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How Red Was My Hollywood

Hollywood Traitors reads like a Who’s Who of American Communists. For 500 pages Allan Ryskind lists the names, occupations, and crimes of almost every man or woman ever tainted with support for the USSR in the movie industry. The book is a labor of love. And an exhausting read. It felt like I’d spent several hours flicking through the telephone directory.

Of course, the harder the work then the greater the rewards. This is a book that conservatives will love and which answers a lot of questions. Unfortunately, it also lacks objectivity. This dents its power.

Ryskind’s writing has the obsessive quality of a man out to “correct the record,” and the American right has waited a long time for this. For decades, they say, a line has been spun that McCarthyism was a hysterical rage against nothing at all—that there were few-to-no Communists active in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s and that the “witch hunt” against the radical left was nothing less than American-style fascism. At the center of that popular liberal narrative is the fate of the Hollywood Ten. In 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called witnesses on the subject of Red subversion in the movie industry. Ten writers and directors appeared before the committee but refused to answer its questions, citing their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. They had all at some time or other been members of the Communist Party. The Ten were charged with contempt of Congress, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. They were blacklisted from working in Hollywood, along with many other entertainment professionals who were considered fellow travelers.

Ryskind—the son of screenwriter and socialist-turned-anticommunist Morrie Ryskind, who did cooperate with HUAC—regards everything that happened to these people as just desserts. What troubles his conscience is the fact that the Hollywood Ten were eventually forgiven by their industry and their crimes forgotten.

“Hollywood cannot get enough,” he asserts, “of celebrating the ‘victims’ of those 1947 hearings in movies, plays, books, documentaries, skits, oral histories, and public events.” These words are found in Chapter 1, and they are the first warning sign that Ryskind’s book goes too far. For proof of Hollywood’s obsessive liberal forgiveness for Communist crimes he mentions one sympathetic gala at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1997, one movie featuring Woody Allen, and one movie starring Jim Carrey. Is that all that there is? I don’t dispute that Ryskind is right that there are many literate Hollywood liberals who do regard the 1940s as a period of “cultural holocaust” for their industry, in the words of movie writer Patrick McGilligan. George Clooney and the cast of “Good Night, and Good Luck” spring to mind. But the idea that Hollywood as a community “cannot get enough” of celebrating the Hollywood Ten is a stretch. I’ve lived in Hollywood. What they can’t get enough of over there is flattery and cocaine. For them history begins at “Jaws.”

Nevertheless, Ryskind succeeds in three regards. First, he conclusively proves that each of the Ten was guilty of having been a Communist at some stage and that the degree of Communist subversion of Hollywood was substantial. The lying was extraordinary. In the case of the writer Lillian Hellman, it lasted a lifetime: obfuscating the details of her support for Communism until her death and, along the way, gaining plaudits for her supposedly noble resistance to false charges. Entertainment professionals joined cells so secret that each could operate quite separately from the others. These men and women put into their movies Marxist messages ranging from the subtle to the overt. MGM’s 1944 film “Song of Russia” stars Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941. His love affair with a beautiful pianist in a surprisingly prosperous socialist republic is ruined by Operation Barbarossa. Ayn Rand, testifying before HUAC, described the Nazi invasion as depicted in “Song of Russia.” Border guards are shown listening peacefully to a Tchaikovsky concert:

Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians are unprepared. Now realize—and that was a great shock to me—that the border that was being shown was the border of [Soviet-occupied] Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved county which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border being shown to us—just a happy place with people listening to music.

Ryskind’s second success is to remind us of the moral ghastliness of the Nazi-Soviet pact. One of the frequent excuses made for Communist sympathy in the 1930s is that it was a form of opposition to fascism. Yet between 1939 and 1941, Stalin carved up Eastern Europe with Hitler, allowing the German dictator to wage war uninterrupted in the West. Ryskind shows how faithful Soviet agents fell in line, switching overnight from advocating an anti-fascist front to urging America to stay out of the war. It is upsetting to see included on the list of guilty people the names of some the century’s greatest writers: “Lillian Hellman, Donald Ogden Stewart, Langston Hughes, Dashiell Hammett, and Erskine Caldwell backed [the antiwar effort], which savaged the parties resisting Hitler and the nations overwhelmed by his armies as ‘imperialist’. Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre, sent greetings from Moscow.”

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But Hollywood did fight back, and Ryskind’s third achievement is to revive some of the reputations of the red baiters. Enter Ronald Reagan. He was a transformative president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s. Reagan was a liberal in transition to conservatism, and he navigated Hollywood’s complex politics with intelligence and skill. His goal was to preserve the principles of fair union representation without succumbing to left-wing agitation. Ryskind is at his most revealing when detailing meetings between union activists and stars like Reagan, Gene Kelly, Dick Powell, and Robert Taylor.

Their engagement was partly motivated by self-interest and protecting their industry. But it was also a hangover of the idealism of the 1930s, when the New Deal spirit permeated Hollywood and encouraged unionization. Reagan always remained romantic about the Roosevelt years. There’s a strain of postwar conservatism that was about rescuing liberalism from itself by cutting out the socialism.

Indeed, there’s one interesting detail that Ryskind doesn’t mention about Reagan. Not only was he a New Dealer but in 1945 he spoke at a rally against nuclear weapons. Of course, this does not mean that Reagan was one of those secret Reds that Hollywood Traitors works so hard to expose. But it does remind us that the 1930s and 1940s were a complex time in which many reasonable folks flirted with the left. Ryskind doesn’t give us this kind of social context. thisarticleappears copy [1]

It’s not that he is unfair with individual biographies: Hayden’s noble war record is covered. But if you flip to the index you’ll note that Ryskind doesn’t include a single reference for the words “Great Depression.” This is a major omission in a book about U.S. communism. Ryskind does not talk about breadlines or mass unemployment. Anti-Semitism isn’t touched upon much either, despite Hollywood being a town in which aspiring immigrant Americans found themselves blackballed from the best clubs and schools, which was bound to breed some resentment against the establishment. Nor does Ryskind expose the ruthless conservatism of the studio system, which did its best to destroy unions and whip its stars into political order. When Upton Sinclair launched a progressive campaign for governor of California in 1934, MGM docked its employees a day’s pay to donate to the opposition. Stars who refused to join the bandwagon were punished. The movie moguls were savage gods who ran their studios like factory lines.

And they sexually abused the staff. Louis B. Mayer—fine Republican, personal friend of Herbert Hoover, and described in Hollywood Traitors as “typical of the success story of so many American immigrants”—invited Judy Garland to sing for him in his private office while he groped her left breast. “I often thought I was lucky I didn’t sing from another part of my anatomy,” Garland later joked.

Incidentally, Mayer was indeed happy to blacklist Communists in his studio. But he was less happy about the thought of federal legislation doing it for him. In Hollywood Left and Right, Steven J. Ross explains that Mayer and Warner Bros were not pleased with Washington meddling in their affairs. “Despite his vocal anti-Communism, Mayer initially resisted firing anyone who could make money for his studio.” A screenwriter under suspicion was brought to Mayer’s office, and the mogul told him: “I don’t give a s–t about the law. It’s them goddam commies that you’re tied up with. Break with them … I believe you’re great. Dough means nothing. We’ll tear up your contract, double your salary. You name it, you can have it. Just make the break.”

The screenwriter refused. Ross puts Mayer’s intervention down to financial interest. But it’s impossible not to read between the lines of that dialogue and sense that the studio boss was genuinely keen to save a good artist from his own damned foolishness.

The point is that the politics and the emotion of the period were more ambiguous than a straightforward fight between good (America) and evil (lying Commies). Hollywood was dealing with issues of class, race, identity, and the tension between liberty and patriotism. And it is possible to stand back from this whole messy narrative and grasp that, yes, the Hollywood Ten were Communists, fools, and/or liars—but there’s still something disturbing about the way they were treated in a society predicated upon political liberty. Can a free society tolerate the freedom of people who want to abolish freedom? Increasingly, Western societies are now saying “no.” My own country, Britain, is on the verge of asking teachers to watch their pupils for evidence of “extremism”—homophobia qualifies—and report it to the authorities. We are in danger of replaying McCarthyism like it’s a special season of paranoia on Turner Classic Movies.

Ryskind’s book brings a lot that’s fresh to this subject—but not quite enough. He’s very good at identifying the way in which left-wing authoritarians eradicate disagreement. He’s less keen to acknowledge the sins of the right. McCarthyism was on many levels a quite rational response to social change and political threat from a foreign power. But it was undeniably also used to retard the growth of the New Deal project and repress the liberal spirit of the 1930s. It was as American as vodka and the balalaika.

Timothy Stanley is the author of Citizen Hollywood: How the Collaboration between LA and D.C. Revolutionized American Politics [2].

43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "How Red Was My Hollywood"

#1 Comment By Viking On October 5, 2015 @ 1:48 am

Good review. One question of information: who is the Hayden whose “noble war record is covered”?

#2 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 5, 2015 @ 7:47 am

“What troubles his conscience is the fact that the Hollywood Ten were eventually forgiven by their industry and their crimes forgotten.”

What “crimes?” I see no evidence of any crime in this review, other than the obvious (and dubious) one of refusing to testify before HUAC, which no one denies.

It was not a crime to be a Communist. It was not a crime to put “Marxist messages” into a film script. It was not a crime to oppose entry into WWII. Nor was that exclusively a Communist line position (not that that really matters). Neither was it a crime to make a documentary that Ayn Rand took exception to.

No one denies that there were Communist or leftist writers, actors, directors, etc. in Hollywood. What is disputed is that (1) they posed any actual threat to national security, (2) that they broke any laws except, perhaps, those written more or less after the fact (or used unfairly, like the contempt of Congress laws), and that tried to criminalize political dissent and activity, thereby violating the First Amendment, and (3) that the, yes, witch hunt (which went well beyond the Hollywood Ten, and which included people who were not, in fact, communists at all) was motivated by anything other than political opportunism and fear mongering.

As for Reagan, no one ever disputed that he was a pro union, pro FDR, liberal in the Forties and even into the Fifties. Rather, he is criticized for “naming names” of suspected communists to the FBI of members of the union (and others) that he was an officer of. One can dispute whether he did anything wrong, but Reagan’s “reputation” was not unfairly sullied by false accusations.

#3 Comment By Franz Liebkind On October 5, 2015 @ 11:15 am

To Viking:
One question of information: who is the Hayden whose “noble war record is covered”?
I’m sure he means Sterling Hayden, the actor. Think The Godfather and Dr Strangelove.

During the Second World War, Hayden received the Silver Star for service in the Balkans as a USMC officer attached to the OSS. He very much admired what he saw from Tito’s Communist partisans there.

#4 Comment By Dennis Brislen On October 5, 2015 @ 11:25 am

“I’ve lived in Hollywood. What they can’t get enough of over there is flattery and cocaine. For them history begins at “Jaws.”

Sublime. Kudos galore. A line for the ages.

#5 Comment By Pete in TX On October 5, 2015 @ 11:35 am

To philadephialawyer: Song of Russia is a feature film, not a documentary. Documentaries don’t “[star] Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941”.

#6 Comment By Chris On October 5, 2015 @ 11:36 am

Philadelphia lawyer pretty much nailed it.

Yes, the Hollywood Ten were rascals to the extent they asserted certain civil rights they might not have extended to others had the USA ever gone Communist. Then again, I doubt any of them had a well-articulated political philosophy. More likely, they were Democrats who believed the New Deal didn’t go far enough. But did that make them Soviet agents?

My father grew up during the Depression. A cultural conservative but live-and-let-live tolerant on lots of stuff. He was an Army lifer, and like many of his fellow officers who were all Southern Democrats, he never had much use for Corporate America, businessmen and capitalism more generally. (They worshiped FDR.) When they groused about the problems ailing America and how to fix them, they probably talked like the Hollywood Ten.

Didn’t Hollywood lefties defend themselves by saying they had been “premature anti-fascists”? Depression/WWII America rightly excuses a lot of political excess and mistakes. Staying loyal to Communism and the USSR after Khrushchev’s 1956 speech denouncing Stalin’s crimes — that’s another matter. Or after Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.

I’m willing to pardon the Hollywood Ten.

#7 Comment By Boris On October 5, 2015 @ 12:21 pm

What always struck me as wrong and hypocritical about the anti-communist attitudes of powerful Americans in that period was the lack of faith in the ability of free speech and association to strengthen, not weaken, the American position of exceptionalism. What distinguished American society from Soviet society was the ability for ideas to fight it out openly and freely in the public arena. It was supposed to be the Soviet system that suppressed dissident thought, yet the American anti-communist movement had so little faith in our fundamental freedoms that they feared ideas that challenged their beliefs. Just like the Soviets. Luckily for us, they did not fully succeed in removing the free speech rights of their fellow Americans, even though they tried.

#8 Comment By Scott On October 5, 2015 @ 12:57 pm

What is also intentionally forgotten is the pro-fascist support of America’s rich and powerful.

#9 Comment By JM On October 5, 2015 @ 3:24 pm

“First, he conclusively proves that each of the Ten was guilty of having been a Communist at some stage and that the degree of Communist subversion of Hollywood was substantial. ”

Last time I checked, being a Communist and “subversion” are protected by the First Amendment. Dalton Trumbo writing a movie sympathetic to Stalinism or Zero Mostel attending CPA meetings in the 1930s is irrelevant. That’s the problem with conservatives then and now vis-a-vis anti-communism: they equate belief in and speech defending communism as being tantamount to being a an actual traitor like Alger Hiss.

And conservatives never seem to realize that a future liberal authoritarian McCarthyite government may one day have them trotted out to testify before Congress, blacklist them from working and harass and destroy their lives because of Christianity or gun rights or not using the proper pronouns in addressing men who wear women’s clothing.

#10 Comment By William Dalton On October 5, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

The crime committed by Hollywood Communists in the 30’s and 40’s was that of plotting the violent overthrow of the government of the United States. That was the proclaimed objective of the Communist Party, not only in the United States, but throughout the world where such coups d’etat were being accomplished, without necessarily resort to the electoral process. Those who were “card carrying Communists” were conscious participants in that conspiracy – not just social democrats who saw merit in what was happening in Stalin’s Russia and wanted to emulate some of his social reforms. In particular, those who switched from being anti-fascists to being anti-war to being advocates for the destruction of Hitler’s Germany, at precisely those times the Cominterm in Moscow announced those same changes in policy, were clearly acting, not from conscience, but as avowed agents of that foreign power dedicated to the Communist revolution in America.

#11 Comment By Connecticut Farmer On October 5, 2015 @ 4:31 pm

I found it a bit amusing to read that Robert Taylor starred in a movie that was sympathetic to the Soviet Union. Robert Taylor! Now there’s a right winger if there ever was one! And Gary Cooper, who starred in “For Whom The Bell Tolls” (which was sympathetic to the Loyalist cause in Spain) would never be mistaken for Alger Hiss. The bottom line: Hollywood was, is and always will be about–the Bottom Line, and politics be damned.

#12 Comment By philadlephialawyer On October 5, 2015 @ 4:43 pm

Pete in Texas:

“To philadephialawyer: Song of Russia is a feature film, not a documentary. Documentaries don’t ‘[star] Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941.'”

Very good. I stand corrected. Of course, the fact that the movie was fiction makes my case even stronger. Since when are fictional films held to a rigorous standard of historical accuracy?

And now that we are digging deeper, it is also the case that the film was made during WWII, and so pumping up our allies, of any stripe (Soviet, British Imperialist, whatever), was probably seen as beneficial to the war effort. I wonder if anyone would even think it worth mentioning, much less insinuating that it was some sort of “crime,” if a 1944 MGM feature film showed the British troops on the frontier in, say, Burma, in a sympathetic light, when the Japanese invaders arrived. Burma too was an “occupied” and “enslaved” country.

#13 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 5, 2015 @ 5:23 pm

I hate to agree with these “What “crimes?” I see no evidence of any crime in this review, other than . . .”

Grumble and grumble. The real damage was done by those working in Washington, DC who operated in the State Department, The Treasury Department, etc. spies so numerous in number they bumped into each other.

There was a lot of time wasted chasing the Hollywood liberals.

#14 Comment By Big Bill On October 5, 2015 @ 6:35 pm

Being a socialist, even of the Marxist/Leninist variety is not a problem for me.

Being a secret member or agent of an organization that is controlled or directed by an enemy foreign power is a problem, a BIG problem.

So what were the Hollywood 10? Communist agents?Or just true believers?

#15 Comment By Mitchell Freedman On October 5, 2015 @ 7:17 pm

The Murray Kempton essay from the mid-1950s provides us the insight that the Hollywood Ten and related blacklisted writers were people who wrote romantic, sentimental films that conservatives, and folks like me who are not conservative in the modern sense, enjoy. What an irony! “Song of Russia” was merely an exception to the rule of most of the stories the Reds wrote–and ironically, again, the FDR administration pushed for that type of film.

The link between being a Communist Party member and a spy is what was rarely proven, then or now. Some lied about being Reds and only later did we find out they were. But most were not “subversive” in any way that went toward anything like treason. Thus, it was political oppression that was practiced on these people.

Finally, let’s all note that “The Front” had characters who admitted they were Reds, unlike Jim Carrey’s “The Majestic” which ridiculously made it sound like his character was just a victim of circumstance, not having any political views whatsoever. I agree with Mr. Stanley that Hollywood has a short memory, but I will add Allan Ryskind is fighting his Dad’s war without any more perspective than old Morrie had.

#16 Comment By Richard Williams On October 5, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

Scott nails the second part of this issue that Philadelphia Lawyer didn’t get to. There were people on the right who were vocal supporters of the Nazis well into the late ’30s and some more quietly into the war. None of them were really called to account afterward, certainly not to the extent that those who supported communism were. Lindbergh, the only one I can think of who seems to have suffered at all, was only kept out of the military for the first years of the war.

#17 Comment By John On October 6, 2015 @ 12:09 am

All that happened to the Communists in Hollywood was that they were no longer employed in the movie industry, right? Aren’t their employers supposed to be able to make decisions about who they want to employ, as e.g. employers who fire people like Brenadn Eich because they oppose gay marriage? In this case, it is not a matter of supporting a traditional and once universal conception of marriage, but of working politically in support of Joseph Stalin, one of the most murderous tyrants in history – and one who threatened the United States with nuclear weapons after 1947.

I would be interested in hearing how those who nonetheless think that the Hollywood blacklist of Communists was bad can defend companies who now insist on conformity when it comes to homosexual issues.

#18 Comment By jamie On October 6, 2015 @ 3:06 am

Also, for the record, I’ve lived in Hollywood 20 years and worked in the entertainment industry for just as long, and the only time I’ve ever seen cocaine was when I went to New York and hanged out with a hedge fund manager.

America hates Hollywood like ugly men hate mirrors.

#19 Comment By Wolfgang Franz On October 6, 2015 @ 7:31 am

To philadelphialawyer:
The crime of the Hollywood Ten and the other Hollywood communists was that they tried to subvert the country into a GULAG. Of Stalin´s crimes everybody could know everything also before Khrushchev 1956. They did not openly speak for Stalin and his mass murders but hidden in their films.
If they ever were a threat for the USA I don´t think either. But clear it is that they succeeded in pushing the USA to deliver whole peoples under Soviet rule.
Sterling Hayden is a brilliant example. He admired Tito? Also the murder of hundreds of thousands of people, my grandfather included?
If they were so honest, why did they operate in secret?
And that´s the different to the liberal authoritarian way today. These try to blackmail free speech.

#20 Comment By Kip W On October 6, 2015 @ 9:31 am

On the one hand, conservatives are against Hollywood, particularly when someone from there doesn’t like what they like, or likes what they don’t. (When a Hollywood conservative does it, it’s not a problem.)

On the other hand, conservatives take active steps to combat any historians who tell them that our nation’s story is not the same as the version of it they learned from Hollywood.

#21 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 6, 2015 @ 10:23 am

Lot of talk, but no evidence of crime. Did any of the Hollywood Ten actually “plot the overthrow” of the government? Personally? As opposed to merely being members of a party that supposedly had that as its ultimate goal? Nor do I see how following the “line” set in Moscow viz a viz Nazi Germany is a crime. Anyone is free to follow anyone they want, when it comes to their policy views, no? That does not make them “agents of Stalin,” or “allies of Hitler.”

“All that happened to the Communists in Hollywood was that they were no longer employed in the movie industry, right?”

Not right. They were convicted of contempt of Congress (a criminal offense), their convictions were upheld by the appellate courts, and they were fined and imprisoned.

“Aren’t their employers supposed to be able to make decisions about who they want to employ…I would be interested in hearing how those who nonetheless think that the Hollywood blacklist of Communists was bad can defend companies who now insist on conformity when it comes to homosexual issues.”

Beg the question, much? How about asking conservatives who seem to love the prosecution/persecution of the Hollywood Ten the reverse question, as poster JM implies?

But, OK, I will answer your question anyway. This liberal, who thinks the Hollywood Ten were treated badly, thinks that all employees should be protected from being fired or otherwise discriminated against because of their political views.

Of course, the standard conservative view is the one you espouse, ie employment at will (or at whim), with employer property “rights” set as the highest possible good…

#22 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 6, 2015 @ 10:45 am

I would also point out that the Hollywood Ten were never even accused of plotting to overthrow the government. Also, SCOTUS has drawn the line of First Amendment protection around merely advocating the ultimate goal of such a result, as opposed to working for its immediate attainment.

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 6, 2015 @ 11:05 am

I have heard a lot of nonsense in the last couple of years. But this is has got to be one of the strangest.

The Hollywood Ten were artists. There is no evidence that they intended to engage in any illegal activities to overthrow the US. Some were active communists. Some were social and fashionable or some other benign reason – they wanted a date with some actress. None of that is against the law.

And while I oppose all things communist or socialist by virtue of the practical use, I am hard pressed to justify blacklisting people for theor religious or political beliefs. It’s wrong religion and it wrong on politics and what’s worse — it wrong on Constitional ethic, law and practice.

The Hollywood liberal has n intention now or then of turning the US into a Gulag of any kind. When it comes to the distribution of wealth Hollywood types of brands and sozes are elitists that will exploit every tax break available as well as sell their citizens down to the unemployment line because they would rather pay Conchita oe Juan rather than pay their fellows the minimum wage that liberals, including them advocate for.

That is why the “flattery and cocaine” line is not only funny, but descriptive. The communsists and teir sypathizers taht did the US harm were not making films in Hollywood. They were literally bumping into each other in the Treasury Department – Mr. Hiss types, who was in State. Serious communists would very befuddled, disappointed and irritated by Hollywood’s brand of utopian communism.

I would add this, there have been communists professors in the US since there was Karl Marx, they posed a more realistic threat to the country. But in a democracy (using the term loosely) that is where ideas get tested. That test dhould not include subversive behavior, harassment, threat, loss or work, breaking into another’s home, spreading viscious lies — if you have to resort such tactics – you lose the argument.

I am all for subjecting Hollywood to US immigration, employment and drug laws and the consequences for breaking the same. thereof.

But mere character assassinatin– unhelpful in every way.

#24 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 6, 2015 @ 11:11 am

“America hates Hollywood like ugly men hate mirrors.”

As an ugly guy, let me say, I love my mirror, until the lights come up. I love hollywood, they have been a very important communications tool in the country, and not all of it bad.

But when the light is on one just needs a strainer to filter out their self serving constructives designed to help them live with failures in themselves.

#25 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 6, 2015 @ 12:06 pm

Wolfgang Franz,

I can’t speak of Sterling Hayden, but I certainly admire Tito, as do most (former) Yugoslavs today.

As Philadelphia Lawyer astutely points out, being a communist was not a crime in America then and it certainly isn’t one now.

#26 Comment By Trumbo Dalton On October 6, 2015 @ 1:06 pm

Sounds like the book misses several key points, as does Stanley.

The first is that studios knew that Trumbo, Lawson and co were putting left messages into films for ages. They didnt care. One reason was because leftist screenwriters worked collectively to solve plot and story problems – so the studios got more eyes on a script for free, which benefited them.

The second point is that the moguls only turned on screenwriters when Howard Lawson and others began to agitate for a changed relationship, whereby screenwrites would license their scripts to the studios, rather than having them bought outright – and thus collect residual fees from very successful films. It was only when they threatened a strike of major writers over this that the hammer came down.

The third point missed is the role that these screenwriters played in the nascent civil rights movement, working with black activists and educators in LA on education programmes, consciousness raising and other matters. An inconvenient truth to many in the civil right movements, but there it is – communists were integral to this struggle.

Still, will be worth a read. Pity it sounds like it’s in the usual style of Regnery publications

#27 Comment By jamie On October 6, 2015 @ 1:13 pm

I would be interested in hearing how those who nonetheless think that the Hollywood blacklist of Communists was bad can defend companies who now insist on conformity when it comes to homosexual issues.

Most of the people on the blacklist had recanted their communist affiliations years before and most weren’t communists. Most of them weren’t on the blacklist for being communist, they were on the blacklist for refusing to cooperate with either HUAC or the Senate committee, usually by either refusing to testify, or testifying but refusing to “name names,” to list the other people they saw at communist party functions. Thus Elia Kazan had been a card-carrying communist but wasn’t blacklisted, because he named names, while Elmer Bernstein never was a communist, but refused to testify, and was blacklisted.

And while many of these people did have relatively comfortable jobs that paid good money, they were not independently-wealthy millionaires serving as the CEOs of nonprofits. Nor were they secretly giving money to the communist party while publicly issuing memos celebrating Hollywood’s commitment to capitalism, which would have been problematic. The blacklist itself was not merely this or that employer independently refusing to hire someone, it was a [3].

There is also the little problem of the blacklist’s explicit purpose, to control the creative output of the American film industry, to intimidate and cow artists, and to force a rollback of the communitarian social values formed in the depression and New Deal. It’s one thing to deny a man a job because of his politics, it’s something a bit more to impose a de facto political censorship regime on an industry which, at the time, constituted over half of America’s mass media.

#28 Comment By John On October 6, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

‘It’s one thing to deny a man a job because of his politics, it’s something a bit more to impose a de facto political censorship regime on an industry which, at the time, constituted over half of America’s mass media.’

Are you seriously claiming that such a censorship regime does not exist in Hollywood now? Would a fundamentalist Protestant or a traditionalist Catholic or even someone who thought homosexuality was a sin be able to work there, let alone be permitted to tacitly support their views through their work?

#29 Comment By Jeff On October 6, 2015 @ 6:42 pm

Thanks for writing this up.

A lot of people flirted with communism in the 30’s when society was having massive economic issues. J. Robert Oppenheimer comes to mind (leader of the Manhattan Project). He was drawn to it because it was so opposed to the fascism gripping central and southern Europe and because it offered a different economic vision. Once he saw how dogmatic and oppressive communism was he turned on it.

Due to this flirtation, the U.S. government, dragged his name through the mud. It was despicable. This is a free country and people are free to form their own political beliefs. Somewhat ironic that Oppenheimer was driven from communism because of its authoritarian tendencies and then was subject to discipline from the American authoritarian streak that existed at the time.

#30 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 6, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

” It’s one thing to deny a man a job because of his politics, it’s something a bit more to impose a de facto political censorship regime on an industry which, at the time, constituted over half of America’s mass media.”

Your response does not answer the posit. And the end implies it ok to engage in these tactics if the this scale s small enough. Both of these are specifically related to one’s political views.

I would even hazard a guess that the impact of imposing some political correct world view in order to remain employed has greater ramifications o a much larger group of people.

The very purpose of he threat to is to control/censor one’s content expression.

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 6, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

For decades, they say, a line has been spun that McCarthyism was a hysterical rage against nothing at all—that there were few-to-no Communists active in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s and that the “witch hunt” against the radical left was nothing less than American-style fascism.

McCarthyism WAS a hysterical rage, not against nothing at all, but against the fact that a significant fraction of Americans found something good in communism — at least as they experienced it in the presence of dedicated labor agitators in their own work place, or, as they viewed it in the heroic resistance of people under communist leadership who were our allies in World War II.

Sure there were communists in various places in American life. So what? As philadelphialawyer points out, that was no crime. To seek to root them out and sweep up anyone who had ever had the slightest association with them was a form of fascism.

There were plenty of noncommunists who were unscrupulously swept up in the hysteria. That was the source of the attitude that it was all about nothing. There was nothing to many of the charges against many people. As to who exactly was or was not a party member, and for how long, I have considerable doubts unless Ryskind has a photo of their party card, and a clear chain of custody to show that his “original” wasn’t forged.

Communists did many stupid things that contributed greatly to their political isolation. By the end of the 1950s, the party depended financially on the FBI informants who were the only ones who kept up regularly on their dues payments. But Joe McCarthy was an alcoholic opportunist who whipped up mass hysteria just to feed his own ego. The sort of constitutionally appropriate benign neglect championed by Thomas Dewey would have allowed the communist party to wither away — a bit prematurely in the classical Marxist view of history, but quite effectively.

So basically Ryskind has devoted years of his life to a tome that substantiates the obvious, and still, nobody will care. Poor thing.

#32 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 7, 2015 @ 1:36 am

I would add that if the “crime” of the Hollywood Ten boils down to merely their membership in the Communist party, the original quote that I took exception to is still not rehabilitated. The claim was that their crimes had been not only forgiven but also “forgotten,” yet no one has forgotten that the Hollywood Ten were communists.

#33 Comment By Viking On October 7, 2015 @ 7:09 am

I have a question to which I honestly don’t know the answer. To wit, does having Constitutional free speech and peaceable assembly rights legally allow one to refuse to answer questions in a legislative and/or judicial setting? I’m here excluding Fifth Amendment guarantees against self-incrimination, as the Hollywood Ten presumably didn’t think its members had done anything criminal.

It seems to me that there’s a good reason that why prewar Nazi or Fascist supporters were dealt with more leniently than the advocates of Communism. This was because the Axis Powers had been effectively destroyed by WWII. The Red Menace, OTOH, was still going strong, and would take China as well later in the decade of the 1940s.

#34 Comment By TB On October 7, 2015 @ 8:55 am

Patriotism:

Lillian Hellman… “I am advised by counsel that if I answer the committee’s questions about myself, I must also answer questions about other people and that if I refuse to do so, I can be cited for contempt. My counsel tells me that if I answer questions about myself, I will have waived my rights under the fifth amendment and could be forced legally to answer questions about others. This is very difficult for a layman to understand. But there is one principle that I do understand: I am not willing, now or in the future, to bring bad trouble to people who, in my past association with them, were completely innocent of any talk or any action that was disloyal or subversive. I do not like subversion or disloyalty in any form and if I had ever seen any I would have considered it my duty to have reported it to the proper authorities. But to hurt innocent people whom I knew many years ago in order to save myself is, to me, inhuman and indecent and dishonorable. I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions…”

#35 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 7, 2015 @ 12:00 pm

Viking:

There is no general right to refuse to answer questions in front of Congress, except on Fifth Amendment grounds (which, of course, are constricted to personally incrimination, and can be vitiated entirely by grants of immunity). But, SCOTUS, in Watkins v United States, has ruled that there are other limits, beyond the Fifth, on what can be demanded of a witness…

[4]

Watkins, much like Hellman, refused to “name names” of former Communists….his conviction for contempt of Congress was reversed…

#36 Comment By jamie On October 7, 2015 @ 12:41 pm

Are you seriously claiming that such a censorship regime does not exist in Hollywood now? Would a fundamentalist Protestant or a traditionalist Catholic or even someone who thought homosexuality was a sin be able to work there, let alone be permitted to tacitly support their views through their work?

No, no such regime exists. Studio heads do not meet with the chairman of the MPAA and draft collective agreements banning Christians from their workplaces, which they then proudly announce in press releases. Christians are not called to the office of their producers and told “we’ll tear up your contract, we’ll double your money” if they’ll only reject their Christian beliefs. Christians are not hauled in front of congressional committees, forced to testify to the Christian content of their films, and then threatened with contempt if they do not list all of the Christians they know, so that they, too, can be hauled in. The comparison is ludicrous.

Wether Christians can show tacit support for their beliefs in films is a very complex and debatable subject. There are of course many films made outside of Hollywood that pander to conservative Christians. Indeed, if Hollywood made films that supported the conservative Christian worldview, they would only pander to it, that’s what Hollywood films do. I can list some Christian filmmakers for you but, what shouldn’t surprise you is that they mostly make horror films, which is to say, films that pander to people’s need to see their moral and the spiritual beliefs realized.

On the other hand, War Room came out a month ago and was number one at the box office, it was released by Sony Pictures, which had previously released Heaven is For Real. These people do get their movies made but they have to be marketed specially because most American and international audiences will reject (and will give negative recommendation to their friends) a film with an overt Christian message. Even a large number of people who claim to be Christian will negatively review a Christian film. Also problematic is that Christian audiences are very tolerant of mediocre product and this filters into the work itself. (I have sat through focus groups.)

I don’t think a lot of conservative Christians are attracted to filmmaking generally or Hollywood in particular, I’ve known some that were but they were eventually turned-off by the culture of the place — no congressional subpoena required. Also, specifically to your point about homosexuality, many people who work on films are in fact gay, more than a few people who head studios are gay, and telling your coworkers they’re spiritually deformed and wicked isn’t going to get you far in a business where success requires access and some sense of shared values.

#37 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 7, 2015 @ 10:23 pm

” But Joe McCarthy was an alcoholic opportunist who whipped up mass hysteria just to feed his own ego. The sort of constitutionally appropriate benign neglect championed by Thomas Dewey would have allowed the communist party to wither away . . .”

I think the evidence is otherwise. Therewere communsts who wee a threat. But not the Hollywood variety. The scientists who workd on the A bomb, had by accident or deliberately by some had given secrets to the Soviets before the first test or shortly thereafter. Sen McCarthy was correct, spies had operated within the US. And they did so undetected for a long time. Sen. MCarthy is not the actor here. He is te reactor to events already in play in the news and behind the scenes in Washington as investigations progressed. By the time HUAC began the issues had largely been addressed.

Given this:

[5]

The good Senator was not all hat. But the Hollywood Ten were hardly a threat to local capitalism much less the US.

#38 Comment By EliteCommInc. On October 7, 2015 @ 10:36 pm

“The third point missed is the role that these screenwriters played in the nascent civil rights movement, working with black activists and educators in LA on education programmes, consciousness raising and other matters. An inconvenient truth to many in the civil right movements, but there it is – communists were integral to this struggle.”

This remains as false today as it was yeterday. And i stand by y response yestrday or the day before.

But allow me to give the gentler reason why it is false. Nearly all blacks, even those in some manner of leadership were Christians with very strong biblical leanings. The idea that they would or could incorporate communist ideology into their struggle is contradicts te suggestion.

Attempting to lay communism at the feet of the 1950’s or 1960’s civil rights struggle is contradicted in the record.

#39 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 7, 2015 @ 10:56 pm

The Red Menace, OTOH, was still going strong, and would take China as well later in the decade of the 1940s.

China had been in a state of chaos since well before 1911. The fractious feudal anarchy of competing warlords vaguely encompassed by a shadow of a national government was finally resolved into a coherent national government by the People’s Liberation Army, under communist party leadership. To call this “the Red Menace taking China” belies almost every fact on the ground.

A curious feature of successful communist party-led national liberation is that it invariably happened in countries where the national leadership was effectively cut off from contact with Moscow (China, Vietnam) or later, in countries where the communist party was notoriously weak and irrelevant, and the revolution came from the party’s left, independently, as in Cuba. (Fidel then took over the communist party and dictated its program, but that’s a different problem).

Both Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong would have preferred a loose alliance with the United States to close ties to the Soviet Union, but American functionaries were too blinded by reflexive fear of the Red Menace to make these arrangements. How different history might have been with a bit more discernment.

In any case, none of this had beans to do with the Hollywood Ten. Or were you thinking that the b&w movie “Gung Ho” about Colonel Carson’s application of Eighth Route Army training to fighting the Japanese in the Pacific was a precursor to a Czech style putsch in Washington, directed from Hollywood?

#40 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On October 9, 2015 @ 11:59 am

Elite Comm Inc,

Most Latin Americans were Christians too, as were most Soviet citizens, and many of them enthusiastically embraced communism. There isn’t actually anything anti-Christian about common ownership of means of production, “from each according to his ability” etc., or central planning.

#41 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 9, 2015 @ 6:58 pm

Nearly all blacks, even those in some manner of leadership were Christians with very strong biblical leanings. The idea that they would or could incorporate communist ideology into their struggle is contradicts te suggestion.

True. But communists were some of the hardest working and most self sacrificing foot soldiers for any specific cause they believed in. John L. Lewis knew that, allowed them to do a lot of the grunt work of building the CIO, but if anyone admitted to his face “I’m a member of the Communist Party” would fired him on the spot. They never, never, never, controlled the organization, and held leadership positions in specific unions because the rank and file respected the results they delivered, not as a vote of ideological approval.

Ditto for the civil rights movement, although on a smaller scale. Sure, there were communists who came to help out. But it was not initiated, nor controlled, by the Communist Party. It might have been a little more effective because experienced organizers were involved. But the inspiration indeed came out of Baptist churches and from young college students who had little knowledge of communism, having grown up in a period when anyone who was a communist seldom mentioned it, even in private. It just wasn’t on the radar screen.

Elite, I grew up in McCarthy’s home town. He was alcoholic, and so was his crony who sat on the local bench for another few decades. But as you say, he was a reactor. He didn’t reveal unsuspected truths. He just rode the wave opportunistically.

As far as revealing the secrets of the atom, when I sat down and read a comprehensive book on the subject, I was amazed at how widely knowledge of nuclear fission had spread around the world even before WW II. The British, the Russians, the Germans, the Japanese, were all working on it. Perhaps the Russians gained a year or two from whatever bits of information filtered to them out of the sands of New Mexico, but no more than that. Fortunately for the world, the German scientists hadn’t a clue how to separate U-235 from U-238, which was the hard part.

#42 Comment By Gringo On October 11, 2015 @ 3:13 pm

EliteCommInc.
The Hollywood Ten were artists. There is no evidence that they intended to engage in any illegal activities to overthrow the US. Some were active communists. Some were social and fashionable or some other benign reason – they wanted a date with some actress. None of that is against the law.
And while I oppose all things communist or socialist by virtue of the practical use, I am hard pressed to justify blacklisting people for theor religious or political beliefs.

The HUAC did not call them as witnesses because of their political beliefs, but for illegal acts-or knowledge of illegal acts –based on those political beliefs. The illegal acts referred to propaganda in favor of the Soviet Union. An Instapundit commenter Miles Per Gallon on the thread about Hollywood Traitors quotes [6].

The Committee on Un-American Activities, as a whole or by subcommittee, is authorized to make from time to time investigations of (i) the extent, character and objects of un-American propaganda activities in the United States, (ii) the diffusion within the United States of subversive and un-American propaganda that is instigated from foreign countries or of a domestic origin and attacks the principle of the form of government as guaranteed by our Constitution, and (iii) all other questions in relation thereto that would aid Congress in any necessary remedial legislation.”>

They were called to be witnesses about illegal propaganda activities. While the Hollywood Ten did not admit to any, decades later [7] admitted decades later to having written and performed songs which followed the then-current Communist Party line at the time:

“Innocently I became a member of the Communist Party, and when they said fight for peace, I did, and when they said fight Hitler, I did.”

When the CPUSA wanted a pacifist USA, because Hitler was fighting capitalist Great Britain but not the Soviet Union, Pete Seeger as a member of the Almanac Singers released an album “Songs for John Doe,” which were against the draft and US involvement in the war. After June 22, 1941, Pete Seeger and the Almanac singers did what they could to round up any copies of Songs for John Doe and changed their line, in accordance to what Stalin now wanted- help against Hitler. While this could have been merely inferred, Pete Seeger also admitted that he changed his songs to fit the party line.

Of the Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo was probably the most egregious propagandist. Before June 22,1941, he wrote and published two anti-war books,Johnny Got His Gun is a story about a World War I veteran made paraplegic as a result of the war.The Remarkable Andrew takes another tack against war, invoking Andrew Jackson, invoking the futility of foreign involvement. After June 22,1941, Dalton Trumbo changed his line. He stopped printing of Johnny Got His Gun until the war was over, and turned over to the FBI names of pacifists who had written him about the book . From page 309 of Hollywood Traitors:

Trumbo himself admitted that he became firmly interventionist after Hitler’s double cross of Stalin. When interviewed by two FBI agents on January 8, 1944, Trumbo, according to the agents, explained that he had “retained this pacifist view until June 22, 1941”—the very day Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union.2

Dalton Trumbo was not a hero for freedom, but a Stalinist toady who wrote propaganda in tandem to the ever-changing party line. He deserves our scorn. The heroes were not the Hollywood Ten who refused to testify, but those who did testify.

#43 Comment By Viking On October 12, 2015 @ 4:38 am

Belated thanks to philadelphialawyer for the explanation. That’s basically what I suspected, that they didn’t have the right to refuse testimony, but wasn’t sure.

Siarlys, the advances of communism had *everything* to do with creating a climate of great and palpable unease in the American public. Intellectuals at the time openly admitted their fears that their children or grandchildren would live under that form of totalitarianism. Orwell expressed very well what so many on the other side of “The Pond” were thinking: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” Given human frailty, this mode of thought gave rise to the desire to combat the threat. However misguided, blaming Hollywood, among other entities, followed naturally. I never said it was the right thing to do, just trying to insert some context into the political climate back then.

As to China: are you actually denying that the Chinese Communist Party was a communistic one? Mao was a founding member of the party, and helped establish the Jiangxi-Fujian Soviet in 1930. Note the Russian word at the end, and remember that Mao’s military was styled the Red Army. They couldn’t have strayed too far from Moscow, given those facts. And consequently, I doubt your assertion that history would have been that different if American officials had responded to overtures from Beijing. (Probably Hanoi as well, but that’s a different matter.) In any event, while I agree that China was in trouble since some time after the Opium Wars, the need for a strong government doesn’t require it be a communist one. I’m not sure what to make of your Gung Ho cinematic reference.

Finally, my original point was that while the “Red Menace” was still very much present, the Black/Brown/Silver one had pretty much disappeared with the Axis Powers. Do we agree on that at least?