Blacklists: From Government to Films

         Fearful of Communism in the early years of the Cold War with the former Soviet Union, the United States government began investigating members of the Hollywood community. Looking for suggestions of Communism in films, the government ruined friendships but also deprived the country of many great films due to their intense paranoia. Better known as HUAC, the House Committee on Un-American Activities investigated the individuals they believed to be Communists, causing a near crash of an industry that was excelling in the year immediately following World War II (Cook passim).

         During the Great Depression, many directors, actors, writers, and numerous others thought Communism was better than the misery so many were going through. Because of this they sided with the Communist party by either joining or contributing money to their cause. The people they suspected were subpoenaed and forced to testify to Congress and give names of others who were also affiliated with Communists. Many of the people who had claimed to be members of Communist cells did so resentfully but gave names of others who were also affiliated with the Communist party (Cook passim).

         To prevent being blacklisted, a small number of individuals turned against the others and started giving Congress names in order to save themselves. Walt Disney told Congress that the Communists had tried to take over his studio, which seems fairly radical. Ronald Reagan also testified against his friends and co-workers (“Classic”). It is a possibility that testimony helped Reagan get elected president in 1980. Robert Taylor claimed that he knew various people who were Communists but in fact were not. Additional members of the film industry that had turned against the others included Gary Cooper, Jack L. Warner, and Sam Wood, as well as other people (“Classic”).

         The members of the Hollywood community who refused to testify to Congress were put on the so-called Blacklist. Of all the people summoned to Congress, ten of them who refused were held by the court and given prison sentences. These men were eventually given the name of the “Hollywood Ten.” All ten of these members were proven by Congress to be members or former members of the Communist party (Schwartz).

         Numerous people on the list were forced to leave Hollywood, and some even left the country despite cooperating with the inquiries because they could no longer find work in Hollywood. Many of the people on the blacklist who did leave Hollywood would either return many years later or never again. For those who could, Broadway was one manner in which they could continue working in acting, but the field was not what they were accustomed to. Clifford Odets, a writer, and Victor Kilian, an actor, are two examples of people who moved to live theater after being blacklisted. Actor Phil Brown moved to England, and director Jules Dassin went to France to avoid the blacklist. Many other people quit acting all together or found new means of employment (“Classic”).

         The act of even being called to testify to Congress about one’s acts as Communist hurt people’s careers, as did being married to somebody who was a suspected Communist. Gale Sondergaard was not a Communist but was hurt by the blacklist nonetheless. Lee Grant was also blacklisted for defending her husband, Arnold Manoff (“Classic”).

         People that were involved in the production side of film making were also hurt, this time in a financial manner. The people who worked behind the stage were hurt because film production was cut back, and films no longer had the elaborate budgets they had immediately following the end of World War II).

         Television benefited greatly from the blacklist by acquiring numerous actors and directors from Hollywood. Orson Bean was first added to the blacklist with many others, but he has had a very successful TV career since, appearing as a guest on many shows even to today. Charles Korvin is another actor who found success in television after being blacklisted (“Classic”). He too acted in many different television shows, along with appearing in the miniseries “Holocaust” and his last film in 1993, Germany’s Dann eben mit Gewalt (“Charles Korvin”).

         The members of the Hollywood community that were hurt the least by the blacklist were the writers. Those who were blacklisted were able to continue to work, although only under assumed names (“Classic”).

         Despite all the controversy the government caused, they truly felt they were doing what was right for the country. The government honestly believed that the actions they were taking were the appropriate actions to take at the time. Looking back at the situation today however, many people can see the government was acting on its paranoia that followed World War II into the Cold War era. Knowing how the government functions, one can find that it can be easy to believe that these actions, some could even say hysteria, could easily take place again, and in some ways already has with the government doing the phone tapping it was accused of after the events on September 11, 2001 (Cook passim).

         If the industry had not turned against itself, a majority of the problems that occurred with blacklisting may never have occurred if many of the people who testified for Congress had not told them simply what they wanted to hear. A few good things did come out of the blacklisting, such as the television industry gaining actors, actresses, and production staff they otherwise would not have received. Other countries also benefited from our government’s actions, as they too received the industry people that the United States had turned away.

Works Cited

“Charles Korvin.” Internet Movie Database 29 Apr. 2008 (http://www.imdb.com).

“Classic Movies.” The Hollywood Blacklist 29 Apr. 2008. (http://www.classicmovies.org/articles/aa032899.htm). (http://comptalk.fiu.edu/huac.htm).

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film). Fourth Edition. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004.

Schwartz, Richard. Cold War Culture 2000. 29 Apr. 2008. (http://comptalk.fiu.edu/huac.htm).

Ashley Wilson

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