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Dark victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob.

Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and Mob.

Dan Moldea* has set himself the formidable task of demonstrating that that nice man in the White House, so straight and honest of image, is actually a creature of and collaborator with the Mob. Ronald Reagan has been called many things but "godfather' is something new.

* Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA and the Mob. Dan Moldea. Viking, $18.95.

Moldea traces the rise of MCA--originally named the Music Corporation of America--from its founding as a dance band booking agency in 1924 by the late Jules Stein, to its emergence as the most powerful force in Hollywood history, a company that came to be called the "octopus' because it had its tentacles into every facet of film and later television production. And how was MCA able to grow so great?

First, because it played "footsie' with the mafia, according to Moldea. Every Mob figure of the thirties and forties seems to be mentioned in this book. It is not always clear what these sinister characters had to do with MCA, and Moldea repeatedly swings the yellow brush of "guilt by association.' If it weren't the Mob we would all cry foul, there is so much innuendo and so little proof offered. But the Mob did invade Hollywood, and the reader will probably conclude that where there was so much smoke there must certainly have been fire. It's different when it comes to the second reason Moldea gives for the success of MCA: Ronald Reagan and his alleged Mob ties. When it comes to presidents we'd like a little more proof.

In 1940, MCA president Lew Wasserman engineered the first million dollar studio contract in the agency's history for his actor-client Ronald Reagan. Moldea's thesis is that Reagan subsequently used his position as president of the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG) to benefit MCA in return for that and for future payoffs. In particular, Reagan pushed through a permanent waiver for MCA from SAG rules in 1952 so that it could produce shows, as well as represent the talent who worked on them. That gave MCA a tremendously profitable advantage over its competitors. In return, Moldea suggests MCA saved Reagan's career by giving him his premier television host roles on the "G.E. Theater' and "Death Valley Days,' and even bailed him out financially by arranging purchase of his ranch at a price far above market value. Moldea records how MCA and Reagan continued scratching each other's back right into the White House (yes, Wasserman supported Jimmy Carter in 1976 but failed to do so in 1980). And all the while, the Mob hovered 'round (remember, the only major union to support Reagan's presidential bid was the Teamsters).

A fascinating tale but what of proof? After the key move--the granting of the SAG waiver to MCA--Moldea tells us "at the Justice Department, there was deep and open suspicion that there had been some sort of illegal tie-in--or even a payoff--between MCA and Reagan . . . it is clear that, within months of the deal, Reagan benefited personally, financially, professionally, and politically from his relationship with MCA.' Smoke, yes, but nothing like a smoking gun. What is more likely, I think, and Moldea gives us plenty of evidence of this, is that Stein, Wasserman, and the others found in Reagan an easy going fellow who has always put himself in the hands of managers who could be persuaded that he and they had common interests without the need for any under-the-table tactics. Reagan says he favored the waiver because it would help actors find more work. You can just see him nodding his head in sincere concern as Wasserman makes that argument to him. Support for the "Reagan did it from pure motives' theory can be found in secret federal grand jury testimony Reagan gave in 1962 about his association with MCA that Moldea uncovered. It is worth reading as another example of vintage Reaganese. He has lapses of memory, transposes dates, and wanders off into irrelevancies. But to anyone who has followed his public career, that's no criminal mind at work, that's just "our Ronnie' being himself. The classic line comes when the prosecutor asked him what type of contracts he signed with MCA. "Oh, I never read them . . .' replied Reagan, who is still signing documents in the Oval Office with similar scrutiny.

Despite the flaws, I have a good deal of sympathy for Moldea and this book. It is a serious work, a little heavy in the reading, but worth the effort. It says a lot about Hollywood and the Mob that rings true. As for Moldea's failure to make his charges against Reagan stick, all I can say is "welcome to the club.'
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Copyright 1986, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Donaldson, Sam
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1986
Words:787
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