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Monday, April 10, 2006


By Jim McAllister

The 1930's was a time of paranoia in the United States of America. With the advent of Adolf Hitler’s power in Germany combined with the rise in the popularity of Communism in the U. S. during the Depression, the Federal Government felt that necessary safeguards were in order to thwart these possible threats.
The Dies Committee was formed in 1938 as a precursor to the House Un-American Activities Committee with the sole purpose of investigating German American involvement with the Nazis and the involvement of Communists in the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Theater Project.
By 1946 the Dies Committee had become a permanent nine member group officially called the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Their purpose was to investigate any possible threats to the policies of the government of the United States.
In 1947 the HUAC acted upon the Hollywood establishment after rumors persisted about Communist infiltration into the motion picture industry. Several members of the Hollywood community were questioned about supposed Communist activity and when they refused to answer the Committee’s questions based on their First Amendment rights, they became known as the blacklisted "Hollywood Ten". This group consisted mostly of writers and directors, some who were quite well know like Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., and Dalton Trumbo. Eventually over 300 people were blacklisted including many well know actors of the time like Barbara Bel Geddes, Harry Belafonte, and Zero Mostel. One actor, Philip Loeb who starred in radio’s "The Goldbergs", actually committed suicide over his depression from being no longer able to find work in the entertainment industry. Some members of the "Hollywood Ten" were sentenced to prison terms of six months to one year in 1950 despite the fact that being a Communist was not actually against the law, it was simply not a popular organization to be a part of. In 1947, during the brouhaha of the "Ten", the Screen Actors Guild required its members to take a non-Communist pledge to satisfy the demands of the HUAC. The original "Hollywood Ten" were fired by the studios and all credits they had achieved were omitted or removed from Hollywood productions where they had been affiliated.
Many of the blacklisted writers found a detour around their ban from the industry by writing under pseudonyms or having friends pose as writers and submit scripts under their names. This policy was known as "fronting" and was detailed expertly in the 1976 Woody Allen production, "The Front". Allen’s production not only gave a vivid description of the era involved but starred many blacklisted actors like Mostel, Herschel Bernardi, and Lloyd Gough.


Anonymous said...

Unbelieveable! It's always good to revisit these actions by a few that destroyed so many lives. I sure hope we have learned from the past.


Allen Duffis said...

Excellent Jim,

As painful as it is for those of us who admire and treasure human dignity and the arts, this was indeed a tragic and disgraceful moment in our history.

Well you highlighted the fine Woody Allen film, "The Front" - 1976 that well depicted this trying time for talented performers and writers.

However, may I also suggest the almost forgotten film that touched on this subject, "The Career" 1959.

This film starred Dean Martin, Carolyn Jones, Shirley MacLaine and the recently late Anthony Franciosa (in what many consider to be his finest performance).

The film brought out the fact that many budding actors, writers and future directors during the Depression, joined the Communist Party for the free food and sometimes lodging.

Later on, the innocent association would come back to haunt them. Particulary people like the talented Pert Kelton; the original and best Alice Kramden on the original "Honeymooners" of the very early 1950's on Jackie Gleason's Dumont television's The Cavalcade of Stars.

There was also an attempt to justify and glamorize the motives and actions of the HUAC in the 1952 John Wayne film, "Big Jim McLain."

Good piece Jim, as always.


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