To Arthur Pierson [Letter 428]

Item Reference Code: 145_P2x_008_001

Date(s) of creation

July 14, 1950


Arthur Pierson


A friend of AR’s, Arthur Pierson (1901–1975) was an actor who performed the roles of Sigurd Junquist in the 1935 Broadway production of Night of January 16th and Pavel Syerov in the 1940 Broadway production of The Unconquered.

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July 14, 1950

Dear Arthur:

Thank you for your letter and the outline of the Horatio Alger idea which you sent me. I was very interested to read it.

If you want my suggestions, I must mention just one important point to consider at this preliminary stage. While the general idea of glorifying Horatio Alger would be very good indeed, I think that a dangerous issue will arise when you develop a specific story, and it will be very important to keep two different aspects of the situation clearly differentiated. One aspect pertains to industrial technology, the other to politics. You have indicated the first one in your outline, but not the second. The first is the fact that technological progress offers men more opportunities for advancement, and not less, as the leftists claim when they whine that “there are no frontiers left”. Industrial progress makes opportunities grow, but only so long as a society remains free. And this is where we come up against the second or political aspect. In our present age, men have much less chance to rise and make a success than they had in Horatio Alger’s time. Their opportunities are being killed year by year—not because of our industrial development, but because of our growing Statism and controls over industry.

If you ignore the above point and write a story merely from the technological angle, a story laid in modern times, then your picture will tell people, in effect, that we are just as free to advance as we always were, that private enterprise and initiative have as much chance as ever, and that individual

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talent still has unlimited opportunities. This would be an untrue and undesirable idea to give the public, because it would whitewash the present controls and blind people to the real nature of a controlled economy. The truth is that the essence, purpose and result of any controlled economy is the destruction of individual talent and individual opportunity, that is, the destruction of the self-made man. I have heard any number of prominent self-made industrialists say that they would be unable to make a success if they were starting today.

Therefore, if you wrote a picture on the theme of Horatio Alger, you would have to make it a protest against the controlled economy. Your story would have to show that while our technological advances give us greater opportunities than ever, the economic controls imposed upon us are killing these opportunities—and that while individual talent and self-reliance are still the only qualities through which a man or a nation can survive and prosper, these are the qualities now in danger of being destroyed.

If General Motors would allow you to make an uncompromising picture with this sort of message, then I think you would have a great film of tremendous patriotic importance. But if you find that they don’t want to say that much, then I think it would be better not to attempt the theme—because a halfway treatment of this theme would be extremely harmful; it would be, not merely futile for the cause of free enterprise, but it would actually achieve the opposite of its purpose and would help the enemies of free enterprise, as any timid or compromising presentation of any theme always does. I hope that they will let you carry out this Horatio Alger idea fully. If they do, I think it could be a very important picture.

I will be interested to know what develops and what is happening to “Headline Story”.

With best regards from both of us to Marjori and yourself.