Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Roger L. Simon, an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and multiple award-winning mystery novelist who, after a virtual lifetime on the Left (Hollywood and otherwise), made a turn to the Right and, ironically, ended up co-founder of Pajamas Media, of which he is now CEO. Simon is probably the only American writer to be profiled favorably in both Mother Jones and National Review. The story of his political migration as well as numerous tales of the Hollywood Left are detailed in his recent book Blacklisting Myself: Memoir of a Hollywood Apostate in the Age of Terror.
FP: Roger Simon, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Tell us about your youth and what guided you into the ranks of the Left.
Simon: In some senses, I was a proto-typical Child of the Sixties - upper middle class, educated, from Jewish Liberal (Stevensonian) parents who (I thought) never did much with their liberal values. So like a large number of my generation, motivated by a cocktail of liberal guilt, rebellion against my parents, what we then called "white skin privilege" and a need to be cool, I swung Left at a very young age - really high school. Of course, most of this was posturing, but some of it - at various times - was real. And some of it was cultural too - sex, drugs and rock and roll. Some of the details are in my memoir.
FP: You made several trips behind the Iron Curtain. How did they influence you? Share with us the story of being recruited by the KGB.
Simon: My first trips behind the Iron Curtain were in 1979 - Cuba and China. China was for much longer (a month) and somewhat influential in my life. In those days, China was still quite Maoist and going there was considered very hip. Hardly anyone had done it. I wrote a mystery novel set on the trip called Peking Duck that sold quite well at the time. It came out almost simultaneous with The Big Fix film version. As I write in Blacklisting Myself, looking back on that novel I see some of it as having been dishonest, an attempt to cover up what I saw even then as totalitarian in an effort to be radical chic and get jobs in Hollywood, where my leftie connections were seen as cool.
By the time I made my two cultural exchange trips to the former Soviet Union, I was beginning to be a little more honest about how I saw these societies as giant jails. But I still didn't go very public with this because I wanted to protect my image. This may be part of the reason that I was approached by the KGB on my first trip to the Soviet Union in 1987. A fairly attractive female from Soviet Screen attempted to recruit me under the guise of an interview. Sexual favors were also in the air, but I was far too terrified to even consider them. I wanted to "get the Hell out of Dodge," as the old saying goes - only Dodge in this instance was Yalta.
I always wondered why in the world they would want to recruit me, since I had nothing of value to impart. But thinking back there are perhaps two reasons. One: I could inform them of Hollywood people who might be sympathetic to their cause. Two (and more importantly): it's what they do. You climb a mountain because it's there, just as the KGB tries to recruit an American liberal because he's there. It's kind of like prospecting.
FP: So what started your second thoughts? Tell us about walking away from the political faith. Did a lot of “friends” abandon you? Did it hurt you?
Simon: I think those trips mentioned above started some of those second thoughts. They were continued, as I spell out in my book, during the OJ trial. (The portion of the book regarding this is entitled "OJ Changed My Life.") That trial's betrayal of the civil rights movement by black racism gave me some, largely unacknowledged, second thoughts about a number of items. Then came 9/11 and I never looked back.
Regarding, whether "friends" have abandoned me, well, we're all human beings. Some have, some haven't. In some cases I have abandoned them because I have no interest in hearing their knee-jerk liberalism. And, of course, I have made a lot of new friends. Still, some of the losses have hurt. Were they really friends? I don't know. It depends on your definition. We live in hostile times.
FP: Tell us about being your post-Left life in Hollywood.
Simon: Well, I can't deal with a number of people and they can't deal with me, don't consider me for projects they might once have. But I have something of a record. I am Oscar-nominated screenwriter. In Hollywood, that's not chopped liver. So people still recognize that I can get the job done. On a vastly more important level, Clint Eastwood is a conservative, but virtually everyone would kill to work with him.
The real bias is against people lower done the entertainment industry food chain - writers, directors and actors just starting out - they have a problem.
FP: So how much of the entertainment industry is leftist? How exactly does this phenomenon manifest itself?
Simon: I would say Hollywood is an 85-15 town, slanted to the Left. By comparison Washington breaks down as closer to fifty-fifty, depending on the administration. Now it's clearly slanted Left, but still not so much as here. This bias manifests itself most in the political movies made. There have been numerous anti-war films (uncommercial though they may have been) but virtually none saluting the brilliance of our troops in Iraq, which is manifest and would make a terrific movie.
FP: Is there anything you miss about being on the Left? Maybe the feelings of moral indignation and the belief in being superior to others? There’s a lot of gratification derived from seeing oneself as a social redeemer, yes?
Simon: Yes, there is that gratification, but I don't miss it. I'm not one to dwell on the past. One of the few Zen lessons I have learned in life is to stay in the now - in tennis, culture and politics. There's nothing you can do about the past - it's gone. Also, I have no regrets. As for indignation, these days I save it for the mainstream media.
FP: So are you still engaged in screen writing or writing a new novel?
Simon: Yes, I am. I love film and I love fiction. I have just completed a new script with my wife Sheryl Longin (co-author of Dick) that is a true story of the incarceration of an American in Poland in 1949 (Stalin times). These days I would not put a script in the hands of Hollywood, however. We will make ourselves to make sure the political content is not violated.
FP: You were part of the Civil Rights Movement. How do you feel about it now?
Simon: The Civil Rights Movement remains the shining glory of the Left. Who among us favors segregation, etc.? I am proud to have been part of it in my small way. The "identity politics" thing that arose out of it for some is another matter. That's reactionary, divisive and ultimately anti-civil rights.
FP: You were part of the anti-Vietnam War Movement. What is your current view of it? Do you see yourself as having been complicit in the bloodbath that followed the fall of Saigon? In the sense that the anti-war movement made it possible? Any guilt feelings?
Simon: I don't have guilt about my part in the anti-Vietnam War Movement, because, these days, I stand clear of guilt. It's not useful. But, in evaluating those days, I am becoming persuaded by the argument that we had actually won the war and the peace movement (and the media) lost it for us. Yes, I was on the wrong side. And, yes, the bloodbath was horrible. Living in Southern California, I have met many Vietnamese refugees. They are wonderful people. What a tragedy.
FP: Any recommendations for conservatives working in the film industry?
Simon: Recognize that there is going to be some discrimination against you, study it, try to understand it, but do not dwell on it. And above all don't make it an excuse. There are a million things against you in the wildly competitive entertainment industry and conservatism is only one of them. Don't be a "victocrat" as Larry Elder would say. Focus on your art and your craft. Meet people who share your views and collaborate with them. Making great films that honor your themes is the best revenge and ultimately the only solution.
Just do it!
FP: Roger Simon, thank you for joining us today. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
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