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CRITIC AT LARGE

When Time Focused On Hollywood

February 16, 1985|CHARLES CHAMPLIN | Times Arts Editor

The foyer of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences building in Beverly Hills is currently filled with Time magazine covers, spilling over to the second-floor corridor outside the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The show, called "Time Covers Hollywood 1923-1985," is by any standard a Debrett's of the town's aristocracy, its on-camera peerage, from Charlie Chaplin (July 6, 1925), the first indubitable movie star to make the cover, to Shirley MacLaine (May 14, 1984).

(Ethel Barrymore made it a few months earlier than Chaplin, but as a stage person still willing to tour the provinces. Since MacLaine, there have been covers on director David Lean of "A Passage to India" and Nancy Reagan, in what with some understatement can be called another connection.)

The magazine gave the show a bubbly send-off Thursday night at a packed, starry party, with several cover persons, secure enough not to wince at the passage of years that their portraits reveal, turned out--among them Greer Garson and Gregory Peck, both undiminished in their royal presences.

It's indeed a memory-jogging tour of the major segment of film history, and to give memory a useful assist there are very readable title cards, written by senior editor Stefan Kanfer, who wrote a first-rate history of blacklisting, "Journal of the Plague Years."

The cover art reveals the march of history in its own way, from elegant sketches by S. J. Woolf, who was the principal New York Times entertainment artist in pre-Al Hirschfeld days, to a collage of Henry, Jane and Peter Fonda by Andy Warhol, a "Bonnie and Clyde" montage by Robert Rauschenberg and a drawing of Jeanne Moreau by Rufino Tamayo.

The nearly 200 covers (which at that are a sampling, not the complete collection of Time's Hollywood takeouts) attest, with some irony, the ongoing allure of the movies. Movie covers almost always sell well on newsstands (cherished by publishers as an index of a magazine's vitality). The "Jaws" and "King Kong" covers look less like serious reportage than attempts to hitchhike on the film promotions.

While there are trend stories here and there (a lovely Artzybasheff illustration for 3-D movies, a black-and-white still for a 1963 story on foreign films), the covers are inadvertently revealing in another way. They reflect the tradition, not confined to Time, of regarding entertainment coverage only as an entertainment for the readers; running barefoot through the fun and games, helping to create the glamour mystiques, but ignoring the more significant power figures, crises and portents in either film or television.

As anyone knows who worked in the West for a national magazine, it was for years hell's own to get California, Los Angeles or Hollywood taken seriously. The situation began to change in the '60s, when it was no longer possible to ignore the state's political and economic clout.

Yet, reading the cover art as an index to Hollywood history, it seems significant that Adolph Zukor (1929), Darryl F. Zanuck (1950) and Walt Disney (1954), alone among the moguls, are included in the show. No Thalberg, no Cohn, no Mayer, no Goldwyn, no Wasserman, although memory says that one or more of these founding, shaping fathers must have been covered.

The included writers (William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Sidney Howard) were treated only incidentally as film contributors. Cecil B. De Mille is there, and Orson Welles (but as a 1938 wonder child), Frank Capra, Jack Webb, Ingmar Bergman, David Lean and George Lucas, but it's a thin population, particularly for an Academy display. Thornton, not Billy, represents the Wilders; no Hitchcock, Wyler, Stevens, Ford. Some, maybe all, made the cover. It just seems a telling presumption by the editors about audience interest, and the lack of it, not to have included them.

It seems, in fact, an echo of the Eastern mind-set that made it so difficult to convince editors that there was anything west of Hoboken except nut burgers, bikinis and mendacious agents.

There were always glimmerings of the non-Gee Whiz Hollywood. The Jack Webb cover, for example, included a wonderful prose poem on the clawing struggle to succeed in a tough town.

Now Time and Newsweek are more inclined to acknowledge the whole apparatus behind the on-camera performers. It's not a moment too soon. College courses in film appreciation, let alone film schools, have been generating a newly hip and very large population of post-fan-mag movie watchers, and the daily press, as well as television itself, takes the movies and television very intelligently and knowledgeably, expanding the vocabulary well beyond Gee Whiz.

The covers, in a way, define a forward challenge.

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