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The Boss

The Boss(1956)

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The film opens with the following written prologue: "The boss is a creature of no political party. He appears in the wake of public apathy fostering crime and corruption. Years ago an outraged citizenry arose against him. Only you, a vigilant people, can combat the menace of a boss." Although Ben L. Perry was credited onscreen and in reviews with the original story and screenplay, according to an August 2000 Hollywood Reporter news item, Perry was a front for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo. Trumbo's writing credit was officially restored by the WGA in August 2000.
       According to copyright records, noted Washington political columnist Drew Pearson narrated part of the film's theatrical trailer, stating: "This is Drew Pearson speaking: The Boss is celluloid dynamite. Powerful interests, whose names would amaze you, have tried to prevent you from seeing it. I helped expose the story upon which it is based-I know this corruption did take place. I predict this picture will create the year's biggest screen sensation."
       As noted in the Variety review, the character portrayed by John Payne, "Matt Brady," was a "thinly veiled" version of Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast (1872-1945). Pendergast was one of the most powerful political bosses in the United States. Just as dramatized in the film, Pendergast assumed leadership of the local political scene when his older brother died. A high stakes gambler, Pendergast was sent to prison for fifteen months after not paying taxes on a bribe received to cancel his gambling debts. After his time in prison, Pendergast retired and lived in obscurity until his death a few years later.
       "Ernie Jackson," the character portrayed by Joe Flynn, was a fictionalized representation of President Harry S. Truman, who was backed by Pendergast for Congress in 1934. Although a August 2, 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item reported that, at the request of United Artists, producers Frank and Walter Seltzer were eliminating all scenes featuring the character, those scenes were included in the print viewed and were mentioned by most reviewers. Flynn wore glasses and a bowtie, which enhanced his resemblance to Truman. It is possible that some of the film's dialogue, which mentioned Jackson's honesty and refusal to bend to pressure from Brady, were intended to deflect criticism that the film showed the former president in a bad light through his association with the big-city boss.
       Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the film was shot on a closed set at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios. Other news items in mid to late August 1956 noted that Mayor Rowe Bartle of Kansas City refused to approve a benefit premiere of The Boss in his city. The mayor was quoted as saying that the film "depicts a not too proud area of the city." The article noted the Seltzers' contention that "bossism" should be exposed and that the general public should be able to decide what they want to see. Other news items noted that the mayor of Omaha, NE, where the film first opened, tried unsuccessfully to make the manager of the local theater cancel the screening of The Boss. Subsequent news items noted that the film did very well at the box office at its Omaha and Des Moines openings.
       The Boss marked the motion picture debut of Gloria McGhee, who had previously acted only on television. The film also marked the final performance of actor John Mansfield, who portrayed "Lazetti." Mansfield, who was thirty-seven, died of a heart attack on September 17, 1956. According to a Daily Variety news item, The Boss was the first production manager credit for Carrol Sax, who had been studio manager at Warner Bros. for twenty years, since moving to Selzter Films. Modern sources include the following cast members: Stuart Holmes, Frank McGrath, Fred Aldrich, Gertrude Astor, James Back, Jack Chefe, Sol Gorss, Tom Greenway, Maurice Manson, Harold Miller, Dorothy Neumann, James Nolan, Stafford Repp, John Rogers, Jack Stoney, Brick Sullivan and Charles Sullivan.