Enterprise and Meaning: Sponsored Film, 1939-1949

William Bird looks at how American business and commerce turned to the techniques of advertising and Hollywood to extol the merits of capitalism and free enterprise in response to the anti-corporate liberalism of the New Deal.

A memorandum on commercial movies prepared for discussion at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in 1938 addressed the current and potential applications of film to business' sales and institutional problems. The memorandum's authors, Thompson executives Wallace Boren and Fred H. Fidler, concluded that the screen's influence on 'the American standard of living – on style, recreation, decoration, etc., seems destined for a much broader use for both intra-organizational and public propaganda'. One picture produced for an automobile manufacturer, for example, 'was recognized by Stalin as an excellent technique for his own campaign to combat the Soviet workman's fear of technocracy'. Closer to home, 'A major studio has under consideration an entertainment picture the sub-theme of which is freedom of the press'. Closer still, the memorandum's authors acknowledged the 'need for an interpretive "humanization" of business to labor', and recommended film to the nation's industrialists 'for whom "Fireside Chats" over the radio are not a practical medium'.

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