Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Reagan, Wasserman and the MCA

I didn't watch all of the PBS special on Ronald Reagan this week--as is my custom, I tend to do my TV watching with one hand tied behind my back.  For the most part, what I saw struck me as remarkably fair-minded, with a lot of thanks to the remarkable tact and insight of young (!!!) who evidently loves his dad with a kind of clear-sightedness that perhaps only children can muster.

But did I wonder--did anyone tell the story of what seems to me to have been the great inflection point in Reagan's political career?  I'm thinking of the time when he was President of the Screen Actors Guild and he cut a deal with Lew Wasserman of MCA allowing MCA both to represent actors and to hire actors for movies and TV.  That deal helped to launch MCA onto the Empyrean heights of the Hollywood elite, and Wasserman seems to have remembered who his friends were: by all accounts he was the driving force behind the early episodes of Reagan's life on the public stage.

Allowing Wasserman to run with the fox and hunt with the hounds always struck me as the very definition of double agentry--a monstrous betrayal of the actors he was supposed to be representing.  Yet I admit I am not clear whether the actors thought so.  He did get elected to another term at the head of SAG.  I do infer that Reagan's entanglement with MCA became a political problem of sorts later on, when MCA abandoned its agency business to concentrate on production.   How did Reagan understand his own role (sic)?  I don't know; this seems to be another one of those cases where he disappears behind that Cheshire cat smile.

There's a highly charged account of the whole episode in Dan Moldea's Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob, available on line.   I liked even better the rendering in Connie Bruck's When Hollywood Had a King, one of my all time favorite business books.   I haven't gone back to look at Lou Cannon's biographical stuff and I haven't any idea whether it appears in Ron Reagan's own account, My Father at 100 In any event, while you can't call it exactly "unknown," I've always thought it deserves to be better known.. 

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

There's good reason SAG members are considered stupid. They did the same thing a few years ago, voting to put in PRODUCER/actors as their leadership. (To their credit, they only did it the second time they had a chance to do so—the Producers lost the first round, ran a concerted attack for the next year, arranged to replace negotiators working in the interest of actors, and took over.)