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Why Did the Hollywood Blacklist Happen?

Why Did the Hollywood Blacklist Happen?

When communism reared its head, it led to suspicion and paranoia, and resulted in a number of actors getting caught in the mix. This article answers the question as to why the Hollywood Blacklist happened?
Vijith Menon
Did You Know?
Charlie Chaplin was one of the people named in the blacklist, and was forced to leave the US

After World War 2, the tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States resulted in the Cold War. But the US government didn't have the time to fight two wars. When communism reared its ugly head in America, it targeted the people who could influence the consciousness of the American people - Hollywood.

Hollywood, by itself, is a glamorous industry, that advocates freedom of speech in all its movies. But the Red Scare (communism) was fresh in the minds of the public, and politics ended up meddling in their affairs. Hollywood, although competitive by nature, was a tight-knit family that looked out for each other. But the propaganda incited by Senator Joseph McCarthy led to Hollywood moguls and major studio bosses to state outright that actors embracing the ideology of communism would be blacklisted until proven innocent.

Hollywood Blacklist
Hollywood refused to believe that communism festered inside the movie industry. Renowned actors such as Humphrey Bogart and Ronald Reagan, then president of Screen Actors Guild, had formed a special group called the Committee for the First Amendment, that renounced communism and decided to stand behind the people under suspicion. Strikes occurring in the '30s escalated the tensions between Hollywood producers and the unions, especially the Screen Writers Guild of America.

In 1946, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) headed by chairman Martin Dies, Jr. claimed that they had a list containing 42 names who were communists, and their names would be cleared on the condition that they appear in front of a jury. The Hollywood Blacklist contained a list of names of all actors and others working in the industry who had alleged contacts with the Communist Party. Out of the 42, 19 refused to give evidence, citing the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. 12 others refused to present themselves in front of the committee. Out of the remaining 11, Bertolt Brecht agreed to answer questions and testify, and immediately departed for East Germany. The 10 people who refused to give evidence were named the Hollywood Ten.

Hollywood Ten
The Hollywood Ten consisted of Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, and Alvah Bessie, who refused to answer any of the questions put forward by HUAC. Because the members of the committee for the First Amendment themselves turned out to be communists, Hollywood members started the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA), which aimed to protect American ideals, and refused to admit anyone propagating communism.

Hollywood moguls like Louis B. Mayer, Harry Cohn, Barney Balaban, Samuel Goldwyn, and Eric Johnston met at the Waldorf-Astoria, and released a two-page issue called the Waldorf Statement, that reserved the right to blacklist any actor found sympathizing with the Communist Party, unless proven innocent by HUAC.

The Hollywood Ten were only suspected of being communists, lost the battle against the Supreme Court, and served a term of a year in prison, plus an additional fine of $1,000. During this time, the families of the Hollywood Ten suffered the most, and were ostracized by most studios. Even after being released from prison, their reputations and careers were tarnished, and they had a tough time finding work in Hollywood. Most of them had to resort to teaching and doing Broadway plays, or finding work outside the borders of the movie industry.

The Growing List
Although the communist scare had subsided, the atmosphere of paranoia had led neighbors to tell on each other. In fact, the FBI actually encouraged people to come forward and let them know of any persons associated with communism. Leo Townsend, Isobel Lennart, Roy Huggins, Richard Collins, Lee J. Cobb, Budd Schulberg, and Elia Kazan were some of the personalities that started naming others who leaned towards left-wing ideologies.

The anti-Communist group AWARE, published the names of those screenwriters, actors, and directors that they deemed were communists. Arthur Miller, one of the suspects in the list, wrote The Crucible, to bring to the surface the unwarranted persecution in response to the Red Scare in the '50s and the paranoia of the US government. Although based on the Salem Witch trials, the book was an allegory to the campaign spearheaded by Senator Joseph McCarthy to crack down on communism and its subsequent supporters.

The names included in the blacklist numbered 150, though these are some of the most prominent ones: Stella Adler, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Larry Adler, Joseph Bromberg, Alan Campbell, Hanns Eisler, Marsha Hunt, Edwin Rolfe, Carl Foreman, John Garfield, E. Y. Harburg, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, Howard Da Silva, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Philip Loeb, Joseph Losey, Dorothy Parker, Anne Revere, Pete Seeger, Gale Sondergaard, Louis Untermeyer, Josh White, Zero Mostel, Clifford Odets, Michael Wilson, Paul Jarrico, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee, Orson Welles, Paul Green, Sidney Kingsley, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright, and Abraham Polonsky.

The Aftermath
The crackdown on communism finally ended by 1957, because the allegations were based on baseless fabrications, and public interest waned. The movie industry found its voice by releasing Storm Center, starring Bette Davis, a small-time librarian who refused to remove a book advertising communist propaganda in the small town.

Dalton Trumbo wrote successful scripts like The Brave One, Exodus, and Spartacus, under the pseudonym Robert Rich, and was later publicly acknowledged by actor Kirk Douglas for his contribution. Many blacklisted actors were hired by Alfred Hitchcock and Betty Hutton. John Henry Faul, an afternoon radio comedy host, sued AWARE and won the lawsuit. This was the final straw that broke the communist propaganda and ended its rein in Hollywood.

Though most actors couldn't succeed after getting blacklisted, they did find work abroad. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist, a book depicting the life of the survivors of the blacklist was released, as so was a documentary Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist, that recorded the personal opinions of major Hollywood stars.

Presently, Blacklist is a website that hosts un-produced screenplays as well as scripts that couldn't find a voice in Hollywood. Many mainstream films have been produced according to the list, including Whiplash, American Sniper, Munich, and Jason Bateman's independent movie Bad Words, to name a few. Though the blacklist has been termed illegal, actors who have been on bad terms with media moguls have made their way into the list. Some of them include Jim Caviezel, Mel Gibson, and Jean-Claude Van Damme.