Conrad Hilton, or "Connie" as Don Draper calls him on Mad Men, was passionate about building hotels and securing America against the dual threats of atheism and communism. It was a patriotic-religious mix he shared with millions of Americans. Yet few had the influence or power of a Conrad Hilton.
I wasn't thinking about Hilton, his faith, or his political ideals when I was browsing Life magazine on Google books at the Norwegian National Library this last weekend. I was looking for adverts for a lecture I'll be giving over here called "Advertising the American Dream."
Still, when I saw the Hilton ad, posted here, Life (July 7, 1952), I was taken back. What's going on here with "America on Its Knees"? Uncle Sam looks strangely like Lincoln, had Lincoln not been shot, and lived to be 70, and taken on the role of Uncle Sam. Why the God-and-country-prayer as an advertisement for hotels? People like patriotism and prayer, I guess.
Annabel Jane Wharton writes of Hilton's specific anticommie views and his propensity for civil religion adverts in her Building the Cold War: Hilton International Hotels and Modern Architecture (University of Chicago Press, 2006). Says Wharton:
Hilton's belief that religious faith was critical in the battle against communism was also, quite literally, publicized. In 1956, an article in the trade magazine Sales Management: The Magazine of Marketing, noted 'The recent rise of Hilton International has coincided with Conrad Hilton's personal fight against Communism . . .' Indeed, Conrad Hilton regularly substituted prayers for advertisements. . . . Hilton was a passionate Catholic. He also had respect for other religions, working closely with Jews and Muslims. He abominated atheists and demonized communists . . . . [He] believed his hotels made a significant contribution to America's struggle against communism in the cold war (139-140).
So, there you have it. Knowing not too much about high-profile anticommunists (and what little I know coming from books on postwar conservatism and some research on the Midwest), I'm curious about how others might have used public venues to preach the anticommunist gospel. As Grant Wacker notes, Billy Graham was an intense holy cold warrior in his early career. The National Association of Manufacturers had its share of ardent anticommunists, one in particular who launched the John Birch Society. Where else did anticommunism and American Christianity link up?