Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Jocelyn Szczepaniak-Gillece, an associate professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. She is the author of The Optical Vacuum: Spectatorship and Modernized American Theater Architecture (Oxford University Press, 2018) and the co-editor of Ends of Cinema (University of Minnesota Press, 2020).
In my earlier post, I told the story of To the Ends of the Earth, a docufiction hybrid about drug smuggling made with the assistance of Harry Anslinger. That movie’s production history includes Columbia Pictures and director Robert Stevenson, but the real engine behind the film was Jay Richard Kennedy, the credited Associate Producer. Born Samuel Solomonick, Kennedy was one of the twentieth century’s strangest and least-known charlatans. His bizarre career encompassed all manner of cultural phenomena: Hollywood, psychotherapy, drug and alcohol addictions, the Age of Aquarius, and, eventually, self-help cults. Like most self-aggrandizing fabricators, he kept focus on a single goal: the best way to manipulate American minds.
After his collaboration with Anslinger, Kennedy realized that mind control was not only possible with drugs and media. Another option was the talking cure. Kennedy’s wife, Dr. Janet Alterman Kennedy, was licensed in psychotherapy, and, like many therapists of her moment, Dr. Kennedy used psychodynamics, in which the interactions of the mind’s deepest energies were supposed to shape both the patient’s consciousness and reactions to other people. Kennedy found this irresistible. In 1949, a year after the release of To the Ends of the Earth, Kennedy wrote an article for the The Screenwriter arguing that the twentieth century’s two most important developments in constructive science and art were psychodynamics and film. Both, he wrote, served the “maximum function of revealing man to himself” .
These sentiments aptly summarized the later thrust of his life: that media and psychology were two sides of an instrument that ultimately promised control over others. As he had learned from Anslinger, mass media—like narcotics—were useful for tightening a grip on power. But without strict standards for both drugs and media, he believed, everyday Americans would become addicts and normal spectators would be transformed into madmen. Healing American society required specific approaches to addiction, governance, and media, and Kennedy knew the cure.