We have written about film studies and English professors who come up with novel theories about cinematic masterpieces without bothering to check the archived papers of the directors, writers and producers of those films to see if their hypotheses were the filmmakers’ original intentions. For example, the English professor at Penn could have checked the letters of the film’s creator that are stored at BYU before theorizing that King Kong was an allegory for miscegenation.
The 1933 film’s producer clearly stated that the movie’s scenes in which the gorilla menaces the heroine had no sexual overtones whatsoever, let alone racial ones. UCLA has taken this trend a step further: They ran a seminar on a late radio/early TV show’s political implications without taking the trouble to ask the show’s then-still living creator if there were any.
The Life of Riley chronicled the misadventures of lovable but blundering blue collar patriarch Chester A Riley and made famous his catchphrase, “What a revoltin’ development this is.” Riley’s creator, screenwriter and director Irving Brecher, recorded a series of interviews with his biographer—Hank Rosenfeld—before passing away last November at age 94.
“Irv, did you know there was a seminar at UCLA called, ‘The Life of Riley as Socialist Dialectic’?,” Rosenfeld asked Brecher. “No,” he answered.
“Perhaps because Riley spent ten years at Stevenson Aircraft?,” Rosenfeld offered. “The show started during the war so he was working on airplanes,” Brecher explained.
“A working-class riveter,” Rosenfeld said. “That seminar seems to imply that you were really writing about class struggle here.”
“Huh?,” Brecher said. It turned out that Brecher did not say this because he was hard of hearing.
“Riley’s daughter Babs is a major in Sociology,” Rosenfeld offers. “Babs was a sophomore at UCLA,” Brecher informs him.
“And Riley is always talking about quote, ‘marrying her off to one of those Pasadena socialists,’” Rosenfeld says. “He said ‘some Pasadena socialouse!” Brecher corrects him.
Brecher’s protagonist was given to many maloprops. “Riley was the funny underdog,” Brecher said.
It should be noted that neither author nor subject were particularly right-wing. “Calling him a liberal is an understatement,” Rosenfeld writes of Brecher.
“I join my fellow citizens in wishing Dick Cheney good health,” Brecher wrote in a letter to the editor of the LA Times when the then-vice-president had a stroke. “If anything happens to him, George Bush would become president.”
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.