Frame By Frame: Hollywood Blacklisting
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Frame By Frame: Hollywood Blacklisting

October 19, 2019

Hi. I’m Wheeler Winston Dixon, James Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and this is Frame By Frame, and today I want to talk about a very serious subject: the Hollywood blacklist of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. The blacklist has its roots in the Great Depression, which was the result of the 1929 crash. By 1933, 25% of America’s workforce were out of work. Jobs simply weren’t available. Thus there was the rise of labor unions, and particularly in Hollywood the major studios resisted this… because they had been using non-union labor for so long that they viewed any attempt to organize as “communistically” inspired. At the same time that this is happening, we have Hitler rising to power in Germany, and the conditions in Europe becoming more and more unstable. In 1936, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees for the first time manage to organize unions and close shops… at studios like Warner Bros., Paramount and MGM. In 1937, the Supreme Court upheld the National Labor Relations Act, giving them the right to collectively organize and bargain. In 1938, Congress formed the House UnAmerican Activities Committee to investigate unionization… basically at the behest of the studios and large corporations that were against this. And in 1938, we have the first wave of HUAC’s accusations against people. A former communist named James B. Matthews came forward, and this is his only appearance of any note in history… claiming that James Cagney, Bette Davis, Clark Gabel, Myriam Hopkins and Shirley Temple were all communist sympathizers… and at the time nobody took him very seriously. But then in 1939, Stalin and Hitler signed a non-agression pact on the eve of World War II. And then Hitler momentarily after that attacked Poland and Chekloslavikia. We, of course, got into the war in 1941, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7. And at that time the Soviet Union just more or less sat by between 1939 and 1941. It was only in 1941 that they came into the picture on the side of the Allies. And during WWII, the Soviets were our allies, but they were very uneasy ones. Winston Churchill once said, “I would make a deal with the devil in a fight against Hitler.” And that’s exactly what was happening here, but for a while the Soviets were our allies. But what happened, of course, after the war was that Stalin immediately began enslaving all of eastern Europe, and everybody became extremely afraid of the “Communist Threat.” In 1941, we have an event which leads into this, and that’s the great animators strike at Walt Disney. The Disney studio was a non-union shop, and in 1941 the animators struck seeking better pay, the right to unionize and better working conditions. Disney resisted and finally left the country because he was so angry about this, and convinced that it was a communist plot. The strike was settled 5 weeks later, but Disney was extremely bitter, and so were the employees. And this was really the beginning of the blacklist. In 1946, the HUAC held formal hearings on the communist influence on the motion picture industry. And in 1947, the HUAC held 10 days of closed hearings in Los Angeles. Robert Taylor, Lila Rogers (the mother of Ginger Rogers), Jack Warner and Adolph Mangue were the principle witnesses, or “friendly” witnesses. In 1947, the Screen Actors Guild signs the Loyalty Oath Agreement… you have to sign a loyalty oath, and if you don’t, you don’t work. In 1947, formal hearing begin with Gary Cooper, Walt Disney, Robert Montgomery, George Murphy and Ronald Reagan testifying as friendly witnesses before the House committee. RONALD REAGAN: We have done a pretty good job in our business of keeping those people’s activities curtailed. In 1947, the HUAC charged the “Hollywood Ten,” who included Howard Beberman, Edward Demetrik (who was a very famous Noir director), and Dalton Trumbo with contempt of Congress for refusing to answer their questions. Also in 1947, a series of Hollywood stars tried to fight against this. They called themselves the Committe for the First Amendment. And they flew to Washington to try to stop the hearings. And these people included Lauren Baccall, Humphrey Bogart, Ira Girshwin, Sterling Hayden, John Huston, Danny Kaye and Gene Kelly. But soon they realized that the forces were just so overwhelming that there was nothing they could do to stop the HUAC. They folded their tents and went home. I’m going to read a list of some of the people the HUAC identified as communists. Edward G. Robinson, who was a fixture at WWII bond rallies, selling bonds… Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn, Danny Kaye, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, Leonard Bernstein… the composer and conductor… Will Gear, who wound up later on “The Waltons” playing Grandpa Walton… Lena Horne, the African American singer, Langston Hughs, the writer, Joseph Lowese, the director who fled to England, Harry Belafonte, Louis Bunelle, the brilliant Spanish director… and the list goes on and on. When the Hollywood Ten were sent to prison in 1951, Edward Demetrik was the first to crack. He simply couldn’t stand the conditions. He got out and he named names. And as a result of that, he was put back to work directing “Sniper” and later “The Caine Mutiny.” Elia Kazan, in 1952, also gave friendly testimony before the committee… And in 1952, Charlie Chaplin leaves the country for England for a promotional tour for his film, “Limelight.” When Chaplin tried to re-enter, J. Edgar Hoover sees to it that he is not allowed to re-enter the United States… on the grounds that he is a Communist sympathizer, and Chaplin is effectively barred from the U.S. In 1953, the Screen Writers’ Guild allows producers to remove screen credits of any suspected communists. In 1957, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, excludes anyone on the Hollywood blacklist for consideration for an Oscar. In 1958, the Supreme Court of the United States rejects the argument that the Hollywood blacklist violated employee rights. But in 1959, the tide finally starts to turn. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decides that screen writers and actors on the blacklist will no longer be prohibited for consideration for Oscars. In 1960, Dalton Trumbo does the screenplay for Otto Premiger’s “Exodus,” and becomes the first person who was blacklisted, since the beginning of the blacklist, to get a screen credit. In 1970, Dalton Trumbo delivers his famous “Only Victims” speech before the Screen Writers Guild. In 1972, Robert Vaughn, best known as “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” writes a brilliant book called “Only Victims,” which is a study of show business blacklisting, which is the first major book and still is one of the best on that. In 1972, Charlie Chaplin returns to the United States for the first time since 1952, to receive an honorary Academy Award for his life’s works. CHARLIE CHAPLIN: Oh, you’re wonderful sweet people. Thank you. in 1976, Martin Ritt directs “The Front” with Woody Allen, which is about screenwriters who are forced to work under false names, and they get “fronts” to front for their work. This is in 1976. WOODY ALLEN: I don’t recognize the right of this committee to ask me these kind of questions. In 1991, producer Irwin Winkler directs “Guilty By Suspicion” starring Robert DeNiro, which is probably the best account of the blacklist. But all in all, the blacklist put a lot of people out of work, many of whom were entirely guiltless and were basically just the victim of a vendetta. But I’m going to leave the last word to Dalton Trumbo who was one of the victims of the blacklist, but who wrote very movingly about it. And this is part of his very famous “Only Victims” speech.

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  1. Thank god there were stars like Gene Kelly to fight against this scourge even though it touched his own family. The group that want to Washington to protest the HUAC were heroes.

  2. This is a frighting period in American history. Could it happen again ? Will we freak out again ? Will we stop and think before we destroy people's lives ? I hope not.

  3. Freedom is a funny thing. Although most of us would agree that freedom is our most precious right, blacklisting took away that right. But let us not forget that Communism was also a very real threat to freedom. The point at the end of this study is that both sides were victims. Question; Should this country which has an ideal to maintain individual freedom, allow religious freedom such as radical Islam to continue to grow and spread unfettered? I think the result would be incredible loss of freedom. Freedom is not free and all radical movements be it Jihadism, Communism, or blacklisting should be held in check.

  4. Excellent summary–I've been curious about this, and I learned a lot. Most of what I'd previously seen on the topic said that there were some with commie leanings(even known to have attended party meetings), but no one remotely to the point of advocating the overthrow of our government.

  5. Richard Adelman "only victims" is, sadly an insult to our intelligence. This attitude excuses the witchunters themselves and their cohorts, the friendly witnesses and red-baiting newspaper columnists, and the cowardly studios, and many others. . . I am sorry you chose to end your otherwise-informative video presentation with this quote (although you read it with real feeling, all the more confusing).

  6. Interesting, Stalin "enslaved" Eastern Europe? Ok, so can we say the United States enslaved the Western territories that had been Mexico; Guam, the Northern Marianas, Samoa, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii [whose government was overthrown]?

    While we're on it, looking at Pakistan and Afghanistan should make an academic look at the Soviet Socialist Republics to the East, the other '-stans." They were the fiercest defenders of the USSR, the Baltic states being the least. These Eastern republics, sister countries to the Afghanistan and Pakistan variety, took a much better trajectory than the ones "enslaved" by Western capitalism.

  7. ….Subsequent research has revealed that there was, indeed, a concerted effort by the Kremlin to infiltrate every field of Western life (and that Stalin, himself, was particularly interested in the propaganda power of Western film and media)….People today forget that it was viewed as a “life-or-death” struggle between ideologies, post-WWII; Stalin was, indeed, amassing Eastern European countries like checkers (the coup in Chekoslovakia in the late forties, and the crushing of Hungary, really brought this fact home)…

    ….As Reagan had said during his HUAC testimony (contrary to all other “friendly” witnesses—who had argued for the American Communist Party to be outlawed), “We should be a strong enough country to bear the presence of all different ideologies. I am not in favor of outlawing the Communist Party.”…..It shouldn’t have become a mere question of whether one had been a “Communist” or not. However, those members of all fields who were actively working as Soviet agents most definitely needed to be exposed…The USSR was considered a “hostile government” at the time, and represented a real, perceived threat to America’s security. Those actively working to advance the USSR’s goals in the US were, under US law, guilty of treason…

  8. And now look at Hollywood. Full of sex, violence, rating system destroyed, Illuminati symbolism and just plain evil. Deeper dive into many of these "innocent" people finds they were Communist sympathizers. Hide it all you want. Spin it how you will. It's still all true and now it's ruining America.

  9. Co-Chair of the dies Committee Soviet Agent Samuel Dickstein bought Communist James by Mathews in to testify to kill the Committee looking into Communist in Hollywood & the Media.. And this Communist is teaching your children?

  10. Highly untruthful lefty propaganda, many of the characters were not only Communist, the exercised power over content, they demanded corrections to fit with Communist propaganda, the biggest player was Trumbo, not mentioned here is that Humphrey Bogart during the early 30's was taking Communist Theory classes at the Communist party office on East 13 Street, NYC, in 1947 when he arrived with Ms. Baccal, on a private plane with a Red Star emblazoned on its wings to D.C, with many other "useful idiots of Hollywood", Schnooks that unkowingly and in many cases very knowingly, who served the USSR , HUAC which knew that he had encounters with Communism, took him to a private room, where he saw copies of party membership cards of those Communist buddies of his, he then realized that he was had, they lied to him all along while using him on occasion for their own propaganda. Furthermore, diminishing the talent and contribution of J.B Mathews who was a prolific investigator (puablished book on those years) and a brave anti-Communist is only one of the many giveaways.

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