do. >> and safer for your family? >> very much. >> do you mind telling us how you intend to vote? >> i'm going to vote for sinclair. >> i'm going to vote for frank
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merriam for governor. because he has for democracy rather than socialism. he won't involve us in any dangerous experiments. >> thank you mr. johnson. what is your opinion? >> i think governor merriam is the ideal man. if sinclair gets in, i'm afraid he will be no good. >> you mind telling us we will vote for? -- you mind telling us who you will vote for? >> mr. sinclair is so ahead of the times, i am doubtful it would be smart to vote that way. >> what is your principal idea? >> i think he has best judgment of the three. >> of you seen his plans when he
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has in mind? -- have you seen his plans and what he has in mind? >> i've never been very excited but sinclair's attitude toward some of the institutions i consider sacred is frightening. i would use all the influence i have to put governor merriam back in office. host: one thing is they are adding lots of background noise, or are they adding background noise? it seems to me there being sophisticated about the way they have done this. mr. mitchell: i think much of it was shot not on the set. some of it might've been shot at the mgm lot, quite possibly. but it was broke so well -- but
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it was done so well, it was very effective. i've never seen notes like a paper trail but we know that later, the director was a b director, somebody who was looking for his start in movies. young guy, conservative. actually, in the new movie, make, which features these plot lives there was a character playing him. he is a junior guy at the studio who sees this as his big chance. and ends up regretting it. there is no evidence that he ever granted it. i was able to crack down that the narrator was carrie wilson, one of the most popular mgm makers of shorts and narrators of shorts at the time. host: if the narrator says that
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these are actual people and he is actually an actor, is a studio employee, were there any laws at the time that said you could not do this? that this is lying to the public? mr. mitchell: propaganda, i think you are trying to say. no, there was nothing like this. this is so new, this was a fresh concept to use the screen this way. so no, there wouldn't have been anything like that. you would've had the usual, maybe the press would have called out. eventually, near the end of the campaign, the new york times and some others did report that these newsreel seemed fake. and that sinclair people were riding at the box office or in the cedars -- in the theaters. there were suspicions of the time. but it was not until later when ian palmer admitted that he made
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these newsreels. and, he admitted it, others talked about it a bit. these newsreels were, although the scribes as people remember them, they disappeared time -- they disappeared at the time. i found them at -- mgm had put them in some archives. i screamed them one day in los angeles in 1991. we know how them to show both they were very described his memories, not that people could actually watch them until recently. host: the candidate, mariam, hate and -- hayden and sinclair, tell us about that? mr. mitchell: merriam was a
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conservative republican. a man who is a tool of special interest, an older man, exciting and -- unexciting and dull. he was the incumbent. he was the vehicle for those who oppose sinclair. i already mention sinclair a bit, where he was with his many books and fames and he was one of the most famous figures in the country. arrested a few times. always making a fuss. the third candidate, ray haik, he ran as an alternative to the third -- to the two. he knew there was a golf between the two candidates, much like today's red and blue you might say, he tried to strike a middle ground. he probably took equally from the two candidates. i dispute what some people will say that hayden costing clear the election.
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but i don't think that is true. host: let's watch the first two minutes of newsreel number two. ♪ >> here we are again, the inquiring cameraman. we want to give ourselves a little bit of a pat on the back. we have comments and suggestions, some politicians don't like our deas at all. we think you are interested in how the man on the street is actually going to vote. we let him say anything he wants, we encourage him to talk freely. >> i have to say i will vote for governor merriam. as much is this is my first book, i have given it a great deal of thought and consideration. sinclair says our school system is rotten. i know this is true. -- i know this isn't true. i have been able to find a good
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position and i would like to be able to keep it. >> i am going to vote for upton sinclair. in the first place, i think he is a splendid, conscientious, capable man. and can do something for the people who are in distress now. i was born a democrat but, years later, i became a republican. and then a socialist. but when mr. sinclair declared himself candidate for governor of california, we went in to hell and out movement. mr. mitchell: this was actually, she was a democrat, became a republican and then a socialist. that seems odd doesn't it? mr. mitchell: you've noticed a trend in these two reels went
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by and large, the more upstanding and respectable looking and sounding people are for merriam. while people who are a little dodgy, remember the guy who had only a few teeth and called himself a fan of sinclair, they contrasted black, one after another, blackmore working class to people in a car. and a more prosperous looking brought man in a vast who was for mariam. -- in a vest who was for merr iam. so they gave, occasionally gave a sinclair supporter who was more respectable a bit of time. but by and large, it was largely that the good people of california were for marion --
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for merriam. host: one of the issues the key was -- one of the issues that seems a, more and more is socialism. which came up a lot in 2020. why was that such an issue for people who don't know in 1934? mr. mitchell: of course, fdr was being accused of being a socialist. socialism was, you know, it was in the news all the time. it of course had come to the world into america in the recent decades. upton sinclair was known as one of the world's most famous socialists. probably. and he basically will, it was somewhat better work to become a communist. but it was painted as it was today. claims that socialists were just communist and nicer close. that was rampant then. socialism was a biased codeword
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for dangerous radical, anti-american, procommunist and so forth. it was quite intact. you will see in these interviews whenever they sleep in the word socialism, either by merriam supporters or a sinclair supporter, they will try to do it. host: let's watch the rest of newsreel number two. >> i have decided to vote for the governor, frank mariam. i think mr. mariam is going to get an opportunity to do what he can for the state. and i don't see upton sinclair as the governor. i worked hard. i don't wish the businessman to say things that i don't like. i don't wish to go to work every day. to work for food, the necessity of life.
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i have other ambitions. i am working harder. i'm looking forward to a future, a future, happy future. >> my joyce for governor is mr. haik. i want mr. haik in the governor chair because he is progressive, he is young. he has new ideas. and i don't want mr. sinclair in the governor's chair. i have a little business here and i worked many years to build up day and night. i don't want the state to come in and take it a little way -- and taken away. >> upton sinclair belongs to the russian government. >> i'm going to vote for mr. haik. one of the reasons i'm voting for him is i am not going to vote for mr. sinclair because he is too radical. mr. merriam has not done a thing for us. we can't help because we are on the track. i'm going to vote for him
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because he is in the middle ground. >> governor merriam. >> have you any reasons why,? >> i feel sinclair is too radical. i feel that mr. merriam is the only man who can defeat him. >> have you decided who you're in a vote for? >> upton sinclair, i believe he is the best man for the job. i believe he is for the working people and for the rich. >> first of all, i am an american and i believe mr. merriam will support the principles america has stood for and the past 150 years.
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i've job now, -- i have a job now and i want to keep it. i am a married man, my wife and i love california. and we would like to stay here. in case we should leave, i would like to at least have a couple of dollars. >> i'm going to vote for upton sinclair. because i believe in his policies. everything has gone very badly since i have been out here, i have heard these talks over the radio. i believe he will give us a good deal. >> have you decided who you're going to vote for? >> mr. sinclair. >> have you gentlemen any reasons? >> my reason for voting for mr. sinclair is, first of all, our democratic party has stayed with them. i am a democrat.
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and i do not want to change my politics. i believe that the republican party, so far, has been a failure. >> have you anything to say that? >> you are wrong because the democratic party is not with sinclair. the democratic party is not raising funds for sinclair's election. the money raised in different states is independent of the democratic party. you know that. >> sinclair has interviewed are president of the united states. and had a great reception. >> and when he went to see him, he told him not to discuss politics because he knew that he would be put on the spot by sinclair. >> there is no such thing as putting a ban on the spot. that is the thought of your mind. >> we are on the spot now.
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[laughter] >> i disagree with you on that. >> senator machen do has billboard the whole town -- senator machen do has billboard did the whole town. >> you can see it for yourself. >> i can see that is a mistake. >> it doesn't matter how you registered, democrat or republican, you can cast your vote for any man you would want to. host: what are your thoughts on the debate at the end of never till? -- of number two? mr. mitchell: it seemed like he was going to be even at the start but it was important for the gentleman at the left to raise fdr. who sinclair was continually saying actually privately supported. in fact, sinclair went to hyde
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park, met with roosevelt. he was very friendly. this is just after sinclair had won the primary. and there seemed to be occasions that he would come out for sinclair. as i show in my book, and good detail, fdr was convinced not to endorse sinclair. at the very end, he actually privately worked to help merriam. kind of a shocking episode for those people -- for most people who read it. but it was important to raise that issue with fdr in that newsreel. senator machen do -- senator mca do, a famous figure who endorse sinclair early on but then distanced himself to them.
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it was important to point this out to the audience. democrats were told they could vote republican if they wanted to. host: in your book, you're right that the epic plan to end poverty in california was limp -- was influential later for new deal programs. why would fdr be opposed to sinclair? mr. mitchell: this was early in the new deal. roosevelt had gotten some dramatic things through, others he did not. he was uncertain as what the future would be. and that there was a rising tide of candidates on the left across the country. in fdr wanted -- and fdr wanted to seem like he was not in their camp when he had a chance. eleanor was a little more friendly to sinclair and left-wing candidates. so roosevelt was very wary of this.
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but on the other hand he was sympathetic to much of what sinclair was promoting. this and the poverty plan, which is too long to go into, it was largely based on getting people living wage. it was based on more of a communal work system where people on the farms would provide food for people working in the factories. people in the factories would provide household goods and everything for people working on the farms. kind of a barter system. an age old pension. that was one of the things that fdr took it vantage of, the sentiment for that which led to social security. and various work programs across the country, putting people to work, not just letting them stay on the unemployment role. in the end, the plan was widely influential. although, sinclair was too hot of a candidate to gain that kind of mainstream support.
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host: there is one more newsreel. i'm not sure exactly when it came out -- mr. mitchell: the one week are about to see now cannot in the final week. there were starting to be some reports, the few news outlets that were sympathetic to sinclair started to see some reports of the fakery and so on. but it came so late, this final one with the nail in the coffin. i think i should introduce it by explaining what it came from witches that sinclair had made a crack, early on, a joke that if he was elected, half of the unemployed in the country would come to california had to take
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advantage of his epic plan. this was seized on by his opponent. as if it was a trues -- a serious statement. this massive campaign, which i call my book campaign century because it wasn't just the newsreels, there were numerous innovations in this campaign which laid the groundwork for the modern political campaign. hiring consultants to take over a campaign instead of using the party hacks that had always been used. raising money nationally. promoting much of the campaign as basically an advertising cap and brush -- an advertising campaign. you go down the line how this campaign inspired the birth of the modern political campaign. and, these newsreels, as i said earlier, they were the first attack ads. they jumped on this notion of
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the unemployed coming to california to ruin everybody's lives. host: the university of south carolina sent me a copy of the third newsreel. we will show that now. ♪ >> ladies and gentlemen, you're inquiring cameraman decided to look into this discussed situation of the unemployed of the united states flocking to california. lessee see what we can see actual scenes. >> would you tell us what you know about this situation? >> i am employed as a southern pacific switchman. it has been my occupant -- it has been my occupation, -- >> what come if those are these men? -- what kind of fellas are these men? >> they are men of low class.
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only last week, i went to the chief of police and two men who were wanted. >> can you tell us about the place across the street? >> it is a government station. every train in western california stops at that station to be inspected. >> how is the traffic been lately? >> an increase in traffic. >> did they give any reason? >> they said they write in the papers that california is going to be that everybody gets things for nothing. >> in your capacity, you find the number of people coming into california has increased? >> the influx is almost tripled.
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it is almost doubling daily. i speak from the records of the state department of motor vehicles. >> because of the tremendous importance to you californians of this influx of visitors, you're in acquiring cameraman -- you're inquiring cameraman went is far as phoenix arizona. we went because of the statement made in the local papers of the federal relief administrator for arizona who said that more than 36,000 unemployed passed through arizona en route to california during the past month. she declared the situation has become serious for arizona. this testing fitting the feeding of the additional 1000 persons per day at the federal transit gap. you're inquiring cameraman interviewed 30, stated they were on the way to california to spend the winter and remain there permanently if the epic
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plan went into effect. they ride the roofs, they ride the boxcars, the gondolas, these boys don't seem to care because they are california bow. -- california bound. we explored both sides of the border, watched them, behind the faces when this is the camera. nylund is an important junction point. passengers have to change trains frequently. when they are not writing on the trains, most of them live in jungles. a jungle is a hobo camp. now we are going to give you a real inside view. an actual interview in a genuine hobo jungle. look at them and listen to them. think. -- and think. >> that you fellas go along way? >> yeah.
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>> texas. >> washington. >> pennsylvania. >> new york. >> what you doing out here? >> out here for the climate. >> i'm just writing. >> i know i'm going to get a job. >> i'm forced to be here. >> well, ladies and gentlemen -- host: that one stops abruptly but one of them said at usc needed a quarterback. mr. mitchell: that probably was not scripted. even a couple of those, the basins -- the basic point of that was to show a hobo jungle and that there are hundreds of thousands of others coming in like this. but even a couple of those fella
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said i hear i'm going to get a job or i know i know i'm going to get a job. again, the idea was the images. it almost didn't matter what they said. it was enough just to show them. and some of those scenes were taken from mgm movies. which had scenes of people writing on the rails, things like that. host: so what is the epilogue as far as the race? what was the outcome? how close was it? mr. mitchell: sinclair lost by a couple hundred thousand votes. it wasn't that close in the end. as i mentioned earlier, ray haik got more than that number of votes but i think the votes were pretty much split, it would've been closer without him in the race but i don't think sinclair would have won. there was such a tight against him -- such a tide against him, so money democrats ended up floating against him.
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you have to remember that at that time or until that time, california was a republican state. they had never elected a democratic governor. fdr was starting to change that. but it was going to be a tough haul for any democrat in california. this was a turning point because after this race, in 1934, the party that we now know as the liberal democratic party of california took root. and actually elected one of the epic candidates in 1934. colbert olson became the first democratic governor elected four years later. augustine caulkins -- augustine's hawkins went on to serve in congress. and hollywood, much of the book focuses on hollywood. this was a turning point for
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hollywood. liberal hollywood as we know today at its roots in this campaign. the screenwriters, the actors, who had just formed their guilds were so outraged by this campaign that and gave a real boost to their union efforts and from that point on, hollywood started shifting from being extremely conservative or right-wing to the liberal hollywood that people love and hate today. host: when you watch these newsreels and think about recent campaigns or 2020, what goes through your mind? between then to now? mr. mitchell: i mentioned earlier the great red blue divide which was certainly evident here. i guess the divide in fake news. this was not the origin of fake news, this was not the origin of
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dirty campaign trips -- campaign tricks. it was the use of the screen and other media that was found to have an incredible influence. they actually identified voters and average people could be misled by misinformation, propaganda, putting out lies that could not be corrected. taking advantage of people's presidency is -- people's prejudices and susceptibility to propaganda. certainly we have seen that in recent years. there is so much of this campaign that resonates today. i am happy to catch people up with that. host: the book is called the campaign of the century, upton sinclair's race for governor in
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california and the birth of media politics. our guest is greg mitchell, thank you for taking the time. >> i am going to vote for upton sinclair. >> i am going to vote for frank miriam for governor for the reason -- for frank miriam up for governor for the reason that he has for democracy rather than governor. >> i am born and raised in america. >> i am not going to vote for mr. sinclair because he is a little too radical. ♪ ♪


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