The Hollywood Ten and the House Un-American Activities Committee

I have heard it called the ‘Red Scare’, or ‘Reds Under the Bed’.  The History Channel calls it the ‘Red Menace”. It represents a time after WWII, when the relationship between the USSR (United Socialist Soviet Republic-now just Russia), and the United States was strained. Perhaps after the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world didn’t trust the US anymore…. This particular blog is dealing with the McCarthy era Hollywood blacklist. Or the Hollywood 10 as they are referred to.

In 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was formed.  The committee focused on investigating those they believed to be communists working inside the government or those working in the film industry. Americans were seen as rugged individualists, industrious and hardworking, where communism was seen as a force to take away people’s freedoms, and to brainwash their citizens. The communists were believed to be sneaking in to the US from Eastern Europe and the USSR, in order to infiltrate and take over the US government. (1)

The committee gained more power as Americans began to see ‘reds’ (the term given to communists for their loyalty to the Red Soviet Flag) around every corner. The Motion Picture Industry has been seen as full of free thinkers and artistic individualists.  Art has often exploited the flaws in society, especially when it comes to writing and film.  Many artists and performers were seen as having a radical agenda, so they were a perfect target for the government trying to contain what they deemed was a communist threat.  Under negative publicity, movie studio heads created blacklists that barred people they saw as radicals from working in the industry, they were not the only industry that created these lists, just one of the more infamous. The HUAC quickly formed the opinion that the film industry was full of communism that needed to be eradicated. That brings us to the Hollywood 10:

  • Alvah Bessie (c. 1904-85),
  • Herbert Biberman (1900-71),
  • Lester Cole (c. 1904-85),
  • Edward Dmytryk (1908-99),
  • Ring Lardner Jr. (1915-2000),
  • John Howard Lawson (1894-1977),
  • Albert Maltz (1908-1985),
  • Samuel Ornitz (1890-1957),
  • Robert Adrian Scott (1912-73)
  • Dalton Trumbo (1905-76) (2)

The ten men above refused to answer the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?”  They said it in different ways, Dalton Trumbo asked the committee to show him the evidence he was involved with communism.  Ring Lardner had been, and was asked, “Who else do you know that have been involved in communism? He did not want to name names.  John Howard Lawson started to say it violated his bill of rights.  The committee wanted the men to name others they believed were involved with communism, a guilt by association.  More than 300 directors, screenwriters, actors and radio personalities were boycotted by the studios.  It is a dark chapter in US history. 19 were accused, 11 went to testify.

November 24, the House of Representatives voted 346 to 17 to approve citations against the Hollywood Ten for contempt of Congress. (2) The following day the Motion Picture Association issued the Waldorf Statement (as it was done in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel), that all 10 would be fired or suspended unless they were cleared of contempt charges and were deemed not communists. This was the first Hollywood blacklist.

April 1948, the 10 were sentenced to one year in prison and $1000.00 fine. (3) Everyone had families, some served in WWII. Many never worked in Hollywood again. President Ronald Reagan was the President of the Screen Actors Guild at the time and flew to Washington to testify.  Ring Lardner, Jr. ended up later winning an Oscar for adapted screenplay for the film M.A.S.H.  There were 43 singled out in 1947, 19 were accused and 11 testified. émigré playwright Bertolt Brecht gave testimony before the committee and avoided prison.

It was a dark stain on US history. It came to be know later on as the McCarthy era, and McCarthyism is defined as accusing someone of subversion or treason without evidence. (4) Senator Eugene McCarthy actually became involved in this process based on a speech he made after these 10 men testified and were sentenced.  Though the atrocities wrought through this process are attributed to the era with his name on it.

Some of the other victims of the McCarthyism, were Lucille Ball, Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin, William Geer (Grandpa on the Waltons), Ruth Gordon (Rosemary’s Baby, Harold and Maude) Edward G. Robinson, one of my favorites, Danny Kaye and even scientist Albert Einstein just to name a few, there were many, many more. They were affected at different levels some never worked in the Motion Picture industry again. Others managed to work around their names, or as the sting died down found work, there were a couple of suicides, and much misery based on this witch hunt.

 

 

  1. “House Un-American Activities Committee”. Eleanor Roosevelt National Historic Site. National Park Service. Archived from the original on 2010-05-29. Retrieved 25 May2011.
  2. “Hollywood Ten”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 9 December 2012
  3. Hollywood Ten, http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/hollywood-ten
  4. “The Cold War Home Front: McCarthyism”.com. AuthenticHistory.com
  5. Pierard, Richard (1998).“American Extremists: Militias, Supremacists, Klansmen, Communists, & Others. By John George and Laird Wilcox. Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1996
  6. The Hollywood Ten, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taancRcLQ8o
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