The Revival of the Hollywood Blacklist


During the 1940s and 1950s, Hollywood producers, directors, and actors were scrutinized for their political beliefs. The period of “red hysteria” put people’s jobs in the film industry in jeopardy. “Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and/or refusal to assist federal investigations into Communist Party activities; some were blacklisted merely because their names came up at the wrong place and time.”

Writers and directors testified before Congress and the specially called House Committee on Un-American Activities. When a group of 10 writers and directors — the so-called Hollywood Ten — refused to testify before the committee, a Hollywood “blacklist” was instituted on November 25, 1947. On June 22, 1950, the journal Counterattack published Red Channels, a report on the “Communist Influence in Radio and Television.” The booklet identified 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcast journalists, and others it believed were using the entertainment industry to spread Communist ideals. Even before publication, some on the list were already being denied employment because of their political beliefs. Beginning in May of 1947, the Counterattack newsletter published weekly information on the political views of entertainment figures.

On November 25, 1947 (the day after the House of Representatives approved citations of contempt for the Hollywood Ten because of their refusal to testify), Eric Johnston, President of the Motion Picture Association of America, issued a two-page press release that represented the views of the heads of the major studios. The “Waldorf Statement,” as it came to be called, announced the firing of the Hollywood Ten and stated:

“We will forthwith discharge or suspend without compensation those in our employ, and we will not re-employ any of the 10 until such time as he is acquitted or has purged himself of contempt and declares under oath that he is not a Communist. . . . We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States.”

Most people today would not recognize the names of the Hollywood Ten. The Oscar-winning Dalton Trumbo (1905 –1976) might be the exception. He started as one of the highest paid writers in Hollywood making $4000 per week and worked on a number of noted films: Kitty Foyle (1940), Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944), A Guy Named Joe (1943), Spartacus (1960), and Our Vines Have Tender Grapes (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson whose name was published in the Red Channels booklet, although Robinson was never “officially” blacklisted.

Trumbo’s 1939 anti-war novel, Johnny Got His Gun, won an American Book Sellers Award that year1 and was produced as a film during the Vietnam era.2 It didn’t help Trumbo that the novel was serialized in the Communist periodical The Daily Worker in March 1940 and “became ‘a rally point for the left’ which had opposed involvement in World War II during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact.” This and a visit from the FBI3 made Trumbo persona non grata among many in Hollywood, especially since, politics aside, bad publicity could doom a film that was written by an anti-war advocate. How do you sell a movie to a patriotic public when the screenplay was written by a “Commie”? Hollywood is about money and ideology. Left-leaning actors, writers, directors, and producers knew this, that’s why the movies they worked on did not espouse much of their radical ideology. They made their money from the system of government and economics that they hoped to reshape using a failed political system.

Little has changed in our day. Leftists extol the virtues of Che Guevara (Che to his friends), Fidel Castro, described as “Hollywood’s favorite tyrant,”4 and Hugo Chavez while failing to comprehend that their profession would be controlled by these dictators and used for propaganda purposes.

Trumbo was still able to make a living while blacklisted since producers got his services at bargain-basement prices if his work went uncredited or was acknowledged under an assumed name. In fact, he had more work than he could handle.5

“The film blacklist ended in 1960 when Kirk Douglas, the star and executive producer of Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, credited blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, of the Hollywood Ten, as the movie’s writer, using Trumbo’s real name. Ever since his blacklisting in 1947, Trumbo had been submitting scripts under the pseudonym Sam Jackson.  President-elect John Kennedy crossed American Legion picket lines to view Spartacus, thereby lending the credibility of the nation’s highest office to the effort to end blacklisting. . . .  Also in 1960, director Otto Preminger publicly announced that Trumbo had written his blockbuster film, Exodus.”6

The Hollywood blacklist era has outraged liberals for more than 60 years, but this hasn’t stopped modern-day liberals from creating their own version of a blacklist made up of conservatives. This is especially true of up and coming actors who are trying to make it in Hollywood. The conservative views of established actors are generally ignored because they are box-office draws. Ideology aside, their movies make money! This was especially true for someone like Charlton Heston who continued to work even though he was perceived to be far to the right politically. Of course, Heston was hardly the stereotypical conservative. “Though often portrayed as an ultra-conservative, Heston wrote in his 1995 autobiography ‘In the Arena’ that he was opposed to the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s, was against the Vietnam War and thought President Richard Nixon was bad for America.” He also participated in the March on Washington in 1963, along with liberal icons Burt Lancaster, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando, Sidney Poitier, and Harry Belafonte (see images here and here).

Hollywood continues to have its fingers in the political pie. They are not neutral observers but active participants in shaping the political landscape with their money and star-power influence. The 2008 Franken-Coleman election in Minnesota is testimony to the power of the Hollywood purse. A lot of liberal money came in to support Franken by noted liberals like Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, George Clooney, Michael J. Fox, Ted Danson, David Letterman, Mike Myers, Dan Aykroyd, and Steve Martin. Because the FCC data base is open to the media, those who donate are available to the Hollywood left. A conservative who donated to Coleman would be “outed” in periodicals like Variety and Politico and might find it difficult getting steady work in the entertainment industry (see interview here).

A similar tactic is being used to punish those who supported California’s pro-hetersexual marriage Proposition 8. A Los Angeles Times article reported that many “in liberal Hollywood who fought to defeat the initiative banning same-sex marriage and are now reeling with recrimination and dismay. Meanwhile, activists continue to comb donor lists and employ the Internet to expose those who donated money to support the ban. Already out is Scott Eckern, director of the nonprofit California Musical Theatre in Sacramento, who resigned after a flurry of complaints from prominent theater artists, including ‘Hairspray’ composer Marc Shaiman, when word of his contribution to the Yes on [Prop] 8 campaign surfaced.” Recently Peter Vidmar, a double gold-medal winner in the 1984 Olympics in gymnastics, was forced to resign as Chairman of USA Gymnastics. Why? Because in 2008 he donated $2000 to support Proposition 8. The homosexual defamation machine went into action and put pressure on the Olympic Committee and its sponsors. The blacklist lives!

A letter writer to the San Francisco Chronicle who supported Prop 8 was intimidated when Internet search engines were used “to find the letter writer’s small business, his Web site (which included the names of his children and dog), his phone number and his clients. And they posted that information in the ‘Comments’ section of SFGate.com—urging, in ugly language, retribution against the author’s business and its identified clients.”

Now, is this to say that conservatives can’t work in Hollywood today? Not at all. Is there a fear factor that keeps conservatives from speaking out? I don’t doubt it. Those who are touted as conservatives usually have no stated public opinion on abortion and homosexuality. Patricia Heaton and Angie Harmon are notable exceptions. Kurt Russell is listed as a conservative, actually, a libertarian, which might explain why he’s living with Goldie Hawn and not married to her, although I must say that he’s stayed with her longer than Brad Pitt did with Jennifer Aniston. Many (most?) are economic conservatives like Kelsey Grammar and Drew Carey but social liberals. And there are more who are being encouraged to make their conservative beliefs public. Here’s a list you might want to check out.

The recent publication of Ben Shapiro’s book Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story Of How The Left Took Over Your TV is a primary source of self-admission by the movers and shakers in the entertainment industry that they are liberal and proud of it. Playwright, essayist, screenwriter, film director, and Nobel Prize winner David Mamet has broken free of the liberal plantation. His article “My I Am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal’” is worth reading as is his just released book The Secret Knowledge.

Like so much of liberalism, liberals are hypocritical. They decry the blacklisting of the 1940s and 1950s but don’t seem to mind if the right people, in their estimation, are being blacklisted today who defy their pet social and political causes. The Seinfeld episode where two homosexuals confront Kramer because he won’t wear the red AIDS ribbon is illustrative of liberal “dialogue.” He is opposed to “ribbon bullies.” (See the clip here.) “The storyline appeared to be based on the real-life controversy of former Days of Our Lives actress Deidre Hall, who, in 1993 publicly refused to wear AIDS ribbons at public events, such as the Daytime Emmys. Hall claimed that the volunteers who passed out the ribbons bullied celebrities into wearing the ribbons.’

So what’s the solution? Beat them at their own game. Write and produce better films that make money, make people laugh, cry, think, and imagine! In Gary Susman’s article “Hollywood Conservatives: Come out of the closet and be heard!,” the point is made that what people want is good entertainment, and they generally don’t care who produces it:

[I]n entertainment, people want escapism, not spinach or propaganda. It’s why (as conservatives note) few went to see last year’s group of movies critical of the War on Terror (In the Valley of Elah, Rendition, Lions for Lambs, etc.) or this year’s W., but it’s also why few went to see American Carol, either. (It’s not a liberal conspiracy that both Carol and W. are being roundly ignored in favor of talking chihuahuas.) Explicitly partisan movies, left or right, don’t seem to do as well as those that give both sides a voice or whose ideology takes a backseat to plot and character development.

Amen! Go and do likewise.

  1. In 1971, the novel was turned into a film of the same name and a low-budget Live On-Stage production in 2008. []
  2. The title comes from the line “Johnny get your gun” from the George M. Cohan song “Over There” (1917) that was used for recruitment for WW I and II. For the lyrics, go here. Watch the scene from Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) starring James Cagney who is shown singing the song along with soldiers marching in front of the White House. []
  3. Trumbo tells the circumstances surrounding the FBI visit in the Introduction to the 1959 edition of Johnny Got Your Gun (see here). []
  4. Humberto Fontova, Fidel: Hollywood’s Favorite Tyrant (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2005). “The book criticizes American celebrities, particularly Hollywood actors, who support Fidel Castro’s government in Cuba and often travel to meet with Castro personally. Among those singled out are Jack Nicholson, Danny Glover, Harry Belafonte, Chevy Chase, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner, and Dan Rather.” []
  5. Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh, Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony’s Long Romance with the Left (New York: Encounter Books, 2006), 208. []
  6. Richard A. Schwartz, “How the Film and Television Blacklists Worked.” []
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