Albert Maltz

Albert Maltz

Albert Maltz was born in Brooklyn in 1908. Educated at Columbia University and the Yale School of Drama, he was converted to socialism by reading the New Masses. He later told Victor S. Navasky: "I also read the Marxist classics. I still think it to be the noblest set of ideals ever penned by man.... Where else in political literature do you find thinkers saying tat we were going to end all forms of human exploitation? Wage exploitation, exploitation of women by men, the exploitation of people of colour by white peoples, the exploitation of colonial countries by imperialist countries. And Marx spoke of the fact that socialism will be the kingdom of freedom, where man realizes himself in a way that humankind has never seen before. This was an inspiring body of literature to read."

Maltz worked as a playwright for the left-wing Theatre Union. This included the well-received Peace on Earth (1933). Maltz then worked with the Group Theatre and wrote the play, The Black Pit . He went onto publish novels and stories before moving to Hollywood to write screenplays.

After working on Casablanca (1942) and This Gun for Hire (1942) he scripted a number of effective propaganda films (both documentaries and features) during the Second World War. This included Moscow Strikes Back (1942), Destination Tokyo (1943), Seeds of Freedom (1943), The House I Live In (1945), The Pride of the Marines (1945). Maltz was now a highly valued screenwriter, he went on to write Cloak and Dagger (1946), The Red House (1947) and the Academy Award winning, The Naked City (1948).

After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, 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 several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

Maltz appeared before the HUAC on 28th October, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, John Howard Lawson, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and Ring Lardner Jr, 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 Maltz was sentenced to twelve months in Ashland Prison and fined $1,000.

Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Maltz worked without credit on several movies such as The Robe (1953) and Short Cut to Hell (1957). He went to live in Mexico during this period. Howard Fast later described a visit he made to Maltz's home: "He had taken a small house in the San Angel neighborhood and had installed his family there... Prison had had a much deeper and more destructive effect on Albert than me. He was a very sensitive person... I had a great affection for him, and it broke my heart to see his resignation and misery."

In 1959 Frank Sinatra announced that he proposed to break the blacklist by employing Albert Maltz as the screenwriter of his proposed film, The Execution of Private Slovik, based on the book by William Bradford Huie. Sinatra soon came under attack for his decision. He nearly came to blows with John Wayne, who called him a "Commie" when they met in the street. However, what really hurt Sinatra was the criticism he received in the press. This included claims that his friend, John F. Kennedy, also wanted an end to the blacklist. Sinatra issued a statement to the press: "I would like to comment on the attacks from certain quarters on Senator John Kennedy by connecting him with my decision on employing a screenwriter. This type of partisan politics is hitting below the belt... I make movies. I do not ask the advice of Senator Kennedy on whom I should hire. Senator Kennedy does not ask me how he should vote in the Senate."

Michael Freedland, the author of Witch-Hunt in Hollywood (2009) argues that "Kennedy didn't like the association with the name of one of the Hollywood Ten. He would soon run from President and he was worried that he could harm him." A few days later Sinatra took out another paid-for advertisement in the newspapers: "In view of the reaction of my family, friends and the American public I've instructed my lawyers to make a settlement with Albert Maltz. My conversations with Maltz indicate that he has an affirmative, pro-American approach to the story, but the American public has indicated it feels that the morality of hiring Maltz is the most crucial matter and I will accept this majority opinion."

When the blacklist was lifted Maltz wrote The Pistolero of Red River (1967) and Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970). Maltz reacted angrily when Dalton Trumbo argued in 1970 that all screenwriters were victims during McCarthyism. "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."

In an interview he gave to the New York Times in 1972 he compared the experiences of Adrian Scott and Edward Dmytryk: "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.... 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."

Albert Maltz, who also wrote The Beguiled (1971), Hangup (1973) and Scalawag (1973), died in Los Angeles on 26th August, 1985.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Albert Maltz was interviewed by Victor Navasky when he was writing his book, Naming Names (1982)

By the time I was at college, I became very alert to the question of racial discrimination, and I remember one of my first writing attempts had to do with a lynching. I graduated in 1930 and I went up to the Yale Drama School for two years. By the time I came down from Yale, I was already more radicalized and had begun to read New Masses.

I also read the Marxist classics. I still think it to be the noblest set of ideals ever penned by man. The fact that many of them have been so ill-realized in the Soviet Union today didn't matter. Where else in political literature do you find thinkers saying tat we were going to end all forms of human exploitation? Wage exploitation, exploitation of women by men, the exploitation of people of colour by white peoples, the exploitation of colonial countries by imperialist countries. And Marx spoke of the fact that socialism will be the kingdom of freedom, where man realizes himself in a way that humankind has never seen before. This was an inspiring body of literature to read.

When I joined the Communist movement in 1935 it was based upon the belief that mankind's future was to be found there. Certainly, millions who joined it the world over, like myself, didn't join it for profit. There was nothing to be gained out of joining it: It could be time-consuming. It could prevent you from reading a number of books that you wanted to read or go to a number of films because you were doing other things. But there was a belief that you were working with others toward making the world a better place to live in.

(2) In February 1945, Albert Maltz wrote an article for the New Masses calling for more intellectual freedom in the American Communist Party. Leopold Atlas later described a party meeting where Maltz was attacked by other members for writing the article.

By his article, Maltz evidently had been guilty of great heresy. Knowing that Maltz was in trouble, I was prepared to defend his position, despite the fact that I was sorely aware of my deficiences as a public speaker.

I remember that Albert tried to explain his thoughts on the article. I remember that almost instantly all sorts of howls went up in protest against it. I remember that I and one or two others made small attempts to speak in favour of Maltz, and we were lirerally shouted down. From one corner Alvah Bessie, with bitter vituperation and venom, rose up and denounced Maltz. From another corner Herbert Biberman rose up and denounced Maltz... elaborate mouthfuls of nothing, his every accent dripping with hatred.

(3) 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.

(4) Albert Maltz, 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.