Burt Prelutsky

I used to believe that one of the reasons that a lot of the male movie stars of the 30s and 40s drank so much was out of guilt that they were making more money in a week than most Americans earned in a year, and that even in the middle of the Great Depression they were living like royalty. But I also suspected that they turned to alcohol partly out of shame because they were engaged in what would generally have been regarded as a passive, feminine occupation -- playing dress up, being told what to do and how to do it by male directors, standing by while rugged stunt men did all the heavy lifting and, worst of all, wearing makeup all the livelong day.

Then, on top of that, they had to answer to a bunch of really tough guys, studio bosses such as Darryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn, Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer, who told them how to live, whom to date and even when and if to get married.

Is it any wonder that so many of them, including Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, Sonny Tufts, Robert Walker, John Barrymore and Bing Crosby, tried to find their refuge and possibly their lost manhood in a bottle of booze?

On the plus side, it may also help explain why, honest patriotism aside, when World War II rolled around, so many of the major stars -- Jimmy Stewart, Robert Montgomery, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable -- walked away from huge contracts to enlist in the military. Back then, even the stars who didn’t or couldn’t get into the service because of age, marital status or physical liabilities, made propaganda films, joined USO troupes, toured the country selling U.S. war bonds and regularly visited military hospitals.

Hollywood is such a different place these days that it might as well exist in a whole other galaxy.

Now, you have the likes of Sean Penn paying his respects to Saddam Hussein and Hugo Chavez, and taking bows for his courage. You have everyone from Tim Robbins to Billy Crystal slandering the president and insisting that America is a far greater threat to democracy than China or Iran.

Far from feeling even slightly guilty about their wealth and their life styles, these spoiled brats insist it’s our country that should be guilt-ridden. They have raised hypocrisy, if not their movies, to the level of an art form.