Thomas Doherty is Professor of American Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, where he teaches courses in media and cultural history. He holds the Fulbright Distinguished Research Fellowship at the RIAS during the Fall of 2018.
"I am delighted—and grateful—to be a Fulbright scholar at the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies in the charming city of Middelburg, an MGM set designer’s ideal of a colorful Dutch locale. Also, this is the first time I have ever occupied an office in a medieval abbey.
By way of introduction, I am a cultural historian with a special interest in Hollywood cinema. My usual day job is as a professor of American Studies at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts, known as the Watch City because of its famous timepiece factory. I happen to live in Salem, Massachusetts, known as the Witch City, due to a bit of upset in 1692, so, yes, my commute is from the Witch City to the Watch City.
My scholarships tends to focus on the relationship of Hollywood cinema and American culture. My most recent book is Show Trial: Hollywood, HUAC, and the Birth of the Blacklist (Columbia University Press, 2018). Among my other books are Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (Columbia University Press, 2013) and Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration (Columbia University Press, 2007). I am also an associate editor for the film magazine Cineaste and film review editor for the Journal of American History.
My project for the Roosevelt Institute for American Studies is my current book-in-progress: a study of the media coverage of the 1932 kidnap-murder of the twenty-month-old baby of the most admired man in America, Charles Lindbergh, and the murder trial of the accused perpetrator, Bruno Richard Hauptmann. The book is titled Little Lindy Is Kidnapped: How the Crime of the Century Shaped the Modern Media.
The kidnap-murder of the Lindbergh baby in 1932 and the trial of Bruno Richard Hauptmann in 1935 was the most widely publicized and influential criminal case of the 20th century. Its influence on law enforcement, legal practice, and media protocols was far more significant than its only arguable competition for culture-wide impact, that other crime of the century, the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ron Brown in 1994 and the trial of O.J. Simpson in 1995.
The Lindbergh case, crime and trial, has a special if overlooked nexus with the arc of the Roosevelt administration in the 1930s. As Governor of New York in 1932, FDR took a personal interest in the case, ordering all state law enforcement to “devote all necessary efforts” to finding the Lindbergh baby and, later, the baby’s killer. As the case unfolded, the manifest incompetence of the New Jersey State police became yet another Great Depression example of the impotence of local and state power—and another powerful argument to expand the purview of federal authority. Indeed the most famous and long lived of all the New Deal “alphabet agencies”—the FBI--first established its bona fides and high profile expertise with its work in the Lindberg case.
Little Lindy Is Kidnapped will not be a judicial or legal study, still less an attempt to exonerate or convict Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a perennial cause célèbre for conspiracy theorists. It will be a study of the America media in the first throes of electronic age journalism and one of its signature legacies: how the colorful local lawman was supplanted by the buttoned-down bureaucrats of the FBI."