The Irish success in Hollywood during and after the Depression era played a major part in ending the anti-Irish and anti-Catholic ethos in America writer Joe Queenan has stated.
Writing in the Guardian newspaper Queenan said “There can be no denying that the overnight Irish-American takeover of the film industry softened American attitudes towards immigrants, ultimately putting an end to the ferocious anti-Irish, anti-Catholic animus that was a staple of American life well into the 1950s.
"If we are Irish-American, as I am, it is incumbent upon us to admire all our Irish forebears who made such an impact on motion pictures during the Depression: Jimmy Cagney, Maureen O'Hara, Spencer Tracy, Pat O'Brien, Maureen O'Sullivan, Gene Kelly, Tyrone Power and Bing Crosby.”
Queenan quotes author Christopher Shannon who wrote in his book “Bowery to Broadway: The American Irish in Classic American Cinema” that Americans who rejected Irish Catholics in politics," observes Shannon, "embraced them in culture." In general Queenan says this took the form of the gangster movie.
Queenan writes that the central premise of the Shannon book is that Depression-era movies helped persuade Americans to stop despising Irish immigrants.
“According to Shannon, this shift came about not because of the elfin charm or winning smiles of the Irish, but because the films provided Americans with an alternative vision of society, where a sense of belonging to an urban village triumphed over the harsh, Darwinian, every-man-for-himself ethos that had dominated the US since its inception. In all likelihood, the moviegoing public did not realise this at the time.”
Queenan says “there are a lot of Irish-American actors he likes (Sean Penn, Mickey Rourke, Alec Baldwin, Casey Affleck, Bill Murray) and a lot I don't (Ryan O'Neal, Rosie O'Donnell, Ed Burns, Ben Affleck, all the other Baldwins).
“And there are even more I never even think of in ethnic terms (John C Reilly, Mia Farrow, Tina Fey, Dakota Fanning, Chris O'Donnell, Courtney Cox, Brendan Fraser).
Queenan says the most notable aspect of the new generation of Irish gangster films such as “The Departed” is their near-total lack of ethnic authenticity.
“The Coen brothers and Martin Scorsese are neither Irish, nor Irish-American. The same is true of Paul Newman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Tom Hanks and Gary Oldman; in State of Grace, Gary Oldman makes one of the most believable Irish-American thugs ever. These movies succeed or fail because they are good movies or bad movies, not because of their ethnic component, “ he writes