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Dore Schary: An Eyewitness Account of the Hollywood Blacklist Agreement

Independents Speak Out During the Blacklist

The following excerpt is from Dore Schary's autobiography Heyday, one of the most famous retellings of the events of the so-called Waldorf Declaration in which the blacklist policy was formalized at a meeting of the key Hollywood figures. SIMPP president Donald Nelson was present at the meeting. Despite opposition from SIMPP members Sam Goldwyn and Walter Wanger, the Waldorf Conference Statement was issued, and the blacklist began.

Excerpt from Heyday by Dore Schary


Once the hearings ended and the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt by the House, the Committee to Defend the First Amendment fell apart and Eric Johnston called a meeting at the Waldorf in New York. The meeting, November 24, 1947, was attended by the presidents of companies, and a regiment of lawyers.

Dore Schary (left) and MPAA President Eric Johnston.

McNutt had been demoted (perhaps because his "political clout" had not had much clout) and replaced as chief legal sachem by former Secretary of State James Byrnes. In addition to New York executive heads, independents such as Sam Goldwyn and Walter Wanger were invited. Along with Ned Depinet I represented RKO; Nicholas Schenck, Mayer, Spyros Skouras, Barney Balaban, Jack Cohn, B. B. Kahane, Y. Frank Freeman and Jack Warner were the big guns present. Zanuck was not there. A congress of attorneys were also in attendance. Johnston chaired the meeting. A sea change had taken place. Johnston had abandoned his previous posture and, seemingly panicked by what he saw as a drastic change in public opinion, was for a tough policy on the part of the industry. He talked to the seventy to eighty people who were in the room as if we were members of an industry manufacturing secret deadly weapons by employing Communists.

Johnston's opening salvo was followed by patriotic statements from Messrs. Mayer, Freeman, Skouras, and a few others. Sam Goldwyn was bold enough to suggest that there was an air of panic in the room. Goldwyn, ramrod straight, bald headed, and with a slightly Oriental slant to his eyes, spoke sarcastically and irritated Johnston, who responded with an angry speech concluding with the cliche question asking us whether we were mice or men. He insisted that if the motion-picture business wanted to earn the respect of the American public, the ten men who had appeared plus any known, or believed to be, Communists had to be discharged.

That was my cue to speak up: the men involved at the hearing were not yet proven guilty of anything there was no law in the country denying the right of any citizen to be a Communist; there was no proof any of these men had advocated the overthrow of the government by force or violence; we had insisted there had been no Communist propagandizing in films, hence, the men in question could not be guilty of that arcane crime; we would dishonor and not honor our industry by an action that would inevitably lead to a blacklist.

My remarks provoked another angry outburst from Johnston and one by Skouras.

However, Walter Wanger demanded the floor and he barged into Johnston, supporting my list of reasons for not rushing into a maelstrom. Then Goldwyn chipped in again, this time with anger and a statement that he would not be allied to any such nonsense as that proposed by Johnston.

The biggest surprise comment came from Eddie Mannix, the general manager of MGM studios. Eddie was once a bouncer for the Schenck brothers' enterprise at Palisades Park. He was a tough man, physically and emotionally, had a rugged temper, iron fists, and an enormous appetite for liquor and women. (Years later, following a series of ten heart attacks, after which he still kept up his drinking, cigar smoking, and womanizing, he said to me, "When I go, I want to be in the saddle humping, with a glass of booze in one hand and a cigar in my mouth." It was a complicated image of indulgence that I have never quite assembled in my mind.)

Eddie was one of those who believed it would have been sensible for the Allies to turn on Russia after Hitler was wiped out and finish them off while they were in a position to be had. Therefore, none of us expected Eddie to say that he opposed firing the ten men. But Eddie argued that there was a state law in California that prohibited an employer from firing anyone because of his political ideas, and Eddie added that he would not break the law.

It was now time for Jimmy Byrnes to speak up. He doubted that any government official "would argue with the decision of the industry to get rid of 'Reds.' " Not only that the men could be relieved of their jobs because of the contractual "morals" clause on the basis that their behavior had brought disrepute on the industry. (This morals clause existed in all talent contracts and was a device that came in with the advent of the Legion of Decency but has, in view of present-day standards, become extinct.)

That heated up the meeting, with Goldwyn, Wanger, and me providing some of the coal. Finally, Johnston, who had been slapping his hotel key on the table as he made his arguments, became furious and threw his key down as a gage of battle and threatened to quit unless the industry came to its senses.

No vote was ever taken. It was Johnston's threat plus Byrnes's argument that had won the decision to discharge those cited. I said I would not be a party to the action so did Goldwyn and Wanger, but we won no support. A committee was appointed to draft a statement. Mendel Silberberg, who was chairman, asked that I, as a spokesman for the opposition, be a member. It was an assignment I did not want, but Goldwyn whispered, "Do it maybe they won't go crazy." The statement is inconsistent, probably because I helped make it so by protesting the first four paragraphs and aiding in writing the last four, in the hope that I could persuade the guilds to form a defense barrier to prevent wholesale firings and investigations. That foggy hope served to make me a target for the right and the left. I should never have listened to Goldwyn.

CLICK HERE to read the full text of the Waldorf Conference Statement

One newspaper, in Los Angeles, ran a banner headline printed in bright crimson that proclaimed: STUDIO HEAD SAYS HE WILL HIRE REDS.

Later, when I appeared at the Writers Guild and stated that I opposed the studio policy but supported the effort to form some sort of talent guild council to stave off reckless indictments, I was clobbered. The nicest name I was called was "thief." Those bold members who stood up to defend me were either booed or silently rejected.

Floyd Odlum, the chairman of RKO, called me and asked for an explanation of my stand. Having been given the background, including Johnston's previous position for the industry to stand firm, Odlum wanted to know why the industry was not defending me against the rocks hurled at me. I had no answer for that.& informed me that there was to be a meeting of the RKO board in the Town House in Los Angeles in a few days.

Before that meeting took place eight of the now-called Hollywood Ten had been fired by Metro, Warners, and Twentieth-Fox, or if not employed, had been told they were unemployable.

I had not taken action against Scott and Dymytryk.

Peter Rathvon as president of the company chaired the board meeting and the matter in question was why I had not yet fired the two of the Ten at RKO. After I explained my position, Odlum said that he respected my point of view but disagreed with me and that there would be a vote of the board: to discharge or not discharge the accused men. When a vote was taken, I asked that my nay be recorded in the minutes. That done I told the board I would not execute the order to fire Scott and Dymytryk. Odlum was patient. He told Rathvon to do the firing. When the meeting was broken up, Odlum told me that the motion-picture business was one he would never understand. Two days later, he issued a statement defending me and by implication attacking Johnston for not publicly coming to my defense.

The entire episode was my first serious encounter with the heavyweights in the motion-picture structure, teaching me that in a clutch, if you swam against the tide, it was, "So long, Charlie, you should have hung on to the raft." There were those who thought that as a matter of principle, I should resign. I mulled that over and came to the conclusion that it would be more helpful to remain in the business and fight against the blacklisting; also, since the waters had been muddied by HUAC, the Hollywood Ten, and the producers, my resignation would in no way clarify the issue.

There is some doubt that this account will straighten the record. Perhaps it is just as well. Those who attacked me Hedda Hopper, Jack Tenney, Westbrook Pegler, George Sokolsky on one side and spokesmen for the far left on the other demonstrated what the position of liberals in politics has always been and will likely forever remain: they will be rejected for not having accepted the extreme alternatives.

Then along came Howard Hughes.

 


SOURCES:

Schary, Dore. Heyday: An Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979, pp. 164-167.

See Bibliography.

 

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