The Committee of Five
A Contemporary Account of the HUAC in Hollywood
The exploits of the Committee of Five, which included Walter
Wanger and Dore Schary, in a visit to the talent guilds of Hollywood to explain
the Waldorf Conference Statement.
Excerpt from Hollywood On Trial by Gordon Kahn (1948)
Wanger member of the Society of Independent Motion Picture
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Two days later, when the news of the blacklist had been heard in every
civilized quarter of the globe, the Screen Writers' Guild, whose members were
most affected, received the following cryptogram:
THE INTEREST OF ALL OF US WE EARNESTLY SUGGEST TO YOU THAT YOU JOIN WITH WALTER
WANGER AND L. B. MAYER AT A MEETING AT MGM FRIDAY MORNING AT ELEVEN O'CLOCK
STOP. WE SEEK TO ACQUAINT YOU WITH THE INTENT OF THE PRODUCERS' STATEMENT AND TO
REASSURE YOU THAT OUR ACTION IS DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE INDUSTRY AND ALL THOSE
ENGAGED IN IT AND TO DISAVOW ANY INTENTION OF A WITCH HUNT STOP. MAY WE URGE YOU
AGAIN IN THE INTEREST OF ALL OF US TO WITHHOLD ANY ACTION STATEMENT OR COMMENT
BY YOUR GUILD UNTIL WE HAVE MET AND EXCHANGED OUR VIEWS AND ATTITUDES STOP. THIS
COMMITTEE ORGANIZED TO MEET WITH YOU INCLUDES L. B. MAYER, WALTER WANGER, DORE
SCHARY, JOE SCHENCK AND HENRY GINSBERG AND WE ASK THAT YOU CONSIDER WHAT THESE
MEN WANT TO SAY TO YOU BEFORE INDIVIDUAL GUILD ACTION IS DETERMINED OR BEFORE
THE PRODUCERS ACTION IS MISUNDERSTOOD STOP. THANK YOU SINCERELY FOR YOUR
COOPERATION. L. B. MAYER, CHAIRMAN, WALTER WANGER, JOE SCHENCK, HENRY GINSBERG,
Representatives of the Screen Actors' and Screen Directors' Guilds were
similarly summoned to the conclave. The studio heads had previously, in matters
which couldn't be handled without the concurrence of the guilds, told them they
were an essential part of The Industry and must participate in deciding policy.
In this instance, the officers of the employee organizations suspected, their
role was to be limited to accepting an accomplished fact, but they agreed
nevertheless to withhold their judgment and listen.
It turned out they had quite a lot of listening to do. The first small
meeting was followed by a larger one, to which the entire executive boards of
the guilds were invited. Then, since no less an authority than the Thomas
Committee had characterized the Screen Writers' Guild as the focal point of the
infection its whole membership was assembled to hear the producers' committee.
It was generally agreed that Louis B. Mayer, at the second of these sessions,
hit on the most graphic way of expressing the official point of view. The
British people, he said, had their Royal Family, in the veneration of which a
certain deep human impulse was satisfied. American democracy had to have a
similar object of worship, and it had found it in the personalities of the
motion picture business. That was why any word or act from Hollywood which shook
the loyalty of even a fraction of the royal subjects was a matter for grave
alarm and a potential contribution to national disintegration.
Mr. Mayer didn't have to labor the implications of his analogy. Hollywood
glamor, for the purposes of his present definition, included the entire
personnel of the studios, not just the stars whose images graced the household
shrines of America. And it was an essential tradition of constitutional monarchy
that the reigning sovereigns be above politics and refrain from any significant
expression of opinion whatsoever.
The Guild representatives were affected by mixed emotions at this unexpected
revelation. They were learning that there is no place of honor among mankind
unaccompanied by sacrifice. They were being simultaneously enthroned and
But it was the statement of Dore Schary before the Writers' Guild of which he
had once been a member, that was awaited with the greatest interest. For it was
Schary who had answered back to Thomas and Stripling with the words "Up
until the time it is proved that a Communist is a man dedicated to the overthrow
of the government by force or violence, or by any illegal methods, I cannot make
a determination of his employment on any other basis except whether he is
qualified best to do the job I want him to do."
He had repeated his stand in other terms: "I will hire only those people
I believe best qualified for their jobs until it is proven, until it is a matter
of record and if that record is shown to me, of course I would not hire anyone
who is dedicated to overthrow of the government by force." And he had
explained in advance why these standards for dismissal did not apply to Adrian
Scott and Edward Dmytryk, the two men in his company subsequently dismissed:
"I must say, not in defense but in honesty that at no time in discussions
have I heard—or films these men make—any remark or attempt to get anything
subversive into the films I have worked on with them. I must say that in
E. J. Mannix and Walter Wanger accompanied Schary to the writers'
meeting—and left it without speaking a word. Schary was the spokesman and his
colleagues were simply "present, as observers," apparently to see that
the newly-minted executive talked like one instead of reverting to former type
under the sinister influence of his erstwhile brethren.
Mr. Schary did not fail their expectations. The general impact of his
extemporaneous speech was that the producers were opposed to the Thomas
Committee, in fact despised it. They felt the freedom of the screen was in
jeopardy. They were terribly sorry that they had to fire anybody for any reason
whatsoever, especially honest, talented people.
It was true that his own personal opinion had not been in accord with the
determination of the New York meeting. That went for quite a few other
producers, too. But in spite of their disagreement a unanimous decision had been
reached to do exactly what the Thomas Committee had asked them to do. This was
because the motion picture industry was very sensitive to public opinion. And
any public opinion, even when it was manufactured by people out to control the
thoughts and speech of American citizens, was still public opinion.
The producers had a threefold program, Mr. Schary told the writers. The first
plank was to fire and blacklist the ten witnesses. "We do not ask you to
condone this," he assured an audience that included seven of the ten.
Second was the policy of not hiring anyone believed to be a Communist.
"We do not ask you to condone this," Mr. Schary repeated.
The third plank in the program was a big all-industry public relations
campaign to restore the good name of Hollywood by convincing the American people
that the first two planks were justified. This campaign, he was confident, the
writers would not only condone but lend it their wholehearted support. Here the
guilds and the producers could join in united action for the benefit of all.
As Mr. Schary descended the platform, Mr. Mannix and Mr. Wanger stood up to
accompany him out. Sitting on the aisle in the front row was Dalton Trumbo. Many
eyes watched this encounter between the would-be executioners and one of their
principal victims. The three producers rose to the occasion. In turn they
stopped, bent over, touched a friendly hand to Mr. Trumbo's slightly stiffened
shoulder and spoke a word of greeting. Then they proceeded to leave the meeting,
their gesture having demonstrated that the bonds of personal friendship
transcended the unpleasant necessities of blacklist, career-wrecking, and
The membership of the Screen Writers' Guild was so impressed by the Schary
explanation that, with only eight dissenting votes, over four hundred men and
women reaffirmed their decision to demand an end to the blacklist.
50 YEARS: SAG REMEMBERS THE BLACKLIST
Special Edition of the National Screen Actor - January 1998
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Gordon Kahn, Hollywood On Trial, Boni & Gaer, 1948.