The Hollywood Blacklist
On November 25 1947, ten scriptors as well as directors were fired from Hollywood. They had declined to testify to the body (HUAC). They were given the name Hollywood Ten. (DICK 1). It was the first Hollywood blacklist. The list contained names of actors, directors, scriptwriters, musicians and any other person in the leisure industry. Anyone on it would be fired from the field, with no hope of working there again. The HUAC had taken this step to eradicate communists or communist-sympathizers from the industry. It did not matter whether one was guilty. If they suspected, then they blacklisted. Those who refused to assist or give names where treated the same way.
During the 1930s, two major strikes were experienced in the film business. The Screen Writers Guild did not take it well. The HUAC began looking for a connection between The American Communist Party and Hollywood. In 1938, HUAC claimed that communism was rampant in Hollywood. The party had 50,000 members during the war. However, as the war ended, tables turned. Communism rapidly became a focus of American hatred and fears.
HUAC interviewed Roy Brewer of the Motion Picture Industry Council. They were able to get 13 names from him. These, he claimed, were said to be involved in communist activities. The ten notable names are Dalton Trumbo Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr., Edward Dmytryk, Alvah Bessie and John Howard Lawson (DICK 3). These were the Hollywood Ten. They refused to give statements and answer the questions claiming the constitution granted them the right to refuse and that the investigations by the committee were unconstitutional. The HUAC and the courts did not agree. They served between six months to a year in prison. They were convicted of ‘contempt of congress’.
They started serving their time in 1950. However, in September of the same year, director Edward Dmytryk confessed in public to being a Communist. He was willing to give out evidence against people he knew who were members, as well. He gave a statement to the HUAC the following year, describing his membership, albeit brief, in the party. He also gave out names. This move granted him freedom from jail. His name was removed from the blacklist, his career revived, and he went on to make films, but at a price. His colleagues never forgave him for taking the easy way. His job steadily diminished, as they did not want to work with him. He got himself out of the industry and took to teaching.
A founder of the neofascist American First Party gave a speech on the matter terming those in the entertainment industry as (Dick 13). It was on behalf of the executives. On it, he declared that, the Hollywood 10 would be fired devoid of pay and further employment opportunities until they had ‘purged themselves of contempt’ and declared they no longer practiced Communism. This was the Waldorf Statement (Dick 8)
On June 22, 1950, the ‘Red Channel’ appeared. Roy Brewer commissioned it. This was a pamphlet targeting the entertainment industry. Most of them were barred from working in the industry. There were those never opened their mouths to confess. They were fired, never to find work again, and some were jailed. Those that feared such measures gave names of people they knew to be communists or plainly suspected. HUAC also went after them. Those who encountered suspects, whether it was a close relationship or a casual greeting shared, were also sought.
In 1951, HUAC initiated a subsequent inquiry of Hollywood and Communism. One of those called forward for questioning was actor Larry Parks. He was hesitant to talk of his political affiliations saying it was not just. He did however, give a statement later on after a lot of pressure and was blacklisted. This time the rules had changed. At one point, Larry was asked whether he knew Lionel Stander. He confirmed that he did know the man, but nothing of his political preferences. That was enough to call Stander in for questioning. For a man who had worked on ten shows in the past 100 days before being called in, his career was over.
Many had fled the country due to fear. A lot more had been left unemployed, opting to find work outside the industry. Others had to wait for years before the industry could accept them. There was fear in Hollywood. One did not know whom to trust. However, things were starting to change. By 1957, movies were being made, and songs composed by those who had previously been blacklisted. Herbert Biberman made the Salt of the Earth, which did not perform well. The media refused to advertise it, distributors would not touch it, and it was labeled as ‘Communist propaganda’. Trumbo, who had written about 17 motion pictures without credit, saw his name on Spartacus, a movie that was released on October 6 1960. The blacklisted were starting to be hired. Over 400 people in the industry had been blacklisted.
Dick, B. F. Radical innocence: a critical study of the Hollywood Ten. Lexington, Ky, University Press of Kentucky. 1989. Print.
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