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.
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.
Even if you overlook their hatred of President Bush who, for all his various failings, received 55 million votes in 2004, and their disdain of the U.S. military during a time of war, there’s the matter of their taking Al Gore’s global warming warning to their collective bosoms. Now, it’s one thing for me, a devout non-believer to pooh-pooh the threat to polar bears and to go on my merry way. But wouldn’t you think that someone who regarded Mr. Gore as the new messiah would question his sincerity when he gads about in private jets and lives in a mansion? I think you would if you yourself were the least bit sincere, and not just another derriere-kissing sycophant. But when like George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio, you also spend half your life in Lear jets and limos, and live in a series of homes the size of castles, the deal is that nobody ever asks an embarrassing question or points out an obvious truth. Instead, you hold banquets and present one another with awards that contain the word “environment.”