The first months of Daily Variety in the fall of 1933 didn’t just reprint press releases, trade in gossip or rely on gimmickry.
There were several issues of importance to showbiz getting their due in the thin tabloid.
The most urgent was the contentious labor talks that were reaching a climax in Washington, D.C., that fall. The on-again, off-again talks saw contract players pitted against studios and freelance performers, agents pressing to be producers, chorus girls demanding better pay and cameramen lobbying for a shorter work week.
Reading these early pages, one comes away with a vivid sense of an industry that had outgrown handshakes and chutzpah and was struggling toward a more ordered framework.
Said the paper in mid-September 1933: “The film industry will be almost fully encamped in Washington Sunday night for hearings with 100% roll call by Monday. … Complaint going the rounds that already too many lawyers have their schnozzles in the dish and that efforts are being made to write new codes in the form of briefs.”
In another dispatch, the paper reported antagonism between crews and producers had reached fever pitch: “Kicking the cover off the ashcan, the IATSE started a court action asking $34 million damages from Louis B. Mayer, all major studio heads, the IBEW, the UBOC, the JA.”
Thus, the paper concluded, “The Armageddon of the Alphabet gets under way,” perhaps realizing how awkward all the abbreviations were but not bothering to demystify any of them.
For weeks thereafter Daily carried items about the talks. (And the 36-hour work week became a reality that year.)
On other fronts, too, perennial themes began to emerge in the fledgling Daily.
Take Hollywood’s alleged pernicious effects on other societies.
“Films produced in Hollywood are being blamed here for the present outbreak of banditry and kidnapping and for disturbing the otherwise even keel of family life,” said a front-page dispatch filed from Nanking, China. Local authorities cited “the blood and thunder stuff” of Tinseltown for inspiring Chinese criminals.
Such a viewpoint still pops up abroad, even in 2006.
And in a story that gathered steam over the next two decades, Daily Variety first addressed the alleged communist infiltration of the movie biz in its 10th issue, Saturday (yes, the paper published six days a week back then!), Sept. 16, 1933, with a banner headline: “Pinks Plan Coup to Stalinize Studios.”
Communism, the paper said, was getting “a toehold on the picture industry. A crowd of pinks is listed on studio payrolls as writers, authors, scenarists and adapters. And though most of the new rad move’s recruits are getting anywhere from $500 to $1,500 a week, their program calls for a fantastic sovietizing of the lots.”
The paper suggested pinkos were meeting in Venice, Calif., and planning for the day when studios would be writer-controlled and producers would be hired hands.
Per Daily Variety, the leaders of the literary communism movement were “easterners who have hit Hollywood during the past two years. At least a couple have written novels.”
The paper — which became even more stridently anti-communist by the late 1940s and said nothing to criticize blacklisting — did not quote anyone in these early pieces.
On a subject so intriguing, if ticklish, that was a pity.