Cameron Hawley — born September 19, 1905 — was an American fiction writer. Although he published only a few books, two of them were turned into films: Cash McCall and Executive Suite. Both films are unusual for their Randian tone and strongly pro-capitalism character. Cash McCall, the better of the two, took the top prize of Best Libertarian Picture at the First International Libertarian Film Festival.
In 1954, Hawley’s book Executive Suite was released as a film, and with an all star cast: William Holden, June Allyson, and Barbara Stanwyck.
Executive Suite opens with the sudden death of a furniture company’s president. His unexpected demise creates a power vacuum within the company’s management. The firm’s head accountant, a calculating, politically astute man, moves quickly to fill the void. But his policy of making short-term profits at the expense of the company’s long-term prospects, and his general lack of vision, have already been causing damage.
Among the few who understand this is a research scientist, who enters the fray to oppose him. In the scientist’s decisive speech at the end of the film, he argues, as Rand would, that people are not motivated simply by money but by pride; that both money and pride are the product of genuine accomplishment; and that to try to take short cuts to money (by producing shoddy merchandise, as had been advocated by the head accountant) would in the end produce neither the pride needed to motivate the company’s workers nor maximum profitability.
The implied maxim — that doing your best is the correct path to self-benefit — will appeal to libertarians, and amounts to the moral flip side of Adam Smith’s observation that people intending only their own self-interest tend to benefit others “as though led by an invisible hand.”
This was followed five years later with Cash McCall, probably one of the most Randian films ever made and a film that remains popular with libertarians now more than half a century later. It’s a genuine capitalist morality story and a pointed attack on envy. The film stars James Garner and Natalie Wood.
The hero here is Cash McCall, an ingenious businessman who creates value by buying and reorganizing troubled companies. His success has made him the object of envy, and his willingness to sometimes shut down and liquidate hopelessly unprofitable firms, with all the attendant social costs, has made him the object of hate. But he makes no apologies, frequently saying things like: “I don’t belong in the ‘better circles.’ I’m a thoroughly vulgar character. I enjoy making money.”
Most of the story surrounds McCall’s purchase of a small, troubled plastics molding company. McCall quickly solves the company’s problems and is set to reap the associated gain. News of the quick profit gets back to the company’s former owner, Grant Austen, who in turn feels McCall cheated him by paying him less than his company was really worth, and who therefore threatens to sue. (Woven into all this is a secondary story of a romance between McCall and Austen’s daughter.) McCall is a very ethical person and this turns out to be decisive in his ultimate triumph, a resolution in which all ends well with everyone making lots of money.
Cameron Hawley died in 1969, at age 64. Hawley was unusual for a writer in that he worked in business for decades before writing about business. He was writing what he knew, unlike so many who write about business what they imagine. The Atlas Society wrote a very thorough tribute to him: “Cameron Hawley made the life-and-death drama of business palpable. Sharing the fears, frustrations, and achievements of executives and factory workers alike, readers come away from his works experiencing the importance and romance of business.” The same could be said of his two films recommended above.