80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

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The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.

In the always-sketchy business of gleaning dollars from dictators, the celebs who have performed for Moammar Gadhafi have nothing on Hal Roach: In 1937, the Laurel & Hardy and Our Gang producer worked to partner with Benito Mussolini at his newly opened Cinecitta studio in Rome. The plan was for Il Duce to put up $5 million ($74 million today) to fund RAM, as in Roach and Mussolini Films. The 12-film slate would begin with an adaptation of Rigoletto, with Roach agreeing to produce no other pictures for three years. To get things started, Mussolini had his son Vittorio visit Hollywood, where he toured MGM and celebrated his 21st birthday with a black-tie dinner on Roach’s tented tennis court with 300 guests including Darryl F. Zanuck, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, Walt Disney, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. But difficulties loomed. Roach, who died in 1992, is quoted in the labor history Class Struggles in Hollywood saying, “Jewish people in the picture business didn’t like it.” That’s an understatement. Among the problems were Mussolini’s anti-Semitic campaigns and Vittorio having been a bomber pilot on the Hitler-supported Franco side in the Spanish Civil War. Loews chairman Nicholas Schenck was so upset he canceled Roach’s MGM deal. The way The Hollywood Reporter phrased RAM Films’ demise was, “The violent protest against the deal and the setup by organizations opposed to Fascism and Nazism made the whole thing a bit too perilous for Roach.”  

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