Some months ago, I read and enjoyed Michael Sragow’s fine Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master. It’s clear from the book that, as a director, Fleming was the last of a dying breed — a gentleman in Hollywood and, of course, a truly great director, responsible for such classics as Red Dust, Gone With the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz.
What I also read and enjoyed very much this morning was Sragow’s description of his run-in with NPR (appearing as part of a larger article about Fleming’s ability to avoid the limelight, even as his stars and his movies shown ever brighter):
OVER a year ago a producer for National Public Radio’s “Fresh Air” interviewed me about whether my book, “Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master,” would be worth the host Terry Gross’s time. The result was a mildly farcical call and response. Fleming, I said, molded as many great stars as any director in Hollywood, including Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland and Jean Harlow. The producer responded, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?” I explained that he was not a self-promoter, hired no publicist and left no diaries or journals. But he did direct pictures that defined movies for generations of Americans, smash hits like “Gone With the Wind,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Captains Courageous” and “A Guy Named Joe.”
The producer repeated, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?” I added that he died young, at 59, in 1949. Not only that, his best director friends, Howard Hawks and King Vidor, and respected colleagues, like David O. Selznick, outlived him and later took much of the credit for his work.
Again the producer asked, “Then why haven’t I heard of him?”
I said that’s why I wrote the book.
The problem wasn’t simply the producer’s argumentum ad ignorantiam. It’s also the persistence of conventional wisdom.
NPR — paid for in significant part by taxpayers, ardently liberal in its outlook, and guided by idiots.
Will you all join me in remembering this wonderful phrase — argumentum ad ignorantiam — the next time you read the newspaper or listen to a TV show?