Can show business change the world?
Support for an affirmative answer is easy to find in this Centennial Issue of Variety. The changes are both trivial and monumental and range, just in one decade, for example, from kids in the early ’60s suddenly sporting puddingbowl haircuts in imitation of four lads from Liverpool, to the cataclysmic year 1968 when protest singers, politically engaged actors, playwrights, filmmakers and television reporters helped bring down a president and turn popular opinion against a far-off war.
“That’s it,” said the soon-to-be ex- President Lyndon Johnson, “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
A harder question to answer is exactly how show business has changed and continues to change the world.
Is it contributing to societies and cultures around the world by enlightening, illuminating and challenging, or is it just simply dumbing us all down?
Is it inspiring and empowering or is it powerfully desensitizing?
The next section of the Icons of the Century continues a grand Variety tradition: applying ample heat and light and hoping to sweat the truth out of a subject. Some writers and interviewees try to answer some of the above questions, and they also question how well Variety itself has performed its journalistic tasks.
If Icons of the Century is a celebration of all that’s great, creative and ennobling about show business, the following stories, as Variety has for 100 years, ask the tough questions and provide a surprising, if sometimes uncomfortable, review of the decades so far.