A KKK Member or Wronged Victim of Cancel Culture? – The Hollywood Reporter


Ask classic-film followers how they really feel in regards to the actor Fredric March — star of legendary motion pictures together with Inherit the Wind, The Best Years of Our Lives and the 1937 model of A Star Is Born — and likelihood is that query will likely be answered with typically effusive reward for the Academy Award-winning actor and his work each onscreen and off.

That’s why twin selections lately to take away March’s identify from a pair of performing-arts venues at two campuses of the University of Wisconsin — March’s alma mater — have drawn confusion, frustration and anger from some movie followers, the Hollywood neighborhood and activists alike.

Among these weighing in on the controversy: Turner Classic Movies primetime host Ben Mankiewicz, who will deal with the problem throughout a tribute to the actor on Friday, Sept. 30, marking the one hundred and twenty fifth anniversary of March’s start. “To me, two actors from Hollywood’s golden age really stand in a tier above the rest, and that’s Spencer Tracy and Fredric March — both, oddly, from Wisconsin,” Mankiewicz says. “There’s an authentic humanity to every performance they deliver. Fredric March had a unique ability to embody a character. So yes, when I heard this news, my gut reaction was, ‘Wow, you’re kidding me. No way. How could Fredric March have been in the Klan?’” Mankiewicz addresses the controversy in an unique TCM video clip seen beneath.

Few phrases or organizations are extra incendiary or draw extra horror when analyzing the historical past of American tradition than the Ku Klux Klan, but this accusation was first leveled at March, posthumously, in 2017: that in a short interval whereas he attended the University of Wisconsin, he was a member of that group. The reality, nonetheless, requires events to dig deeper than a tweet or a weblog publish.

What are the info behind the accusation? In 1919, March, then a senior on the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, accepted an invite to affix an interfraternity honor society that shared a reputation with the Ku Klux Klan, although the group inviting March had nothing to do with the KKK because it’s identified at this time. It’s unclear why the honour society selected that exact identify, however analysis carried out by the Wisconsin Historical Society didn’t reveal any connections between that group and the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the group chargeable for lynchings and different hate-fueled actions all through the American South. Indeed, when the latter group arrived on campus in 1922 with the intent of recruiting members, the UW-Madison honor society rapidly modified its identify to keep away from any affiliation. George Gonis, a Milwaukee-based freelance journalist and public historian, unearthed analysis from the then-president of the honour society, who acknowledged that “so many people confused it with the name of the non-collegiate secret organization of the same name.” By early 1923, the honour society modified its identify to Tumas, which might be derived from a number of meanings, together with the identify Thomas and, merely, “truth.” March, in the meantime, had graduated in June 1920, and after a short stint in banking, headed to Broadway to forge his profession as an actor. Few data exist of him participating in any of the on-campus honor society’s actions — apart from a yearbook {photograph} that will acquire consideration in 2017.

The confusion between the 2 organizations might be understood when one considers how slowly info traveled in early twentieth century rural America, Mankiewicz says. “I think we all forget how hard it was to access information in the 1920s,” he factors out. “These were the days when news was communicated via telegraph. It’s possible that a bunch of 18-year-old kids in Wisconsin had no idea what that name meant in another part of the country. But the evidence is clear that, once they found out, they changed the name [of their group] because they didn’t want anything to do with it.”

UW college students perusing archived yearbooks in 2017, nonetheless, occurred upon that 1920 picture captioned with the Ku Klux Klan identify, a picture that included a tuxedo-wearing March, whose high-wattage popularity as a Tony- and Oscar-winning actor had led to the college’s resolution to call theaters after him on each the Madison and Oshkosh campuses. Upon discovery of the picture, protests, letters and hearings rapidly ensued, and in 2018, the choice was made by the student-majority governing board to strip the actor’s identify from the Fredric March Play Circle Theater in Madison. In 2020, the identical motion was taken with the Oshkosh campus theater.

One of March’s grandsons has stated that, earlier than the contretemps, the actor’s surviving household had deliberate to donate his two greatest actor Oscar statuettes, gained for 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and 1946’s The Best Years of Our Lives, to the college, however not plan to take action. “They certainly showed us that they don’t deserve them,” wrote Michael March Fantacci in an e mail to Gonis. Added Fantacci, “It would have been more educational … to research my grandfather’s life than to cast wholesale judgment based on a limited affiliation. When individuals fall into this trap, it can be understood. When an educational institution does it, it’s more difficult to condone.”

The TCM tribute airing on Sept. 30 will embrace three of March’s movies: 1933’s Pre-Code basic Design for Living, 1941’s So Ends Our Night (seen for the primary time that night on the community) and 1960’s Inherit the Wind, by which March and Tracy co-starred. Mankiewicz says he’ll talk about the controversy through the movies’ intros and outros.

“The big challenge is time,” he notes of the introductions to the basic movies proven on TCM. “You talk for four minutes, and people are like, ‘C’mon, man, start the movie.’ But it’s a complicated case that can’t be explained quickly. A mistake was made, but I want to be sympathetic to the students, whose hearts and frustration were in the right place, while getting the point across about the facts — and without giving people an entire history lesson in the limited time we have.”

The actor in The Best Years of Our Lives with Myrna Loy and in A Star Is Born with Janet Gaynor

Courtesy Everett Collection (2)

Gonis is chief among the many group of the actor’s followers who’re working to persuade the college to reverse its selections. “Fredric March and I share the same alma mater, plus my parents were both huge movie buffs who were also active in the civil rights movement, so I grew up not only knowing who Fredric March was, but also knowing he really was one of the good guys in Hollywood,” Gonis says. “But every Media report continued to quote people who hadn’t done any research. Meanwhile, within five to 10 minutes at the library, I was able to source all this material about his civil rights history.”

Born on Aug. 31, 1897, March, by all accounts, was enthusiastic about social activism all through his life; the actor died on April 14, 1975, on the age of 77. March took half in NAACP actions for greater than three a long time, delivering the keynote deal with at that group’s tenth anniversary celebration of Brown v. Board of Education in 1964, whereas as a teen, he gave speeches condemning white supremacy. “Historians have identified three speeches that we know March selected and delivered as a youth, all three devoted to human freedom and liberty,” Gonis explains. “Two of the speeches, ‘Invective Against Corry’ and ‘Spartacus to the Gladiators,’ are confirmed by eyewitnesses, newspaper accounts, March himself and [Wisconsin-state] entry papers for the state-run annual high school oratory competitions.” During his Hollywood profession, March was additionally entrance and heart when members of the movie trade protested the House Un-American Activities Committee, which in its early years focused actors that included March, Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn.

March additionally might be present in a Feb. 14, 1943, picture alongside actor Canada Lee, taken throughout a WOR radio program highlighting “Race-Relations Sunday.” The father of actor and filmmaker Carl Lee, Canada Lee was knowledgeable boxer and actor maybe greatest identified for his position as Joe in Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat. “When I first read about this, I knew there was something incongruous about the whole narration,” says actor Glynn Turman, whose work consists of roles in Super 8 and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. “I knew Mr. Lee; he and my mother were friends. I grew up in Greenwich Village, and my mother’s friends were an eclectic group of progressive people. I know if Mr. March was a friend of Mr. Lee’s, then he couldn’t have done what he’s accused of doing. This was a rush to judgment.”

Karen Kramer, a producer and spouse of the late director Stanley Kramer (who produced So Ends Our Night and directed Inherit the Wind), agrees. “When George called me about what had been done to Fredric March, I was absolutely gobsmacked, because in our industry, it’s extremely well known that he was a fierce fighter for civil rights,” she says. “My first concern was whether the parties who accused him had done all their due diligence; had they looked at all the facts? You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to ignore the facts.”

Gonis and Kramer banded collectively to ask influential members of the Hollywood neighborhood to signal a letter advocating for the choice to take away March’s identify from each theaters to be reversed. That letter, despatched in September 2021, included 30 signatures from Louis Gossett, Jr., the late Ed Asner, Turman and others. “Rush to judgment is never the right way to go, especially if someone is not around to defend themselves,” Turman says. “We’re doing a lot of this cancel culture lately, and it’s a slippery slope that has to be navigated carefully. I’m in favor of using good judgment and some sort of vision to give you clarity and Help you know where you stand.” (In a pleasant bit of symmetry, the 75-year-old Turman’s subsequent position is in Rustin, about homosexual civil rights chief Bayard Rustin, who organized the 1963 March on Washington. The movie, from Higher Ground Productions, based by former president and first girl Barack and Michelle Obama, is because of premiere on Netflix in 2023 and co-stars Turman as Asa Philip Randolph, a labor unionist and civil rights activist.)

A follow-up letter, bringing the entire signatories to 54 and as soon as once more asking the faculty to rethink its resolution, was despatched to the University of Wisconsin final week. That letter’s signatures embrace movie critic Leonard Maltin, actors Mike Farrell and Shelley Fabares, and nationwide NAACP board member Wendell J. Harris Sr. A selection of latest editorials, together with from John McWhorter at The New York Times, additionally help a renewed dialog in regards to the resolution. But for now, March’s identify is not going to be restored to UW’s theaters. “There are no plans for the institution to revisit the issue,” John Lucas, a college spokesperson, instructed The Hollywood Reporter in an Aug. 22 e mail. “In lieu of the theater naming, Mr. March is now included in a historic storytelling display on the same floor as the Play Circle as recognition of his role in our university’s history.”

March’s popularity, nonetheless, amongst ladies in Hollywood was not sterling. According to an L.A. Weekly story, each Carole Lombard and Claudette Colbert had been the topics of his undesirable advances.

Both Gonis and Kramer say they’ll proceed their efforts to revive March’s identify and popularity. “If Fredric March’s name was so tainted, then why is he part of the storytelling display?” Gonis wonders.

“For Stanley’s whole life and career, in films like The Defiant Ones and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, he fought every issue we would deny ourselves to look at, including racism and [bans on] interracial marriage,” provides Karen Kramer. “Hopefully, my contribution is to Help set the record straight. I’m 88 years old, and I’ve lived a long, wonderful life, but I’m not done fighting.”

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