Shedding Light: On the Hollywood Blacklist
Blacklists contain the names of people that have been placed on individual lists and that have been singled out in order to be punished or denied employment. Organizations are not exempt from these lists. Sometimes a person can be blacklisted for simply disagreeing with their employer. Some can be blacklisted for having a different political or social viewpoint. When someone is blacklisted they are no longer able to seek a job or any type of employment in that particular field. Just how legal is this and what will be revealed by Stanley Dyrector in his open and honest interviews and conversations with so many that have endured this fate? Is this legal? In some cases yes and others you might think view it as discrimination. Just where did this begin and how do people wind up on these lists?
Merchants can add someone to these list by denying him or her credit especially if someone has declared bankruptcy. These lists are made public and the person faces more than just simple embarrassment. Imagine having your image permanently tarnished? These lists are used to determine whether someone is denied the right to belong to social clubs, dine in a particular restaurant, act in a play, and go to a store and many other places. Some as you will learn when you read this book are blacklisted for what others have stated as illegal activities. Companies can be blacklisted too. A strong comparison can be when many of us block private calls from our home phones or refuse to answer calls listed as restricted. Some of us even block specific callers or numbers from our phones. There are many reasons why someone is blacklisted. Let’s start with the first conversation in this book and learn more.
The author brilliantly introduces the reader to ten writers, movies stars, Hollywood figures and others that were blacklisted. He begins with three shows that focus on four specific people as we hear their voices, their stories and understand what they endured we also hear several audience members voice their opinions and dissension. The people who were focused on during this period by McCarthy were suspected and these people readily do admit to having ties to the Communist Party. Hollywood was hit hard as many actors, screenwriters, directors and producers were blacklisted. He begins with The Hollywood Blacklist Part 1 with guest Jean Rouverol, Bernard Gordon, Oliver Crawford and Robert Lees each presenting the reasons why they were blacklisted but first sharing their back-stories and what led them to join the Communist Party and their experiences on the black list.
The first ten to be black listed were called The Hollywood Ten and refused to cooperate with the investigation that was forged against them invoking their First Amendment. Some were successful where others were not. The Waldorf Statement issued by Hollywood executives would change the dynamics greatly as these ten were fired. Eight sent to prison for one year and the other two six months. Compared to the Salem Witch trials this time period and what you are about to learn from reading their stories was equally as volatile. Added in the author shares information before we begin our journey into the past with these artists about a pamphlet called Red Channels, which focused on broadcasting. In this pamphlet 151 members of this industry were named and referred to as “ Red Fascists and their sympathizers.” The United States government concerned itself with finding links between Hollywood and the Communist party. They created The House Committee on Un-American Activities or HUAC, which released a report in 1938 stating that communism, was strong in Hollywood. More than 42 movie professionals were named as communists including Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Fredric March. Much of this information is related to readers in the Introduction. The blacklist began in 1946. William R. Wilkerson founder and publisher of The Hollywood Reporter published Trade View a column titled: A Vote For Joe Stalin in it naming many sympathizers dubbing this list Billy’s Blacklist. What happens as a result you will be surprised as his son apologized for the paper’s role in the blacklist article and stating that his father’s reasons were revenge when his own ambitions did not pan out to own his own studio.
Robert Lees story continues on pages 22-23 as the author and Robert share how and why he was blacklisted and his experience. Sterling Hayden named him. On the stand for quite some time he left knowing that he was blacklisted and working in the industry was over and jobs would not come his way. The Hollywood Ten were find by the Committee and sent to jail. He took the Fifth and the First Amendment. Forced to cooperate by the producers they had no choice but if blacklisted he and the others knew they could no longer work. The sad part is that the committee did not punish them as Robert states “the industry did.” So, how did he survive quite compelling. He went into something entirely different and then many writers realized they could work if they changed their names. Actors could not do it because they would be recognized. He change had four names. His story continues and he relates what happened to Fred Rinaldo his partner and then we find out more about Bernard Gordon and his involvement with 55 Days At Peking and then we hear more from Oliver Crawford.
So many amazing actors and writers were fired and the impact on so many lives changed the complexion of the time period. The government went after them and the end result you will read in this book as you hear every voice and you understand their experiences, their reasons as each one is interviewed, questioned and allowed to voice their side of a very sad story.
To really understand what Jean, Oliver, Robert and Gordon endured I listened to the shows aired in 2001 and heard their voices, their opinions and their intuitive and insightful comments about the government at that present time, how they survived and where they were at that time. The author states that his book: “Shedding Light on the Hollywood Blacklist: Conversations With Participants”.is the result primarily of transcriptions of my guest interviews’ with blacklisted screenwriters and actors from my cable television show over a decade ago, (with the exception of the audio interview I did with actress Marsha Hunt, a few months back in 2012). Several of the shows won WAVE AWARDS for Excellence in local programming.” He wrote this book in order for readers to hear what happened to his friends that had been blacklisted.
We then hear the voice of Abe Polonsky and we learn what films he wrote such as Body and Soul. Listening to the interview, hearing why his father named him Abraham Lincoln Polonsky and finding out why he was blacklisted and how he managed to become one of the highest paid writers in the industry is truly great. He is interview was compelling and I am going to relate more about the next ones too. He was an American Film director, screenwriter, and essayist and blacklisted by the Hollywood movie studios during the McCarthy era. During these interviews he relates information about the novels that showcased his career, becoming a Marxist and joining the Communist Party. He even tells readers about how he participated in union politics. He created a paper called The Home Front and he signed with Paramount Pictures. He served in WWII returning to Paramount after his tour of duty. His first film that he directed was Force of Evil. He was blacklisted and called “ a dangerous citizen.” To learn more you need to read his interviews for yourself. His sense of humor will bring smiles to your face and the courage he shows even more.
Next the author includes Norma Barzman and Joan Scott and we hear their stories, learn about Joan and Norma’s careers, their husbands and Adrian Scott’s time on the blacklist, when he decides to return to face his sentence and then how they survived. Richard Powell is next and he created some of my mom’s favorite shows like Topper, Life of Riley and one for the other Dick Powell. The interviews are extensive and the cast quite varied as he interviews Robert White/ screenwriter and author along with author Norma Barzman. Talking to Robert about a book he co-authored titled Hollywood and the Best of Lost Angeles Alive. He talks about why he wrote it and many of the stories within the book. The author then talks to Norma about her novel Rich Dreams and why she was blacklisted. The story and account is shared on pages 108- 109 along with one about Marilyn Monroe. The remainder of the book is quite revealing as the author devotes on complete chapter to Oliver Crawford, Robert Lees why he became a writer, his work, movies and much more followed by his time on the blacklist and he lived and survived. Next, Jean Rouverol is heard and we learn more about writing and her work. The author once again talks about her life with her blacklisted husband, Hugo Butler and their friendship with Waldo Salt who was the primary reason they joined the Communist Party. We learn more about the Freedom of Information Act and how she and many others obtained their FBI files with the information that they were allowed to see. Some pages were blacked out. She talked about the trial, the Fifth Amendment and the end result. The reader is even enlightened about Hugo’s condition and the drugs he needed to stay alive.
The final chapters are devoted to Bernard Gordon, Jeff Corey and the interviews conducted in 1999 and 2001. The final two interviews are John Randolph and Marsha Hunt. John was a great actor and he talks about his time in the service, being blacklisted and why he could not work in Hollywood. He did work on Broadway and wrote a book titled Naming Names and you can guess what the theme of that book was when you read his interview and learn more about this great actor for yourself. Marsha Hunt is last and we hear her as the final voice and the final interview. Asking her about the blacklist she did not want to discuss it. She talks about Stanley’s book and realizes he discusses where it all began and how it spread. She even talks about HUAC and then about McCarthy. Marsha Hunt devoted her time to fighting for civil rights and working with The March of Dimes and The Red Cross. She wrote a book in 1993 titled The Way We Wore. Flashing back remember that she went to Washington to support 19 people in order to testify at the U.S. Capital in 1947. She believed that what was happening was unfair. Supporting her friend Anne Shirley and her husband as well as producer Adrian Scott. She was one of the 151 listed in Red Channels and wrongly accused of being a communist sympathizer. The rest is really quite compelling as author Stanley Dyrector takes readers back to a time when freedom of speech was halted or non-existent some might say and when defending those that you felt were not guilty would cast guilt upon you. A great book with outstanding interviews and books that I would love to read and interviewees if alive I would love to have on my own radio show. This is a must read for everyone. As you read each interview you can literally hear the voice of Stanley and the person being interviewed. Listen closely: this book gets FIVE GOLD LISTS and so does the forward by Edward Asner.
Fran Lewis: reviewer