CAMPAIGNS, INC. :: Online Lobby
Welcome to the Campaigns, Inc. Online Lobby experience! Explore additional information below, compiled by dramaturg Maren Robinson.
EXPLORE MORE OF THE HISTORY BEHIND THE SHOW
Watch some of the original news reels used against Sinclair:
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Watch an interview with Greg Mitchell, author of one of the books the Campaigns, Inc. production team used as reference:
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See an interview with Leone Baxter:
RESOURCES TO HELP YOU RECOGNIZE “FAKE NEWS”
- Infographic: Tips for Spotting Fake News (Cornell University)
- How to identify (and avoid) inaccurate information (Temple University)
- Evaluating Websites: Identifying Fake News Sources (Bridgewater State University)
MORE ABOUT THE REAL-LIFE CHARACTERS
December 22, 1865 – April 25, 1955
It’s Merriam or Moscow! — Campaign slogan of the Merriam for Governor Committee
Frank Merriam was a school principal, then had jobs in journalism and advertising before turning to politics. Known as “old baldy” among Republican colleagues, he was a fixture in the party.
After years in the California Assembly and California Senate, he won the Lt. Governor seat in 1932. Frank Merriam became acting governor on June 2, 1934, on the death of Governor James Rolph. He served as the Republican Governor of California between 1934-1939.
Immediately after taking office, he had to deal with a major strike. The International Longshoremen’s Association had walked off the job in May demanding shorter work days and the right to unionize freely. They were joined by the teamsters. Tensions boiled over on July 5, 1934, when employers attempted to open the port of San Francisco.
In what would come to be known as Bloody Thursday, police fired tear gas into the crowd followed by using officers on horses in an attempt to disburse the strikers. Strikers tried to surround a police car. Shots were fired. Later that day they would use tear gas and police to raid the ILA headquarters. Many were injured and the police killed two strikers.
Merriam blamed what he called “Communists and subversives” in the union for the unrest. Merriam called out the California National Guard, who backed the police in their raids and arrests of labor leaders. With many of the strike leadership members in jail, the more moderate ILA members now in charge of the Labor Council called for an end to the strike and the remaining longshoremen voted to return to work.
Merriam was worried about how calling out the National Guard would look to the public, but he still used the strike to his political advantage. He told members of the Republican party he would not call out the Guard unless he was nominated for Governor. Only when he received that assurance did he send for these reinforcements to help break the strike.
Merriam faced Upton Sinclair in the 1934 Gubernatorial race and won, spending an enormous amount of money on one of the largest smear campaigns in American politics. However, his victory would be short lived. His trouble with unions, tax reform and support of social security made him unpopular. He ran again in 1938 but lost to a former supporter of EPIC and Upton Sinclair, Democratic State Senator Culbert Olson. He retired from public life after his failed election.
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George J. Hatfield
October 29, 1887 – November 15, 1953
George J. Hatfield served in the U.S. Navy during World War I. He received his JD from Stanford University. He was a California attorney who served as a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California before serving as Lieutenant Governor under Frank Merriam between 1935-1939. After his term as Lt. Governor, he ran for Governor in 1938, but lost in the primary. He served in the California State Senate until his death in 1953.
Hatfield was an ardent Republican, serving for a time on the Republican State Central Committee for 28 years. It is notable that the Governor and Lt. Governor races in California were not linked, so Merriam and Hatfield were not exactly running mates. Hatfield had to win his own separate election the year after Merriam. He has a state park named after him. In 2007, the George J. Hatfield State Recreation area was rated as the 6th least profitable of California’s 278 parks.
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Upton Beall Sinclair Jr.
September 20, 1878 – November 25, 1968
Whether or not you sympathize with me on my platform is beside the point. If the picture industry is permitted to defeat unworthy candidates it can be used to defeat worthy candidates. If it can be used to influence voters justly, it can be used to influence voters unjustly. — Upton Sinclair in a letter calling for a congressional investigation into the fake newsreels used in the 1934 campaign
Upton Sinclair’s father was a salesman and an alcoholic who frequently put the family finances in jeopardy. As a result, the family frequently moved. Sinclair’s maternal grandparents were wealthy and when he stayed with them, he was keenly aware of the differences between his experience with his parents’ financial struggles and the luxury of his grandparents’ home. Sinclair started writing stories for boy’s magazines and dime novels to help fund his tuition at the City College of New York. He graduated in 1892. He studied law at Columbia but never graduated. He left school to devote his time fully to writing.
Sinclair is perhaps best known for his 1906 novel The Jungle. For research, he worked for seven weeks in a Chicago meatpacking plant. He believed the novel would open the eyes of Americans to the plight of the working class and was disappointed when they focused primarily on the unsanitary conditions in the meat packing plant. Indeed, just a few months after the publication of the novel, the legislature passed the Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. He said of the novel, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.”
Sinclair was a Socialist, and his novels frequently focus on the working class and on the abusive practices of big businesses like coal and oil companies. His strong political values brought him to run for political office. He ran for the House in 1920 and the Senate in 1922 as a Socialist and lost both elections. In 1934, he announced his candidacy for governor of California with the book, I, Governor of California, And How I ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future. It is a slim book in which he lays out his EPIC plan—EPIC standing for End Poverty in California. To the astonishment of many, the Democratic party favorite, Sheridan Downey was convinced to run for Lieutenant Governor and Sinclair won the primary as the Democratic candidate by the largest margin of any candidate and a larger margin than the Republican candidate Frank Merriam.
He lost the bitter race for governor after being subjected to a massive smear campaign instituted by Campaigns, Inc for Frank Merriam. Among the tactics they deployed were quoting his novels out of context to accuse him of being an atheist, not believing in marriage and being secretly a communist. The film industry, already worried about unionization, was against Sinclair as well. For Louis B. Mayer and MGM, Irving Thalberg produced fake news reels with interviews of “people in the street” talking about why they wouldn’t vote for Sinclair or would vote for Merriam. The people in the street were actors for the studio and the filming was funded by money taken from employees by MGM.
After the election Sinclair wrote, I, Candidate for Governor and How I Got Licked in which he talked about the smear tactics used against him. He called the massive campaign the “lie factory.” He went back to writing and never ran for office again. He remained a successful and influential American writer. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1943 for his novel Dragon’s Teeth about the rise of Hitler.
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March 11, 1884 – October 25, 1961
Sheridan Downey was a Democratic Senator from California between 1939-1950. Born in Laramie, Wyoming, he had attended the University of Wyoming then Received a Law Degree from the University of Michigan. His political career is one of shifting party allegiance. He practiced law in Wyoming and became a district attorney as a Republican. He split the party and joined the Bull Moose party supporting Theodore Roosevelt. When he moved to California, he first supported the Progressive party, finally becoming a Democrat in 1932.
In 1933, he announced he was running for governor of California, however after meeting with Upton Sinclair he stepped aside and ran as Lieutenant Governor with both candidates supporting the EPIC Plan. The public referred to the pair as “Uppie and Downey.” He would later support progressive plans such as a government pension plan, but in his years in the senate he also represented the interests of the major movie studios and would end his career as a conservative Democrat. After he left the senate, he practiced law in Washington D.C. and was a lobbyist for an oil company.
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April 16, 1889 – December 25, 1977
I don’t want the old rugged individualism, rugged for the few and ragged for the many. — Charlie Chaplin, 1942
Charlie Chaplin was born in London, England, the child of parents who were both performers. His life changed with his father’s death and his mother’s illness which forced Charlie and his brother Sydney to take to the stage to earn money as child actors. For a time, the family even had to live in a workhouse. Charlie eventually moved into vaudeville and toured America with the Fred Karno group.
On his second tour he was offered a movie contract with Keystone comedy films and at the end of his tour in 1913 he stayed in California to work on films. It was with Keystone that he created the character who would come to be known as “the Little Tramp.”
As his pictures grew more successful, he moved between film companies seeking more lucrative contracts. He went from earning $150 a week to a million-dollar contract. Chaplin along with fellow film stars D.W. Griffiths, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford would form United Artists in 1919 so they could work as producers, retain rights to their work, handle distribution and share in the profits.
Chaplin and Sinclair had some overlapping social and political circles in California. In fact, Chaplin was to credit Sinclair as a mentor in his study of Socialism. He was keenly aware of the paradox of being the richest man in Hollywood during the Great Depression.
Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein was supposed to make a film with Chaplin and Paramount. When it fell through, Eisentstein was at risk of being required to return to the USSR, Chaplin asked Sinclair and his wife for help. They formed a small production company to produce the film ¡Que viva México!
The film was a debacle, with Sinclair losing most of his money. The Mexican Film Board ordered Eisenstein to stop filming amidst worries that Mexico would be portrayed unfavorably. Eisenstein was ordered home to the USSR leaving 50 hours of film footage. This would be edited into two short films in 1934 and a longer film in 1979. Despite this fiasco, Chaplin and Sinclair remained friends.
While supportive of Sinclair’s campaign, Chaplin initially told Sinclair he felt it would be a mistake to endorse him and that he wanted to remain nonpartisan. By 1934 he had changed his mind and gave a speech at an EPIC fundraising event at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
In 1934, it had been 3 years since Chaplin had made a film and he was conflicted over whether or not the Little Tramp should speak. However, he would go on to make six more films including his seminal works Modern Times and The Great Dictator.
Because of his political leanings the FBI had more than 1900 pages of reports on Chaplin. In 1952, while traveling to England to the London premiere of Limelight, the Attorney General of the United States Gerald McGranery rescinded Chaplin’s reentry permit. Chaplin would only return to the U.S. to receive an Academy Award in 1971.
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt
January 30, 1882 – April 12, 1945
I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a New Deal for the American People. — Franklin D. Roosevelt, July 2, 1932
FDR, as he was frequently called, was arguably one of the most powerful U.S. Presidents. He won a record four elections and served as the 32nd President between 1933-1945. A Democrat, he was the architect of the New Deal, a set of reforms and government programs designed to employ unemployed Americans and bring them out of the Great Depression. He would also make his mark on history serving as President during World War II, which would finally bring the U.S. out of the Great Depression and define America’s role on the international stage.
He was born into the powerful Roosevelt family—former President Theodore Roosevelt was a 5th cousin—and in 1905 he married Eleanor Roosevelt, his 5th cousin once removed, with whom he would have 6 children. He attended Groton, Harvard, and Columbia Law School. He served as a State Senator, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Vice Presidential Candidate and Governor of New York before becoming president.
In 1921, he contracted a paralytic illness and was unable to walk unaided. He was careful never to be photographed in his wheelchair and the press complied with his wishes. Though initially diagnosed as polio, many doctors today believe the symptoms to be indicative of Guillain–Barré syndrome.
In 1914, he had an affair with Lucy Mercer, Eleanor’s secretary; he contemplated divorce, but Lucy refused to marry him. The family intervened and Eleanor agreed to remain with him, but their relationship became more of a political partnership at that point. She would maintain a separate residence. Roosevelt would be romantically linked with his secretary Marguerite “Missy” LeHand and Crown Princess Martha of Norway. He continued to correspond with Lucy Mercer, and they resumed their relationship in 1941.
On April 12, 1945, he complained of a headache then slumped forward. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage.
In 1934, it was the start of his Presidential tenure and Roosevelt was still trying to get support for the many New Deal projects he was passing. He was aware of the ambivalence about Upton Sinclair among California Democrats and Frank Merriam had privately promised support of New Deal programs. When Sinclair won the primary, moderate Democrats bombarded FDR with letters asking him to repudiate Sinclair as a dangerous radical.
Additionally, there were already rumors that Sinclair might run in the next presidential election on the EPIC platform. FDR met with Sinclair on September 5, 1934, in Hyde Park. While Sinclair had been warned off talking about politics they talked about politics anyway. Roosevelt was charming and knowledgeable about EPIC. Sinclair made it clear he did not want to run for president. They spoke for two hours instead of the planned hour. Roosevelt made it sound like he might do a fireside chat endorsing Sinclair’s idea of “production for use” right before the election, which Sinclair knew would be as good as an endorsement.
Ultimately, FDR did not involve himself in the race or address the issue in his fireside chats, which was viewed as a lack of support among many voters.
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October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962
Eleanor Roosevelt served the longest period of time for any First Lady, between 1933-1945. She revolutionized the role. Rather than just serving as hostess, Eleanor had shared political interests with Franklin and because of his inability to walk unaided she gave speeches and made political appearances both for him and in her own right.
She was part of the notable Livingston and Roosevelt families, and the niece of past president Theodore Roosevelt, who walked her down the aisle at her wedding. She had an unhappy childhood in which she lost both parents. She knew her fifth cousin once removed, Franklin Roosevelt, when they were children. They would marry when she returned from boarding school in 1910. They had six children, though only five survived to adulthood.
Franklin cheated on her with her secretary, Lucy Mercer. Franklin contemplated leaving Eleanor, but his mother threatened to disinherit him, and his political advisors cautioned against it. The couple agreed to remain married, but Eleanor decided at this time to find her own value in her political and social causes. They became more of a political partnership rather than a marriage and Eleanor would maintain her own residence in addition to their homes in Hyde Park and the White House.
In 1921, when FDR was diagnosed with a paralytic illness believed to be polio, Eleanor nursed him and she convinced him he could return to politics over the objections of his mother.
She had a close friendship with Amelia Earhart and a passionate relationship with journalist Lorena “Hick” Hickok. She would write her 10–15-page letters every day when Hick was traveling.
Upton Sinclair was right in thinking that Eleanor might be a useful ally in seeking an endorsement of his campaign. He wrote to her for over a year before meeting with her. She was a fan of his books and some parts of his EPIC plan, but considered other parts unfeasible. Sinclair wrote to her asking for her advice and after he won the primary, he wrote to ask her if rumors were true, she would endorse him.
However, like Franklin, Eleanor received letters from California Democrats decrying Sinclair as a radical and dangerous. Eleanor thought Roosevelt should send a trained political operative out to help Sinclair’s campaign, but she left for New York when Roosevelt and Sinclair were to have their meeting and she did not endorse him.
In another instance, Eleanor Roosevelt would stand against Roosevelt and the White House. This is in her civil rights work and in particular the work to pass anti-lynching laws. In 1934, she joined the NAACP and would remain an active and vocal supporter until her death. At one point the Ku Klux Klan put a bounty on her because she was so outspoken. Roosevelt may have shared her values, but he felt that in order to pass his various New Deal policies he needed southern democrats and did not want to anger them by openly supporting any civil rights movements.
She also broke with tradition and brought Black Americans to the White House. Most notably when the famous Black singer Marian Anderson was denied use of Constitution Hall, Eleanor arranged for her to have a concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. She was outspoken when she realized that New Deal funds were disproportionately going to white Americans. She had her own “My Day” newspaper column where she could advocate for key issues.
After Franklin’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt became the United States Delegate to the United Nations. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She held 348 press conferences during Franklin’s tenure as president.
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Louis B. Mayer
July 12, 1882–1885 – October 29, 1957 (Mayer listed several different birth years on his records)
In some ways, Louis B. Mayer was the quintessential American success story. He was born in Russia to a Jewish family. The family immigrated to Canada, and he worked his way out of poverty to become co-founder of Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Mayer never handled the artistic side of the business but used his business acumen to run the company. He did scout talent and made the careers of numerous stars. He referred to the company as a family and demanded loyalty from his employees. He is known to have interfered in the personal lives of actors, encouraging or discouraging relationships and covering up scandals. Many actors referred to him as being like a father. Indeed, he hired many child actors who received their education and medical care on the lot as they made films, stars like Andy Rooney, Judy Garland, Jackie Cooper, and Elizabeth Taylor. The dark side of this paternalism was that many actors hated his interference, and he could be quick to anger, with flashes of temper, and petty grudges. Judy Garland claimed he molested her, and he was reported to have pursued Jean Howard, once chasing her around a desk. When Howard married, he banned her husband, a talent agent, from the lot.
In opposition to his personal behavior, as an executive he wanted MGMs films to depict wholesome American values and families.
He was vehemently anti-union. He became concerned as unions started forming in the film industry. He created the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and recruited 36 actors, directors, writers, technicians, and producers. He told them that if they joined as Academy Members, they could help improve working conditions. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were among the members. The Academy Awards were an afterthought.
I found that the best way to handle [filmmakers] was to hang medals all over them. […] If I got them cups and awards they’d kill themselves to produce what I wanted. That’s why the Academy Award was created. — Louis B. Mayer quoted in Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer, by Scott Eyman
He was a staunch conservative and served on the California Republican National Committee and once as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He and other studio heads were already alarmed by the creation of the Screen Actors Guild the year before and feared under Sinclair that unionization would continue. It was Mayer’s idea to dock the pay of MGM employees and funnel it to the Frank Merriam campaign and their newsreel project. Only a few actors and writers were willing to refuse the powerful studio leadership that wrote their paychecks. James Cagney said if they docked his pay that he would give a week of his pay to the Sinclair campaign.
They told employees that if Sinclair was elected, they would move the studios and people would be out of work.
The most damage came from the fake newsreels. MGM shot “person on the street” films with bit actors. These would run as newsreels before features where many believed they were real. They were directed by Felix Feist Jr. He was 24 and had only directed film tests. He would go on to make B movies in the 1940s and 1950s. The most damaging showed extras dressed as bums getting off trains as though they were coming to California, stoking fears that under Sinclair unemployed outsiders were going to flock to California.
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Kyle Dulaney Palmer
August 27, 1891 – April 3, 1962
Kyle Palmer joined the Los Angeles Times in 1919 at the age of 27. Within three years he was the political editor and moonlighting writing speeches for his friend W. Richardson, who was challenging the favorite, William D. Stephens in the California Republican Primary race for governor. In the Times, he predicted Richardson would win and when he did win an upset, Palmer was hailed as a political genius. Palmer would use this power, becoming known as “the Little Governor.” Palmer was a political kingmaker.
Staunchly conservative, when visiting New York Times reporter Turner Catledge asked him where the listing for Upton Sinclair’s rally was in the Times he said, “Turner, forget it, we don’t go in for that kind of crap that you have back in New York – of being obliged to print both sides.” Palmer was actively involved in the attacks on Upton Sinclair, promising that the paper would kill him politically. He earned only $150 a week at the L.A. Times so he welcomed the additional income he brought in as a speechwriter for Merriam and Hatfield while simultaneously attacking Sinclair in his newspaper.
He remained influential throughout his career, throwing his considerable power behind Republican candidates like Richard M. Nixon. When Palmer retired from the L.A. Times in 1960, they called him, “the good shepherd.” Oddly, in his retirement Palmer claimed to develop a friendship with Sinclair saying, “He’s an oddball, he’s very peculiar, but I like him.” He died of leukemia in 1962 at the age of 70.
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Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Born Douglas Elton Thomas Ullman; May 23, 1883 – December 12, 1939
Fairbanks was an actor, director, and producer in Hollywood. He was an early Hollywood star known for his silent film roles in The Thief of Baghdad, Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro.
He married Anna Beth Sully in 1907 and they had one son, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
He met Mary Pickford at a party in 1916 and they started an affair. In 1917, Fairbanks, Pickford and Chaplin would travel across the country by train selling war bonds. The three of them were the most popular and well-paid actors in Hollywood. To give themself more control over their careers and money, Pickford, Fairbanks, Chaplin, and W. D. Griffiths would found United Artists in 1919.
After divorces from their respective spouses, Fairbanks and Pickford would marry in 1920. For a time they were the first “Hollywood Royalty,” throwing lavish parties in their home known as “Pickfair.” They separated in 1933 amid affairs on both sides and would divorce in 1936. He would marry Sylvia Ashley in 1936. He died of a heart attack on December 12,1939. He was 56.
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Gladys Marie Smith; April 8, 1892 – May 29, 1979
I am a servant of the people. I have never forgotten that. — Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was one of the earliest film stars. The Biograph company director screen tested and hired her. She played everything from bit parts to leads for Biograph. In 1909, she appeared in 51 films. By the 1910s and 1920s she was becoming known as “America’s sweetheart.” She was under 5 feet tall, and because of her diminutive size she often played children, ingenues and spunky teenagers, which audiences adored.. Later, these same audiences struggled to see her in more mature roles.
Seeking more control over her career, she founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, her lover and soon to be husband Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffiths.
She was involved in several service efforts including traveling the country selling war bonds in 1917. With Constance DeMille she would found the Hollywood Studio Club, a dormitory for young women in the film industry. Again, with Chaplin and Fairbanks, she’d help found the Motion Picture Relief Fund to help needy and out of work actors.
As the talkies became more popular, Pickford found her star declining. She retired as an actor in 1933, though she remained involved as producer with United Artists. She separated from Douglas Fairbanks amid allegations of affairs. They divorced in 1936. After the deaths of several family members, she became something of a recluse, only seeing a few people including her stepson Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In 1976, the Motion Picture Academy sent a film crew to her house so she could make a statement on receiving the Academy Honorary Award for her contributions to the film industry. On May 29, 1979, she died of a cerebral hemorrhage.