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tv   Reel America 1934 Newsreels - California Governors Campaign  CSPAN  February 27, 2021 8:01am-8:41am EST

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mitchell who argues they were the first modern attack ads. in 40 minutes, the first of three interior department films which highlights the efforts of the civilian conservation corps or ccc. its emergency conservation work in the great smoky mountains from 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 -- 65 minutes, rebuilding indian country. on interior film on preservation status and across the country. from forest, to desert, to the northwest coast.
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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 voters of california to express their views. remember, 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. there's even a crooner in the group but you have to find him yourself. already for the votes? >> would you mind telling us for your favorite candidate for governor is? >> sinclair. >> what your principal reason for that?
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>> different man with different principles. get away from the old line. >> 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 what to say about that. >> have you made up your mind on who you are going to vote for? >>. yes, mayor, -- marion, 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
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safest for us all? >> absolutely. >> that was the first two minutes in a 1934 newsreel. we are joined now by greg mitchell, his book is the campaign of the century, upton sinclair's race for the governor and the birds 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 end poverty in california, or epic. 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, 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 was importantly, hollywood employers docking employees base pay and taking other steps, most
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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, he set out to make three newsreels that would alter the race and move sinclair to defeat. host: what do you see in these newsreels that occlude 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 the mgm stable.
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b actors, not well-known actors. betraying these people you just saw interviewed -- portraying these people you just saw interviewed, with scripts that were written for them, some were reading lines. some more authentic, some were actors performing a script 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 ads.
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-- with what would now be called attack ads. host: why don't we watch the rest of the newsreel and we will talk about it more. >> mr. butler are you going to vote in the coming election? >> i certainly am. >> who are you going to vote for? >> i'm going to vote for mr. sinclair. >> do you 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 merriam, because i need prosperity. >> upton sinclair, the first reason, we need a complete rejuvenation of the governmental systems. that is the main reason. >> i think merriam is the better man for the position.
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>> 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. >> your outstanding reason? >> i think it would be a pity to put a man who is is much of a theorist as the other candidate. an untried person in the ways of government. >> you believe that mr. merriam would keep the boat from rocking? >> 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.
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>> i'm going to vote for frank merriam for governor. because he has for democracy rather than socialism. he won't involve us in any dangerous experiments. >> thank you mr. johnson. >> i think governor merriam is the ideal man. i'd like to stay in the real estate business, if mr. sinclair gets and i'm afraid there will be no real estate business. >> you mind telling us who you will vote for? >> i have upton sinclair in mind, but his plans are so far ahead of the time i doubtful -- i am doubtful it would be smart to vote that way. >> would you mind telling us your choice? what is your principal idea? >> i think mr. hite has best
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judgment of the three. >> have you seen his plans and what he has in mind? >> yes. >> what are your outstanding reasons? >> i'm never been excited about elections, but sinclair's attitude toward some of the institutions i consider sacred i don't quite agree with. so i decide to 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 they are 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 done so well, it was very effective.
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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, mank, 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 regretted 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 rioting at the box office and in the theaters. there were suspicions of the time. but it was not until later when ian fall berg admitted that he
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made these newsreels. they even give an award in his name every year, he became a hallowed figure. and, he admitted it, others talked about it a bit. these newsreels were, although described as people remember them, they disappeared into time. until i found them, that mgm had put them in some archives. i screened them one day in los angeles in 1991. we now have them to show both they were very described his memories, not that people could actually watch them until recently. host: the candidate, merriam, haik and sinclair, tell us about that?
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mr. mitchell: merriam was a 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 fame 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, -- haight, he ran as an alternative to the two. he knew there was a gulf between the two candidates, much like today's red and blue you might say, he tried to strike a middle ground. he did get a good number of votes but he probably took equally from the two candidates. i dispute what some people will
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say that haight cost sinclair the election. 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 are going to give ourselves a pat on the back. our first issue seems to have aroused all of california. we have had lots of comments and suggestions. some politicians don't like our ideas 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. we are trying to be as nonpartisan as possible. now for the voters. >> 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. i just graduated from school last year. sinclair says our school system is rotten. i know this isn't true. i have been able to find a good position during the depression
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and i would like to be able to keep it. >> misses ashley a telus he will vote for? >> >> i am going to vote for upton sinclair. in the first place, i think he is a splendid, conscientious, capable man. and has a program that he 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 help in that movement. mr. mitchell: this was actually, -- misses ashley was reared 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 by
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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, more working class two people in a car and a more prosperous looking brought man in a vest who was for merriam. this went on constantly. there was just enough of the veneer where they 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 merriam. host: one of the issues it seems
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more and more is socialism. which is still with us today and came up in the 2020 campaign, it came up a lot. 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. proudly. it was better to be called a socialist than a communist, but is tainted as it is today, with claims that socialists were just communists in a nicer close. that was rampant then. socialism was a biased codeword for dangerous radical,
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anti-american, procommunist and so forth. it was quite a tag. you will see in these interviews whenever they can slip 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 present governor, frank merriam. i don't think mr. merriam has been given an opportunity to do what he can for the state. and i don't see upton sinclair as the governor. i worked hard at a small independent firm. i don't wish the businessman, my employer, to do things he doesn't like and in turn force them upon us. i don't wish to go to work every day to work for food, the necessity of life. i have other ambitions.
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i am working harder. i'm looking forward to a future, happy future. one that i could personally make for myself without being told what to do by the people. >> my choice for governor is mr. haight. i want him in the governor's 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 taken away. >> i'm going to vote for the -- i'm going to vote for upton sinclair, he worked for the russian government and i think it will do well here. >> i'm going to vote for mr. hai ght. 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.
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i'm going to vote for him because he is in the middle ground. >> governor merriam. >> have you any reasons why? >> i feel sinclair is too radical. i was born and raised in america. 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 have always been a socialist and i believe he can do the best for the people, especially for the working people and even 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 have a job now and i want to keep it. i get paid in money and not script. 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. i come from new york, 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 is staying with
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him. i am a democrat. and i do not want to change my politics. i believe that the republican party, so far, has been a failure. in the last 10 to 12 years. >> 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. and that was the object of sinclair, to put mr. roosevelt on the spot. >> there is no such thing as
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putting a man on the spot. that is the thought of your mind. >> we are on the spot now. [laughter] >> i disagree with you on that. >> senator maggie was also with sinclair. >> senator mcadoo has billboarded 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 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.
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in fact, sinclair went to hyde park, met with roosevelt. he was very friendly. this is just after sinclair had won the primary. and there seemed to be occasions -- all indications that he would come out for sinclair. as i show in my book, in 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 most people who read it. but it was important to raise that issue with fdr in that newsreel. senator mcadoo, a famous figure , california seminar -- senator who embraced sinclair early on but then distanced himself.
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it was important to point this out to the audience, and also make sure democrats were told they could vote republican if they wanted to. host: in your book, you're right -- you write that the epic plan to end poverty in california 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. 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. but on the other hand he was
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sympathetic with 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. before we look at number three, after number two, i'm not sure exactly when it came out, -- mr. mitchell: the one week are -- the real we are going to see now came out 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 was the nail in the coffin. i think i should introduce it by explaining what it came from, which is 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 to take advantage of the epic plan. this was seized on by his
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opposition, as if it was a serious statement. this massive campaign, which i call my book campaign century -- campaign of the 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 outside political 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 campaign. with fake radio programs, advertising, leaflets and so forth. 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 -- you're -- your inquiring cameraman decided to look into this discussed situation of the unemployed of the united states flocking to california. let's 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 observation that there's 50 to 250 tracks men. >> what kind of fellas are these men?
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>> it has been my observation that they are men of all classes. only last week, i went to the chief of police and two men who were wanted for burglary. >> can you tell us about the place across the street? >> it is a government station. every car that comes west in 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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there is approximately 100,000 increased over last year 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, your 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. necessitating the feeding of the additional 1000 persons per day at the federal transient camp. you're inquiring cameraman interviewed 30, stated they were on the way to california to spend the winter and remain
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there permanently if the epic 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 bound. we went to colton, docket, we explored both sides of the border at yuma. watch them, they hide their faces when this is the camera. nylund is an important junction point. passengers have to change trains frequently. when they're not writing -- riding 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. and think. >> you fellas go a long way.
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>> yeah. >> texas. >> texas. >> washington. >> pennsylvania. >> new york. >> what you doing out here? >> that's my business. >> out here for the climate. >> i'm just writing. >> i have a friend getting an honest 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 basic point of that was to show a hobo jungle and that there are hundreds of thousands of others coming in like this.
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but even a couple of those fellas 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. just this threat. 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 riding 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 -- ray haight 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 tide against him, so many democrats and let
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voting -- ended up voting against him. you have to remember that at that time or until that time, california was a rigidly 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 hawkins went on to serve in congress. and hollywood, much of the book focuses on hollywood. this was a turning point for hollywood. the so-called liberal hollywood
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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 -- by the tactics in 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? how does it link 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 dirty campaign tricks.
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which go back and our entire history. 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 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. and i will tell it to the housetops. >> i'm going to vote for frank merriam for governor, for the reason that he is for democracy rather than socialism. >> i feel sinclair is too radical. i was born and raised in america. dark i'm not going to vote for mr. sinclair because he's a little too radical. ♪

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