Hollywood Ten

In 1947 Roy M. Brewer was appointed to the Motion Picture Industry Council. At this time the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), chaired by J. Parnell Thomas, began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named nineteen people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

Roy M. Brewer was interviewed by the HUCA in October, 1947. He claimed that he knew 13 writers, actors and directors he said were involved in communist activities. This included John Garfield and Dalton Trumbo, both of whom had volunteered to act as observers for the studio pickets in the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) strike.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions.

Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

Larry Parks was the only actor in the original nineteen people named. He was also the only person on the list who the average moviegoer would have known. Parks agreed to give evidence to the HUAC and admitted that he had joined the Communist Party in 1941 but left it four years later. When asked for the names of fellow members, Parks replied: "I would prefer, if you would allow me, not to mention other people's names. Don't present me with the choice of either being in contempt of this Committee and going to jail or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer."

The House of Un-American Activities Committee insisted that Parks answered all the questions asked. The HUAC had a private session and two days later it was leaked to the newspapers that Parks had named names.

Leo Townsend, Isobel Lennart, Roy Huggins, Richard Collins, Lee J. Cobb, Budd Schulberg and Elia Kazan, afraid they would go to prison, were willing to name people who had been members of left-wing groups. If these people refused to name names, they were added to a blacklist that had been drawn up by the Hollywood film studios.

In June, 1950, three former FBI agents and a right-wing television producer, Vincent Harnett, published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organisations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. The names had been compiled from FBI files and a detailed analysis of the Daily Worker, a newspaper published by the American Communist Party.

A free copy of Red Channels was sent to those involved in employing people in the entertainment industry. All those people named in the pamphlet were blacklisted until they appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and convinced its members they had completely renounced their radical past.

Edward Dmytryk, one of the original Hollywood Ten, had financial problems as a result of divorcing his first wife. Faced with having to sell his plane and encouraged by his new wife, Dmytryk decided to try to get his name removed from the blacklist. On 25th April, 1951, Dmytryk appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee again. This time he answered all their questions including the naming of twenty-six former members of left-wing groups.

Dmytryk also revealed how people such as John Howard Lawson, Adrian Scott and Albert Maltz had put him under pressure to make sure his films expressed the views of the Communist Party. This was particularly damaging to those members of the original Hollywood Ten were at that time involved in court cases with their previous employers. If these people refused to name names, they were added to a blacklist that had been drawn up by the Hollywood film studios.

Samuel Ornitz, Ring Lardner, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie,Lester Cole, Herbert Biberman and Edward Dmytryk
Samuel Ornitz, Ring Lardner, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie,
Lester Cole, Herbert Biberman and Edward Dmytryk

Over 320 people were placed on this list that stopped them from working in the entertainment industry. This included the following: Larry Adler, Stella Adler, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Joseph Bromberg, Alan Campbell, Charlie Chaplin, Aaron Copland, Hanns Eisler, Edwin Rolfe, Carl Foreman, John Garfield, Howard Da Silva, Dashiell Hammett, E. Y. Harburg, Lillian Hellman, Burl Ives, Arthur Miller, Dorothy Parker, Philip Loeb, Joseph Losey, Dorothy Parker, Anne Revere, Pete Seeger, Gale Sondergaard, Louis Untermeyer, Josh White, Zero Mostel, Clifford Odets, Michael Wilson, Paul Jarrico, Jeff Corey, John Randolph, Canada Lee, Orson Welles, Paul Green, Sidney Kingsley, Paul Robeson, Richard Wright and Abraham Polonsky.

Some blacklisted screenwriters continued to write under assumed names. Two of these writers, Dalton Trumbo, Roman Holiday (1953) and The Brave One (1956) and Michael Wilson, Bridge Over the River Kwai (1957), won Academy Awards for their screenplays.

In 1960 Dalton Trumbo became the first blacklisted writer to use his own name when he wrote the screenplay for film Spartacus. Based on the novel by another left-wing blacklisted writer, Howard Fast, the film that examines the spirit of revolt. Trumbo refers back to his experiences of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. At the end, when the Romans finally defeat the rebellion, the captured slaves refuse to identify Spartacus. As a result, all are crucified. Ironically, much of Spartacus was filmed on land owned by William Randolph Hearst. It was Hearst's newspapers that played such an important role in making McCarthyism possible.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Edward Dmytryk, interviewed by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (25th April, 1951)

John Howard Lawson settled all questions. If there was a switch in the Party line, he explained it. If there were any decisions to be made, they went to John Howard Lawson. If there was any conflict within the Communist Party, he was the one who settled it. We had a third meeting at which Adrian Scott brought Albert Maltz, who was a more liberal Communist, to defend us. These meetings ended in a stalemate.

Albert Maltz had been concerned about the lack of freedom of thought in the Communist Party for some time, and this was the trigger for the article he wrote for the New Masses on freedom of thought which was so widely discussed. So he wrote the article which he later had to repudiate or get out of the Party, and he chose to repudiate it.

(2) Edward Dmytryk wrote about his decision to testify before the House of Un-American Activities Committee in his autobiography, It's a Hell of a Life (1978)

I had long been convinced that the fight of the Ten was political; that the battle for freedom of thought, in which I believed that I was being forced to sacrifice my family and my career in defense of the Communist Party, from which I had long been separated and which I had grown to dislike and distrust. I knew that if it ever got down to a choice between the Party and our traditional democratic structure I would fight the Party and our traditional democratic structure I would fight the Party to the bitter end.

(3) Larry Parks agreed to talk about his own involvement in the Communist Party but was at first unwilling to give the names of other former members when he testified in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (October, 1947).

I would prefer, if you would allow me, not to mention other people's names. Don't present me with the choice of either being in contempt of this Committee and going to jail or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer. I have two boys, one thirteen months, one two weeks. Is this the kind of heritage that you would like to hand down to your children.

(4) Statement issued after a meeting of the Hollywood Motion Picture Producers (24th November, 1947)

Members of the Association of Motion Picture Producers deplore the action of the 10 Hollywood men who have been cited for contempt. We do not desire to prejudge their legal rights, but their actions have been a disservice to their employers and have impaired their usefulness to the industry.

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.

On the broader issues of alleged subversive and disloyal elements in Hollywood, our members are likewise prepared to take positive action. 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 by force or by illegal or unconstitutional methods. In pursuing this policy, we are not going to be swayed by hysteria or intimidation from any source. We are frank to recognize that such a policy involves dangers and risks. There is the danger of hurting innocent people. There is the risk of creating an atmosphere of fear. Creative work at its best cannot be carried on in an atmosphere of fear. To this end we will invite the Hollywood talent guilds to work with us to eliminate any subversives, to protect the innocent, and to safeguard free speech and a free screen wherever threatened.

(5) Richard Collins was interviewed by Victor Navasky when he was writing his book, Naming Names (1982)

I don't think that anyone on either side came off very well. But my feeling was that I had been out of the Communist Party for a great many years and had a certain hostility toward the Soviet Union (but certainly not toward the men whom I had been in with, because I understand them and I knew that in the main they were very well motivated). I hadn't actually worked except under the table since 1947. So it was not for me a matter of, "Well, I'm going to bounce back and go to work." It turned out that that's what happened finally, but that was not the primary consideration.

(6) Dalton Trumbo, speech to the Screen Writers Guild when accepting the Laurel Award in 1970.

The blacklist was a time of evil, and that no one on either side who survived it came through untouched by evil. Caught in a situation that had passed beyond the control of mere individuals, each person reacted as his nature, his needs, his convictions, and his particular circumstances compelled him to. There was bad faith and good, honesty and dishonesty, courage and cowardice, selflessness and opportunism, wisdom and stupidity, good and bad on both sides.

When you who are in your forties or younger look back with curiosity on that dark time, as I think occasionally you should, it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims. Some suffered less than others, some grew and some diminished, but in the final tally we were all victims because almost without exception each of us felt compelled to say things he did not want to say, to do things that he did not want to do, to deliver and receive wounds he truly did not want to exchange. That is why none of us - right, left, or centre - emerged from that long nightmare without sin.

(7) Albert Maltz, one of the Hollywood Ten, was interviewed by the New York Times in 1972.

There is currently in vogue a thesis pronounced by Dalton Trumbo which declares that everyone during the years of blacklist was equally a victim. This is factual nonsense and represents a bewildering moral position.

To put the point sharply: If an informer in the French underground who sent a friend to the torture chambers of the Gestapo was equally a victim, then there can be no right or wrong in life that I understand.

Adrian Scott was the producer of the notable film Crossfire in 1947 and Edward Dmytryk was its director. Crossfire won wide critical acclaim, many awards and commercial success. Both of these men refused to co-operate with the HCUA. Both were held in contempt of the HCUA and went to jail.

When Dmytryk emerged from his prison term he did so with a new set of principles. He suddenly saw the heavenly light, testified as a friend of the HCUA, praised its purposes and practices and denounced all who opposed it. Dmytryk immediately found work as a director, and has worked all down the years since. Adrian Scott, who came out of prison with his principles intact, could not produce a film for a studio again until 1970. He was blacklisted for 21 years. To assert that he and Dmytryk were equally victims is beyond my comprehension.

(8) Budd Schulberg was interviewed by was interviewed by Victor Navasky when he was writing his book, Naming Names (1982)

These people (those he named), if they had it in them, could have written books and plays. There was not a blacklist in publishing. There was not a blacklist in the theatre. They could have written about the forces that drove them into the Communist Party. They were practically nothing written. Nor have I seen these people interested in social problems in the decades since. They're interested in their own problems and in the protection of the Party.

(9) Abraham Polonsky, explained in an interview with Victor Navasky, what he felt towards the people who named him as a member of the Communist Party.

In most cases the informers picked a route that seemed to them an easy solution to a difficult problem; in other words, they could handle their own friends, whom they testified against, better than they could handle the U.S. government harassing them. Schulberg just has to explain one thing: Why did he become an informer when they forced him to? And why didn't he become an informer before they forced him to? The reason was that before, he thought it wasn't a good thing to do. The Nazis pointed a gun up against his head and said, "Look, give us some names," and he says, "Yeah, I hate those guys anyway."

I wish they had acted better, but they're not all Adolf Hitler's. That's all. I myself don't want to have anything to do with them. After all, I was on the ship and they got off and let us go down. In fact, the only way they could get off was by putting us down. That's the peculiar feeling: it wasn't only that they took the lifeboats from the Titanic, you know; they pulled the plugs.

(10) Michael Wilson, speech at a meeting of the Writers Guild of America (1976)

I don't want to dwell on the past, but for a few moments to speak of the future. And I address my remarks particularly to you younger men and women who had perhaps not established yourself in this industry at the time of the great witch hunt. I feel that unless you remember this dark epoch and understand it, you may be doomed to replay it. Not with the same cast of characters, of course, or on the same issues. But I see a day perhaps coming in your lifetime, if not in mine, when a new crisis of belief will grip this republic; when diversity of opinion will be labeled disloyalty; and when extraordinary pressures will be put on writers in the mass media to conform to administration policy on the key issues of the time, whatever they may be. If this gloomy scenario should come to pass, I trust that you younger men and women will shelter the mavericks and dissenters in your ranks, and protect their right to work. The Guild will have the use and need of rebels if it is to survive as a union of free writers. This nation will have need of them if it is to survive as an open society.

(11) Larry Ceplair, Screen Actors Guild and the Motion Picture Blacklist (1998)

From 1947 to 1961, your ability to work in Hollywood's motion picture industry strictly depended on whether or not your name appeared on a list of suspected Communist activists or sympathizers. The blacklist. Based on the growing threat of Communism at that time; the era was a full-scale assault on individuals and groups who had promoted political change and social reform in America since the start of the Great Depression in 1929. This attack on personal freedom was led by the Congress of the United States. It was strongly supported by an alarmingly diverse band of helpers ranging from our government's executive branch to the AFL-CIO to church groups, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and employers in America's media, information, and educational industries.

Dozens of citizens were jailed, hundreds moved to other countries, and thousands lost their jobs. Several of the accused died from the stress and strain of having their personal beliefs and opinions ominously questioned by their own government and the labor unions to which they belonged. Those who were not personally or professionally persecuted became self-censoring and timid in order to keep their paychecks and avoid being publicly condemned and denounced. As a result, a pall of mediocrity settled over cultural and artistic production in America.

The quality of American movies produced during the blacklist era did not suffer simply because several hundred screen artists were denied work in their chosen professions for well over a decade. The blacklisted were not necessarily the leading or most proficient practitioners of their individual crafts. There were hundreds of other artists just as capable of doing their work, and, as always, many younger artists eager to take work wherever it could be found. Nor did the content of domestic films decline because of the absence of the blacklisted. The quality of movies suffered because studios and producers were simply afraid to make movies that appeared in any way critical of the United States, and artists, mainly writers, began censoring themselves. To regain the favor of HUAC and Congress, the studios started turning out dozens of manipulative anti-Communist movies and films celebrating American military power like Bombers B-52.

(12) The Daily Telegraph, Edward Dmytryk (10th July, 1999)

His prospects began to improve when he arrived at RKO in 1942. His first success came the next year with Hitler's Children, one of the earliest Hollywood films to tackle conditions in Nazi Germany. The plot concerned a German girl educated in America who returns to visit her native country and is caught up in the new ideology; it made a star of Bonita Granville and became a "sleeper" (a small picture that performs much better than expected). It pulled in $7.5 million at the box office and earned Dmytryk a seven-year contract.

Dmytryk's first 'A' picture was Tender Comrade (1944), behind which many later detected Communist propaganda. About war widows who set up a commune along socialist lines, it was written by Dalton Trumbo (another member of the Hollywood 10). In fact, the film was in line with contemporary thinking on Soviet Russia, which was then America's wartime ally.

More sinister was Cornered (1945), made the next year, an apparently innocuous picture about a Canadian pilot who travels to Argentina in search of the Nazi who killed his wife during the war. It was written by the "radical" John Wexley and, according to Dmytryk, the original script was full of anti-Fascist speeches that "went to extremes" in following the Communist Party line. Dmytryk found them undramatic and advised the producer, Adrian Scott, to bring in a second writer, whereupon Wexley requested a meeting at Dmytryk's house.

As Dmytryk told it, "I was surprised to see the meeting was of Communists and the whole meeting was along Communist lines. The attack on us was that by removing Wexley's lines, we were making a pro-Nazi picture instead of an anti-Nazi picture. We refused to admit any of the charges."

In the same year, 1945, also with Adrian Scott as producer, Dmytryk had his first critical success. Called Murder, My Sweet, it was an adaptation of the Raymond Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely, under which title it played in Britain. It was one of the first of what came to be known as films noirs and revitalised the fading career of its star, Dick Powell, a song-and-dance man of the 1930s, who was transformed as Chandler's tough private eye, Philip Marlowe.

Working with Scott again, Dmytryk achieved even greater acclaim in 1947 with Crossfire, which was nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and best director, losing out to Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement on a similar theme. Based on The Brick Foxhole, a novel by Richard Brooks, the film was a study of anti-Semitism in the US Army.

The original novel was about homophobia and the victim a homosexual rather than a Jew. Under prevailing censorship, this could not be discussed in 1947, but it is one of the film's strengths that in "betraying" its source, it substituted an alternative theme of equal, if not greater resonance.

(13) Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner, Blacklisted: The Film Lover's Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist (2003)

It is true that the Hollywood Left led the way in organizing film industry unions, especially the Screen Writers Guild; included in its number nearly all of the film capital's leading anti-fascists (with an interruption during the eighteen months of the Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939-1941); drew upon much of the best theatrical talent from Broadway: and established a lively social scene filled with cocktail parties, poker games, literary and musical salons and political discussions that were a source of great appeal to Hollywood's newcomers (and no doubt one of the reasons why so many unlikely figures, including Ronald Reagan, wanted to join). Jewish Hollywoodites, particularly those who were "progressive" (or left-liberal) and trying to carve out personal lives and careers in a society in which anti-Semitism was still tolerated and widespread, found the communist milieu (if artists and intellectuals stimulating, and comfortable notwithstanding the Pact period - and, particularly during the war, a source of good career contacts. For all but a handful, their political identity remained, iii their way of thinking, secondary to their lives and careers.

Then the moment came when they had no choice but to make a choice. At that point, the artists political identity no longer seemed so secondary. Those artists who formally or informally attached themselves to the Left, for as little as a few months or for as long as decades, all paid the price when they were required, if they wanted to continue working in films, to renounce their (by this time mostly past) beliefs and to "name" their co-workers, friends, lovers, cousins, wives and husbands. In most cases, they could not hear to become informers. And so the overwhelming majority accepted some form of career-ending exile.

The lucky ones found television work, returned to theater or became expatriates rather than capitulate to what they viewed as public humiliation and undisguised anti-Semitism at the hands of politicians whose continued political careers often depended on the pursuit of race-based politics at home (the exclusion of black voters). Sometimes sneeringly referred to as "swimming-pool communists," most of the artists held firm, giving up their swimming pools rather than submit to what they viewed as ethical blackmail. It should he no surprise, then, that, looking back on their careers, these artists would regard their work as often more political than they had realized themselves. It is this commonality of political and aesthetic views as expressed in the films themselves that we have sought to discover in this book.

(14) Ronald Bergan, The Guardian (4th November, 2000)

In 1947, Hollywood became the subject of a fullscale investigation by the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC). Ten "unfriendly" witnesses - producers, directors and writers - refused to answer the question, "Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist party?", choosing to regard the committee as unconstitutional, and were thus indicted and imprisoned for contempt of the US Congress.

Ring Lardner Jr, who has died aged 85, was the last surviving member of the Hollywood 10. The other nine were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo and Edward Dmytryk. Only Dmytryk co-operated with the committee, and named names, including Lardner's; after serving their sentences, the other nine were blacklisted.

Lardner had been recruited by the Communist party in Hollywood in 1937. He later became a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, the Citizens Committee for the Defence of Mexican-American Youth, the Hollywood Writers Mobilisation Against the War and the board of the Screen Writers Guild, all tainted with the "red" brush.

Although Lardner allowed his party membership to lapse, he still said, in Moscow, in 1987: "I've never regretted my association with communism. I still think that some form of socialism is a more rational way to organise a society, but I recognise it hasn't worked anywhere yet."

Lardner Jr was born in Chicago, the son of Ring Lardner, one of America's greatest humorists, and joined the socialist club while studying at Princeton. After his second year, he travelled to the Soviet Union - and was impressed. In 1935, he returned to New York, aged 20, where he worked as a reporter before going to Hollywood as a publicist for David O Selznick's new film company.

Soon afterwards, Selznick secretly asked Lardner and Budd Schulberg, a young man in the story department, to rewrite several scenes in William Wellman's A Star Is Born (1937). Although not credited, they are said to have come up with some of the best lines - such as the publicity agent's remark after the alcoholic actor Norman Maine (Fredric March) has drowned: "How do you wire congratulations to the Pacific Ocean?" Lardner also contributed - uncredited again - to the dialogue in Wellman's acerbic comedy, Nothing Sacred (1937).

His first screen credits were as co-writer on two films in the folksy medical series, Dr Christian. But his breakthrough came with the script for George Stevens's Woman Of The Year (1942), about the love-hate marriage of a sophisticated political columnist and a gruff sportswriter, based on Lardner Sr's relationship with Dorothy Parker. The first - and one of the best - of the nine Katherine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy films, emphasised the feminist angle until the ending (rewritten by Michael Kanin), in which Hepburn's character submits to domesticity to keep the man she loves. It won Lardner (with Kanin) his first Oscar for best original screenplay.

After wartime army service, Lardner co-wrote three po-faced anti-Nazi screenplays: The Cross Of Lorraine (1944), Tomorrow The World (1944) and Cloak And Dagger (1946).

In 1947, Lardner signed a lucrative contract with 20th-Century Fox to write Forever Amber, from Kathleen Winsor's bodice-ripper about a poor girl (Linda Darnell) who sleeps her way to Charles II. However, due to the censorship of the time, Lardner and his co-writers had to suggest, rather than show, eroticism.

Then came his HUAC appearance. When he was asked if he was or ever had been a communist, Lardner replied: "I could answer the question exactly the way you want, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning."

After nine months in prison, and unable to work in Hollywood, Lardner eventually found work in London, contributing to the 1950s television series, The Adventures Of Robin Hood. Like several other blacklisted writers, he was forced to use a pseudonym to allow for American sales. The British-made Virgin Island (1958) credits "Philip Rush" with the screenplay, although a British historian of the same name wrote to the Times refuting any connection with the mediocre movie.

Rehabilitation came in 1965, when Norman Jewison got Lardner and Terry Southern to deliver a cracking script for the stud-poker classic The Cincinnati Kid, starring Steve McQueen. Writing under his own name again revitalised Lardner, and the iconoclastic, anti-war satire M*A*S*H (1970) found him at his peak. Robert Altman's film struck a chord with young audiences, who saw the Korean war setting as a reference to Vietnam.

One of the last films Lardner wrote was The Greatest (1977), in which Muhammad Ali played himself. Although most of the work is innocuous, the screenplay still has the courage to include Malcolm X's line, "A white man is a blue-eyed devil", and Ali's protest against the Vietnam war: "No Vietcong ever called me nigger".

In later years, Lardner wrote two novels; his memoir, I'd Hate Myself In The Morning, is to be published posthumously. He first married Selznick's secretary, Sylvia Schulman, whom he divorced, and then Frances Chaney, the widow of his brother David, who was killed by a landmine in Germany while reporting the Second World War for the New Yorker. She survives him, as do three sons and two daughters.