Peter Bart: Hollywood’s CEOs Locked In A Rich-Against-Poor Stalemate That Their Predecessors Mostly Ducked
10.08.2023 - 21:45
“How did I become Tom Joad? I used to write for a living.”
Tom Joad was the hapless farmer in The Grapes of Wrath who fled the Dust Bowl to find a better life in California. The man who cited him this week is a successful screenwriter who’s been walking the picket line and asked that I not use his name.
While the cast of pickets might not mirror John Steinbeck’s characters in his great novel, still “the rhetoric of this strike has taken on a ‘rich against the poor’ obsession,” in the words of one studio CEO.
The bargaining jargon once focused on residuals, but now it’s about “land barons” and “tone-deaf greedy bosses” (the words of SAG-AFTRA’s Fran Drescher). Little wonder polling shows only 7% of the public siding with the “bosses.” The “class warfare” has passed the 100-day mark, with L.A. city workers joining in Tuesday.
But who are the bosses?
Hollywood’s Tom Joads – the working stiffs – used to work for a curious amalgam of self-made show business autocrats like Louis B. Mayer or Jack Warner, who themselves always were locked in combat with their bankers. Their key weapon to fight their way out of the Depression was to make gangster pictures – the characters they most identified with.
Although resolute raiders such as Kirk Kerkorian and Charles Bluhdorn started buying and selling Hollywood assets in the late 1950s, it was arguably a charming maverick named Steve Ross who, in the early ’70s, created what is now “corporate Hollywood.”
Ross wasn’t born a show business maven; he’d started in the funeral business. But over a relatively short time he built an amazing array of assets — Warner Bros, Time Inc., HBO, Atlantic Records and Atari among them. He also threw glitzy parties, bought a fleet of private jets and
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