Season 2 | Episode 6 | “Hollywood” | Aired Aug 5, 2014
Drunk History has finally taken its talents to Hollywood. With decades of famous rivalries, creative differences and political opportunists in its past, the city at the heart of show business has enough stories to fill a TV series all its own. I’ll start a crusade for The Real Drunk History of Hollywood as soon as I’m promised dinner with Tony Hale in that wig. Until then, let’s see what lessons we can learn in Tinseltown.
1. Forbidden movies are usually the coolest.
In 1938, Orson Welles (Jack Black) was a hot commodity in Hollywood, thanks to his sensational radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Meanwhile, William Randolph Hearst (John Lithgow) spent his days in his literal castle, managing his newspaper empire. Welles knew a screenwriter, Herman Mankiewicz, who had been to Hearst Castle, so they teamed up to write a movie about it. That screenplay became Citizen Kane. Worried that it trashed his name, Hearst forbade his papers from even mentioning the film, and he warned cinemas that he would pull their ads if they showed it.
Rather than give up, Welles just decided to move the party outside and show his film in tents. People flocked to see Citizen Kane, dubbed “The Movie That No One Will Let You See,” because people love doing what they’re told not to do. They also love outdoor movies. Welles and Mankiewicz won an Oscar for screenwriting, and Hearst will forever be associated with the name Kane.
2. Elevator encounters do happen.
It seems like a Hollywood cliché: You just happen to find yourself in an elevator with your biggest rival, and you think of the best possible comeback at just the right moment. Maybe it’s a cliché because in Hollywood, it’s actually happened. Welles and Hearst found themselves in the same elevator, and Welles asked Hearst if he’d seen Citizen Kane. Hearst swore he never would, but Welles got the last word by insisting that Kane would see the movie. Then again, since Hearst never wanted to be associated with Kane, maybe that’s a compliment.
3. Be careful who you ask to draw Mickey Mouse.
In Kansas City, in 1919, animator Ub Iwerks (Tony Hale) was working with Walt Disney (Michael Angarano). Iwerks had an idea for putting live-action people into animated frames, so he and Disney created a series of shorts called Alice Comedies. Disney took the comedies to the head of Universal Animation, Charles Mintz (Derek Waters), who hired Iwerks and Disney to work with him. In 1927, Mintz stole Iwerks’s creation, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and Disney vowed never to let that happen again.
Iwerks followed Disney out of the company, and they got to work on a new character: Mickey Mouse. In two weeks, Iwerks churned out two months’ worth of animation to bring Mickey to life. Walt loved the work, but he wanted to make it bigger, so Iwerks suggested syncing the sound and the picture. The result was Steamboat Willie. Mickey’s first full-length animated film received standing ovations for its sound work (“This mouse is whistling along with what his mouth is doing!”), but Disney started taking Iwerks for granted. When a child asked Disney to draw Mickey Mouse, he agreed and handed the paper to Iwerks, who quit right there.
4. Negotiate like you mean it.
Iwerks formed his own company, Iwerks Animation, where animation was anarchy. He drew animals that lost limbs and women whose dresses blew off. Regulations put a stop to that, and Iwerks Animation closed down. Hearing about this, Disney met Iwerks for lunch and asked him to return. Iwerks agreed, but only on the condition that he would not be an animator. He wanted to run the company’s photographic effects. Disney agreed, and Iwerks had a hand in everything from the Mary Poppins penguin dance—for which he won a technical effects Oscar—to the rides at Disneyland. Keep his success in mind next time you’re in a negotiation.
5. Tony Hale’s eyebrow work is strong.
Hale and Angarano have a great comedic partnership going on here. Their energy is infectious and their exaggerated laughter is perfectly synchronized; their Iwerks and Disney really do seem like they’ve known each other for decades and are just having fun. At one point, Hale starts drumming on a bunch of straws with two spoons, just because he can.
6. Getting put on a Communist blacklist is a fun way to meet singles in your area.
In 1949, actress Nancy Davis (Lindsay Sloane) was blacklisted. She contacted the president of the Screen Actors Guild, Ronald Reagan (Nick Kroll), to ask for his help, and he agreed to meet her for dinner. After Reagan corrected the clerical error that had landed Nancy on the list, the two were married. Nancy convinced Reagan that they wouldn’t make it as actors, but that they had a chance in politics. They could be the faces of conservatism. She basically became her husband’s manager, instructing him to present himself like an actor in a world of politicians. Reagan put himself on the map with a speech he gave for Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election, and the rest—his election as governor and, eventually, as President of the United States—is history. Nancy wanted people to know her name, and she made it happen.
Hollywood is full of people like Nancy Reagan and Ub Iwerks who do the work to make others look good. Did you know their stories or the story behind Citizen Kane? And how eerily accurate is Jack Black as Orson Welles?
Drunk History, rated TV-14, airs Tuesdays at 10/9C on Comedy Central.