- reds in hollywood
- blaming accusers
- jailed and blacklisted
In October 1947, 10 members of the Hollywood film industry publicly denounced the tactics employed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), a United States investigative committee. House of Representatives, during its investigation of alleged communist influence on the American movie business. These prominent writers and directors, who became known as the Hollywood Ten, received jail sentences and were banned from working for major Hollywood studios. Their defiant stances also placed them at the center of the national debate over the controversial anti-communist crackdown that swept America in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In addition to the Hollywood Ten, other members of the industry filmmakers with suspected communist ties were barred from working for the big movie studios. the hollywood blacklist came to an end in the 1960s.
reds in hollywood
In the years following World War II (1939-45), the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a tense military and political rivalry that became known as the Cold War. although the us and its communist rival rarely clashed directly, both trying to spread their influence and promote their systems of government throughout the world. Many Americans believed that their nation’s security depended on preventing the spread of communism, and this attitude created an atmosphere of fear and suspicion in many parts of the country.
did you know? Many of the top ten writers in Hollywood continued to produce scripts under assumed names after they were blacklisted. Using the pseudonym Robert Rich, Dalton Trumbo wrote the screenplay for “The Brave,” which won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 1957.
The House Un-American Activities Committee was charged with investigating allegations of communist influence and subversion in the us. uu. during the early years of the cold war. Committee members quickly set their sights on the Hollywood film industry, which was considered a hotbed of communist activity. this reputation originated in the 1930s, when the economic difficulties of the great depression increased the appeal of leftist organizations to many struggling actors and studio workers.
With the onset of the cold war, anti-communist policymakers were concerned that the movie industry could serve as a source of subversive propaganda. Although the popular Hollywood movies of the 1930s and 1940s offered little evidence of a prevailing socialist agenda, research continued. In October 1947, more than 40 people linked to the film industry received summonses to appear before Huac on suspicion of communist loyalty or involvement in subversive activities.
accusing the accusers
During investigative hearings, huac members questioned witnesses about their past and present associations with the communist party. Knowing that their answers could ruin their reputations and careers, most people sought clemency by cooperating with investigators or citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. however, a group of 10 Hollywood writers and directors took a different approach and openly challenged the legitimacy of the committee’s investigations.
the 10 individuals who challenged huac were 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), and Dalton Trumbo (1905-76). These men, who became known as the Hollywood Ten, not only refused to cooperate with the investigation, but denounced the Huac’s anti-communist hearings as an outrageous violation of their civil rights, like the United States’ First Amendment. the constitution gave them the right to belong to any political organization they chose. Some compared the committee’s coercive methods and intimidation tactics to the oppressive measures enacted in Nazi Germany. “I’m not on trial here,” screenwriter Lawson declared. “This committee is on trial.”
jailed and blacklisted
the hollywood ten paid a high price for their actions in the huac hearings. in November 1947 they were cited for contempt of Congress. faced trial on that charge in April 1948, each man was found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of $1,000. After unsuccessfully appealing the verdicts, they began serving their sentences in 1950. While in prison, a member of the group, Edward Dmytryk, decided to cooperate with the government. in 1951, he testified at a huac hearing and provided the names of more than 20 industry colleagues whom he claimed were communists.
a more lasting punishment occurred as a result of the blacklisting of the film industry. studio executives did not want their business to be associated with radical politics in the minds of the moviegoing public and therefore agreed that they would not employ the hollywood ten (with the exception of dmytryk) or any another person suspected of being affiliated with communism. party. The movie industry’s blacklist grew larger and larger as Congress continued its investigations into the 1950s, and numerous careers were damaged as a result. the blacklist ended in the 1960s.
The Hollywood Ten were controversial figures at the time they launched their protest, and their actions continue to inspire debate decades later. Some tend to see their punishment as justified, as the individuals were admitted communists, while others generally see them as heroic figures who spoke out against the abuses of the red scare and in defense of the us. uu. constitution-when many of his colleagues remained silent.