Hollywood Bohemia

Hollywood Obivlion

Rob Wagner’s Script, the Beverly Hills literary film magazine that earned a reputation during Hollywood’s Golden Era as the West Coast New Yorker, championed liberal causes that helped usher in collective bargaining for screenwriters, directors and technical movie crews.

The little magazine battled against government censorship, promoted Soviet filmmaking, and in its later years practiced advocacy journalism to stand against the internment of Japanese Americans and the attacks on Mexican Americans during the Zoot-Suit riots as World War II raged overseas.

This left-leaning literate magazine, published between 1929 and 1949, can trace its progressive roots to the height of the Red Scare of 1918 and 1919 when federal and state law authorities summoned Script’s founder, Rob Wagner, before a grand jury to answer charges of sedition.

Author Rob Leicester Wagner, the great-grandson of Script’s founder, examines in Hollywood Bohemia: The Roots of Progressive Politics in Rob Wagner’s Script the origins of magazine’s leftist politics. The publication’s founding on socialist principles took root in the Bohemian salons of New York City’s writers and artists, the art schools of Paris and Rob Wagner’s militant socialism as a pacifist and antiwar advocate during World War I.

The author writes of how Rob Wagner influenced artists like Charlie Chaplin, the actress Anna May Wong and film director Frank Capra. He examines Wagner’s experiences during the “anti-Red” hysteria during the first European war that gave birth to Script a decade later. Script ultimately attracted celebrated writers Dalton Trumbo, Edgar Rice Burroughs, William Saroyan and Ray Bradbury to write for free.

Hollywood Bohemia: The Roots of Progressive Politics in Rob Wagner’s Script also draws upon declassified Justice Department investigative files as sources. The book is richly illustrated with photographs, including previously unpublished images of Wagner with Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, Frank Capra and other film artists of the day.

Hollywood Bohemia will be published July 1, 2016, and can be pre-ordered at:

Janaway Publishing, Inc. 

732 Kelsey Ct.

Santa Maria, California 93454

Phone (805) 925-1038

Fax (805) 925-5228

Email: service@JanawayGenealogy.com

Contact the author at: leicester17@gmail.com



Like many investigations into alleged disloyalty, betrayal played a part. The probe of Wagner’s antiwar and alleged pro‐German activities was partially based on evidence provided by some of Wagner’s friends. Nora Sterry, an elementary school principal, reported to agents that she attended a party at Wagner’s home where she met “some very queer people” discussing the European war. Wagner, she said, argued that he was a “pacifist,” and did not believe in war. Agents made much of Sterry’s report, describing Wagner’s gatherings as an anti‐government “secret society.” Sterry’s sister, Ruth, a prominent suffragette, told agents that Wagner told her sister that if Germany invaded the US, then Americans should “submit” to occupation. Wagner’s artist friend Elmer Watchtel provided agents with Wagner’s letters in which he said the US has no moral standing to criticize Germany given America’s history of lynching blacks in the South.58

From early 1918 until the end of 1919, the War Department’s Military Intelligence Branch conducted its probe. Agents placed Wagner under twenty‐hour surveillance during the Liberty Bond tour. Capt. Harry A. Taylor at the War Department described him as “a dangerous man.” During the tour, agents considered recruiting Douglas Fairbanks to inform on Wagner, although there is no documentation the actor agreed to the proposal. During the tour agents searched every hotel room Wagner occupied. 59

In one incident, while Wagner stayed at the Grunewald Hotel in New Orleans, agents recruited twenty‐four‐year‐old Bella Hans, the daughter of a German immigrant, to seduce Wagner in an effort to gain access to his personal diaries. The plan was never executed, but agents eventually stole his diary while he was en route to Los Angeles. The diary proved a disappointment as it never mentioned his views on Germany. 60

Although the surveillance provided no evidence of German espionage, information from the Sterry sisters, Watchtel, the Charles Ashleigh prison correspondence and Wagner’s support of Prynce Hopkins made Wagner a perfect target for prosecution — successful or not — in an effort to send a message to other antiwar activists.