Feb 27, 2014

Naughty or Nice: ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Capra, Commies and the FBI

“He’s making a list, checking it twice; gonna find out who’s naughty or nice…”

When Coots & Gillespie’s famous Christmas song debuted on Eddie Cantor’s radio show in 1934, they warned that “Santa Claus is coming to town.” Not many years later, in Hollywood, Calif., a new set of lyrics could apply: “J. Edgar Hoover was coming to town.”

Hoover, too, was making a list and checking it twice. One of Hoover’s Hollywood concerns was Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” now a Christmas classic. Were Capra and the movie’s production staff naughty, or were they nice? Hoover intended to find out.

The Russian Revolution of 1917 had sent shivers through Capitalists everywhere. After the First World War, the American government actively sought to identify and stop Communist threats in the U.S. When the FBI was created, this task fell to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who believed that Hollywood movie producers were a potential threat. His belief was not misplaced: Joseph Stalin often said that motion pictures were a strong channel for Communist propaganda. In 1925, columnist Willi Muenzenberg wrote in the Communist newspaper The Daily Worker that an important goal of the Communist Party “is the conquest of this supremely important propaganda unit, until now the monopoly of the ruling class. We must wrest it from them and turn it against them.” Read More...

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