Remembering the Hollywood 10
Posted on Oct 8, 2007
Hollywood’s Reds Go to War
Before America entered World War II, Hollywood Communists and independent leftists—such as Lawson and Charlie Chaplin, respectively, in “Blockade” and “The Great Dictator”—struggled to sound the alarm about fascism. Two events turned these lone wolves crying out in the wilderness into mainstream town criers. The Hitler-Stalin Non-Aggression Pact of 1939 sidelined the Soviet Union—and CPUSA—from the antifascist cause, until the Nazis invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941. Then, on Dec. 7, 1941, Imperial Japan struck Pearl Harbor.
Hollywood’s Reds rejoined the crusade against fascism with gusto. The pent-up antifascist ardor of individual members was now unleashed against an external enemy. Instead of being “premature antifascists,” Communists were now on the side of official U.S. foreign policy and the studios, fighting to save the world from totalitarianism.
Alec Baldwin, narrator of 1996’s “Blacklist: Hollywood on Trial” documentary, commented: “Hollywood produced hundreds of patriotic war films. ... Left-wing writers were in demand. They could express the ideals the soldiers were fighting for.” Ready for their close-ups, many WWII pictures were co-created by Hollywood Reds and independent leftists, including: “Sahara,” “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo,” “Pride of the Marines,” “Watch on the Rhine,” “Back to Bataan” and “Casablanca.”
The Cold War
As WWII ended, Lardner experienced “a growing good feeling.” As he put it, “An Allied victory ... had been won by the two great powers ... one democratic, one Communist, who ... work[ed] together for shared ideals,” he said. But in “I’d Hate Myself in the Morning,” the left-leaning screenwriter noted, “Almost no one had anticipated how quickly the tide would turn to rightist reaction. ...” Hollywood was particularly hard-hit by postwar backlash. “One of the first acts of the Republicans who took control of Congress in 1946 (for the first time in 20 years) was to convert a temporary [HUAC], which had been investigating fascist sympathizers during the war, into a permanent [committee] concentrating on the ... left,” Lardner said.
Schneiderman’s “confession” was made during October 1944 hearings in L.A., convened by the California Legislature’s own Committee on Un-American Activities, presided over by Sen. Jack Tenney. CP screenwriters Lawson, Maltz and Waldo Salt were interrogated; all denied party membership. Lawson was also asked about his father’s changing of the family’s Jewish surname, interracial dancing and marriage.
In 1944, Hollywood conservatives formed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPAPAI), whose members included John Wayne, Ward Bond and Adolphe Menjou. The MPAPAI was a right-wing counterpart to progressive organizations such as the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, the Hollywood Democratic Committee, and the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions. After WWII, the U.S.-USSR alliance collapsed. An outbreak of strikes shook the motion picture industry from 1945-1946, defeating the left-leaning Conference of Studio Unions. For the first time since 1928, the Republicans took over Congress in 1946. According to Neal Gabler’s “An Empire of Their Own,” the MPAPAI invited HUAC to Tinseltown to investigate the Red menace in movies. The stage was set for the “Inquisition in Eden.”
Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee geared up for the final solution to the Hollywood Reds problem. The committee included arch-segregationists and anti-Semites; Gabler notes, “Robert Stripling, HUAC’s new counsel, was a Southern white supremacist who had previously assisted ... a former publicist for the [pro-nazi German] Bund.” On Feb. 6, 1947 Gerhart Eisler testified before the committee. A prominent German communist exile, Gerhart’s brother, Hans, composed music for Hollywood pictures, such as 1943’s anti-Nazi “Hangmen Also Die,” directed by Fritz Lang and written by Bertolt Brecht.
In March 1947, former U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Eric Johnston, then the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) president, appeared before HUAC. In May, the committee received a special appropriation of $75,000. HUAC installed itself in L.A.‘s Biltmore Hotel, and on May 8-9, 1947, it interviewed 14 friendly witnesses, including Robert Taylor, who’d starred in “Song of Russia,” co-written by CP members Paul Jarrico and Richard Collins. Lela Rogers was miffed by the Bolshie dialogue Trumbo put in her daughter Ginger’s mouth in “Tender Comrades”: “Share and share alike—that’s democracy.” Anti-communist actor Adolphe Menjou and mogul Jack Warner cooperated with HUAC; J. Edgar Hoover also appeared.
Hollywood Fights Back
In response to the HUAC’s actions, Hollywood liberals and lefties began organizing. A mass rally at Gilmore Stadium in May 1947 featured Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace and Katharine Hepburn, who delivered a speech written by Trumbo: “Silence the artist, and you silence the most articulate voice the people have. Destroy culture and you destroy one of the strongest sources of inspiration from which a people can draw strength to fight for a better life.”
Meanwhile, on Sept. 24, 1947, the committee grilled Hanns Eisler. On Sept. 27, HUAC subpoenaed 24 “friendly” (some had previously testified during HUAC’s closed sessions in L.A.) and 19 “unfriendly” witnesses (mostly Jewish), summoning them to Washington.
In Tinseltown, John Huston, then vice president of the Directors Guild, met with director William Wyler and screenwriter Philip Dunne (neither of whom were part of the “Unfriendly 19”) to create a group called the Committee for the First Amendment. CFA organized Hollywood’s liberals and left to resist HUAC, and lyricist Ira Gershwin hosted a star-studded anti-witch-hunt party that included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, Danny Kaye, Billy Wilder and others. Their position was that the impending inquisition had nothing to do with communism per se but was about civil liberties, especially free speech. Some 500 people signed an anti-HUAC petition.
A phone hookup at Wyler’s home allowed unfriendly witnesses already in Washington, such as Adrian Scott, to inform the West Coast CFA about what was happening in the capital. According to Lawrence Grobel’s “The Hustons,” Bacall said, “It was a cry for help. They wanted a group of us to come to Washington to give them moral support. ... There was no talk of communism—communism had nothing to do with it. It had to do with the Hitlerian tactics being employed” by HUAC.
CFA organized a flight of the stars aboard Howard Hughes’ plane to fly to D.C.. Garfield, Sterling Hayden, Marsha Hunt, Jane Wyatt, Paul Henreid, June Havoc, Larry Adler and Evelyn Keyes joined Gershwin, Bogart, Bacall, Kelly, Kaye, and their spokesmen, Huston and Dunne, on the trip to Washington.
On Oct. 26, a day before the Hollywood 10 began testifying, the anti-HUAC celebrities aired the first of a two-part national broadcast called “Hollywood Fights Back!,” co-written by Norman Corwin and Robert Presnell Jr., and featuring Garland, Kelly, Bacall, “Bogie,” Robinson, Lancaster, Henreid, John Beal and William Holden.
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