Note: At this time, only a text version of this special publication on the blacklist is available here online. For information on obtaining the full-color magazine edition and/or to subscribe to the Screen Actor, please contact Greg Krizman, SAG National Publications Editor, at (213) 549-6652.
Last summer, as we approached the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Blacklist Era, the National Board of Directors passed several resolutions designed to make certain that the Guild publicly mark the occasion. We wished to commemorate a time when the lives and careers of thousands of Americans were destroyed, including those of many SAG members. We also wanted to finally take responsibility for what this organization did, at that time, to contribute to these sad events.
It is impossible for any of us to fully understand the pressures that were brought to bear on the Board members of 50 years ago, what caused them to make the choices they did. We are in no position to judge our predecessors. However, with all the clarity of historical perspective, we must accept responsibility for the actions which they took. When Guild members were being threatened with the loss of their professional lives simply because they held political beliefs which were unpopular at the time, SAG, under pressure from the United States government, collaborated with those who sought to "purge subversives from the film community," ending or severely damaging the careers of many of our members.
For those of you who lived through the Blacklist Era, we hope this special expanded edition of Screen Actor will be a thought-provoking remembrance of that dark time. For younger members who may have only heard of the Blacklist Era in passing, it is our hope that this special edition will introduce you to a time, in the not too distant past, when American artists were jailed and suffered personal and professional exile because of their political viewpoints.
This issue contains an overview of the era written by noted blacklist historian Larry Ceplair citing actions taken by the Guild's leadership. The contemporary personal experiences of SAG members Marsha Hunt, John Randolph and Jeff Corey are examined in a question-and-answer format.
Also included is an article about Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist, an event held on October 27, 1997, in conjunction with AFTRA, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America West commemorating the 50th anniversary of the start of the House of Representatives UnAmerican Activities Committee hearings. As you'll read, Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist was a stirring presentation involving many prominent Guild members, including Billy Crystal, Kevin Spacey, Alfre Woodard, John Lithgow, James Cromwell, David Hyde Pierce, Tim Daly and Kathy Baker, re-creating incidents from the era, as well as moving speeches delivered by some of those who were blacklisted, including Paul Jarrico, Marsha Hunt and Ring Lardner, Jr.
This landmark evening was videotaped, and work is on-going to find the best way possible to enable our members, young filmmakers, and students to see this remarkable material. All four unions feel that the best way to ensure that these events are never repeated is to remember them through this rare, living document. We hope that this special Blacklist issue of Screen Actor will also contribute to that goal.
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&emdash;real or perceived&emdash;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 blacklist was not a new witches' brew concocted by the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP) to protect the movie industry from a new threat, "Communist infiltration." Blacklists had been routinely used by employers in other industries against union organizers for over a century, and frightening attacks on freedom of expression, both political and artistic, have occurred in the United States ever since the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Our own government and assorted "defenders of American ideals" have periodically shelved our First Amendment rights whenever it has conveniently suited their cause to do so. Do you remember reading about the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the government seizure of abolitionist literature in the 1830s or the ruthless actions taken against railroad strikers in the 1890s in your high school history classes?
The motion picture blacklist era was simply the calculated product of movie studio executives acting from primal economic fear. They believed the film industry would lose vast portions of its audience if they didn't cooperate with Congressional investigating committees. Just like today, the primary concern of studio executives during the blacklist was not politics or art, but the bottom line. As a result, several hundred performers whose only "crime" was belonging to or supporting organizations or causes deemed "subversive," were sacrificed by the film industry to a manufactured and manipulated national hysteria over the threat of Communist world domination.
Sadly, the Screen Actors Guild, the Screen Writers Guild (SWG) and the Screen Directors Guild (SDG) made virtually no effort to challenge the sacrifice of their members to the blacklist. Unbelievably, the Guilds knowingly cooperated with the blacklist process, helping to strengthen and perpetuate it.
Political opportunism, combined with negative sentiments left over from the Hollywood labor wars of the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal legislation and the beginnings of the Cold War, made the blacklist era possible. Union organizing was considered radical political activity in much of America during the decade of the Great Depression (1929&endash;1939). It was no coincidence that the vast majority of those blacklisted in Hollywood had been in the forefront of the struggle to organize and gain union recognition for actors, writers and directors.
When the Guilds were being organized, not all creative professionals in the film industry considered themselves "laborers" (like steel or auto workers) employed for "wages" paid by profiteering bosses (like U.S. Steel or Ford ). They considered themselves "artists" joined in artistic collaboration with producers. A large number of the actors, directors and writers accepted the need for a guild or union, but they wanted something like a gentleman's club capable of providing profitable, chummy arrangements with film producers. Labor issues such as collective bargaining, copyrighting of scripts, royalties, and other protections seemed déclassé.
Many on the losing side of that forceful struggle to empower the Guilds would later join the ranks of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPAA). Founded in February of 1944, the MPAA cooperated fully with investigators from the FBI and House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). They furnished most of the "friendly witnesses" to the Congressional hearings they helped orchestrate. MPAA members included SAG's Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Gary Cooper, John Wayne and Ward Bond; directors Norman Taurog and Victor Fleming; and writers Borden Chase, Bert Kalmar and Morrie Ryskind.
Bitter antagonism to FDR's New Deal legislation also played a role in creating the blacklist era. Among the first hearings held by the newly formed HUAC in the late 1930s were those designed to "expose" the Communism of Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Federal Theatre, Art and Writers Projects. The suspected Communism of the CIO unions, organized under protection of Roosevelt's National Labor Relations Act, was also investigated early on. Like the purposeful blacklisting of entertainment union organizers, it was clearly no accident that the passage of the union-debilitating Taft-Hartley Act in 1947 coincided with the start of HUAC's motion picture investigation in the fall of that year.
The third historical element contributing to blacklist hysteria was the dissolution of the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union shortly after World War II. The quick turnaround from trusted friend to deeply feared enemy created strong anti-Soviet, anti-Communist fear in most Americans. Our government used that fear to build a national security mentality and the far-reaching defense and intelligence systems necessary to combat the worldwide spread of Soviet Communism and the potential "Communist subversion" of the United States. For anyone with domestic scores to settle, questioning someone's loyalty to America or linking them to Communist activities served as an effective device to weaken and isolate one's political enemies.
For their own political gain, exposure and blacklisting of "subversive" citizens was taken up first by Republicans, then by Democrats. Such political opportunism made Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon household names.
Finally, it must also be said that among the supporters of the blacklist in America and Hollywood were those who genuinely believed that Soviet Communism was actually threatening the United States. They thought American Communists were the pawns of a Moscow-directed conspiracy aimed at conquering the U.S. After all, Soviet Communists had just acquired the atomic bomb and would soon invade Czechoslovakia. Chinese Communists under Mao-Tse Tung would take over mainland China, and both Russia and China were preaching war over Korea.
The leaders of SAG, the SWG and the SDG were caught in a bind as the blacklist years wore on. On one hand, their first loyalty as unions should have been to those members faced with loss of employment as the result of being blacklisted. On the other hand, like the major studio executives, they feared that such loyalty to individual members would significantly damage the film industry and the Guilds. They thought such loyalty to members labeled "subversive" would create the perception in the American public that the movies and the Guilds were subversive themselves. That would lead to a much more massive loss of movie jobs because they feared the American public would simply stop attending films made by and with Communist sympathizers.
Convincing themselves that they were doing the greatest good for the greatest number of their members, the Guilds finally caved in to the pressures of the blacklist era, fully cooperating with investigators and turning their backs on members accused of being "subversive."
At the era's start, however, SAG made no apologies for unionism and stood squarely behind its members. In 1934, Eddie Cantor, the second President of the Guild, stated: "The New Deal is responsible for the organization of the Screen Actors Guild. He said SAG would "work sympathetically with every organization striving to attain the general betterment of working conditions through the entire field of motion picture activity." Two years later, an editorial in SAG's Screen Guild Magazine significantly broadened Cantor's principle to apply to all other trade unions. "It is this 'labor consciousness' and practical day-to-day support which make the American labor movement a powerful constructive force toward bettering the conditions of every class of wage-earner in the nation." During the rest of the 1930s, SAG firmly supported the Federal Theatre Project of the the New Deal's Works Progress Administration (WPA) and fought for "democratic honest unionism" in the Los Angeles Central Labor Council.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities first came to Hollywood in 1940. Leaked testimony by ex-Communist John L. Leech led to national headlines stating that actors Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Fredric March, Franchot Tone, Lionel Stander and Jean Muir had been named as Communists. SAG's public response read, "To smear prominent persons
without any reliable evidence is to play into the hands of Hitler and Stalin by confusing the innocent with the guilty. Certain actors have been called Communist, without proof, in a manner that allows them no effective challenge. The American people like fair play. We are confident they will characterize as real enemies of Americanism those guilty of these tactics." But the political atmosphere was threatening enough to convince twelve actors and writers to ignore this bravado and a similar warning by the SWG. Those artists met with HUAC Chairman Martin Dies (D-Texas) at the Biltmore Hotel, and he publicly "cleared" four of them.
When Jack Tenney, Chairman of the Joint Fact-Finding Committee on Un-American Activities of the California legislature, opened an investigation of "Reds in Movies" in 1941, Hollywood proved much less cooperative and Tenney was forced to close his hearings within a few days.
During the early 1940's, SAG continued to support strong unionism, announcing opposition to four anti-labor bills being debated in the California legislature, supporting the strike of the Screen Cartoonists Guild against Disney Studios, and praising the "honest trade unionism" of the Motion Picture Painters, headed by Herb Sorrell, long recognized "for their straightforward, above-board tactics" in organizing studio employees. The SAG Board also challenged a new Congressional investigation, one alleging that Hollywood movies were propaganda for United States entry into the war against Germany. They condemned "the action of the subcommittee as an immediate threat to free thought, free speech, and to the very fundamentals of liberty upon which our great nation was founded."
At the same time, several prominent anti-Communist actors joined forces with anti-Communist directors and writers to develop the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (MPA). The group opened communications with nearly every organization trying to rid America of Communist influence. In a letter to Senator Robert Reynolds, D-N.C., the MPA pointed out the "flagrant manner in which the motion picture industrialists of Hollywood have been coddling Communists" and how "totalitarian-minded groups" were working to disseminate un-American ideas and beliefs in the film industry.
Then HUAC Chairman, John Rankin, D-Miss., responded by accusing Hollywood movies of having sent coded messages about German air raids, so Communist spies and sympathizers in Europe could take cover. SAG's magazine, The Screen Actor, fired back, "we find it difficult to be serious about Mr. Rankin's latest ridiculous accusation against the motion picture industry."
But three events were developing which would push SAG into the opposite political and labor-conscious direction: the Cold War was beginning, the Conference of Studio Unions' (CSU) strikes were continuing, and Robert Montgomery, George Murphy and Ronald Reagan, sensing a change in the direction and force of the nation's political winds, began to reposition both themselves and the Guild regarding the threat of Communism.
Montgomery, SAG President from 1935&endash;1938 and 1946&endash;1947, had become determined to fight what he viewed as a growing leftist threat to the Guild. Montgomery stated that he had become aware, in the late 1930s, of "a very active Communist-front organization" in the film industry and "an organized minority" within SAG. He accused that minority of inciting labor strikes and then strongly opposing their settlement. Montgomery wanted to keep the Guild completely out of politics and "strictly an organization which represented the economic status of the members of our profession." He was one of the early members who wanted the Guild to be a gentlemen's club solely concerned with making movies, not a politically active union taking stands on issues he thought had nothing whatsoever to do with the film industry.
Montgomery and the majority of the Board also feared that this small left wing group was tinting SAG a dangerous shade of crimson. In early 1946, the Board had received notification that an anti-Communist group, the Research Institute of America, had listed SAG as a union under Communist influence. To pacify the Research Institute, the SAG Board voted to make the following statement to the California State Federation of Labor Convention, scheduled for June 1946:
"サhe Screen Actors Guild has in the past, does now and will in the future rigorously oppose by every power which is within its legal rights any Fascist or Communist influence in the motion picture industry."
The Conference of Studio Unions' strikes of July and September 1946 also complicated the situation for the SAG Board. The CSU strikes were led by Herb Sorrell, a man the Guild had previously praised. Sorrell was trying to establish a movie worker federation more democratic and honest than that of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) at that time. However, Sorrell's efforts were opposed by the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP) and Roy Brewer, IATSE's representative in Hollywood.
Brewer, one of the founding members of the anti-Communist MPA, effectively used redbaiting tactics, and a conspiratorial arrangement with the AMPP, to keep Sorrell embroiled in strikes as a means of destroying his efforts to organize a union that could challenge IATSE. In the rapidly freezing Cold War climate in America, Sorrell's being branded a Communist frightened many of his allies in the Hollywood labor movement.
When SAG's effort to arbitrate the CSU strikes failed, the SAG Board announced that Sorrell evidently did not want the strike settled and in early October of 1946 called a mass meeting of members to decide whether they should honor the CSU picket lines. An overwhelming majority, nearly 3,000 actors, voted to cross the CSU strike lines. Some 350 Guild members did sign a petition supporting Sorrell and the CSU, and nearly 10% of those who signed would be named or listed as Communist subversives within the next five years.
To stall a HUAC investigation into Hollywood, AMPP President Eric Johnston appeared before Congress and downplayed the charge of growing Communist infiltration of Hollywood. He said Communists have suffered "overwhelming defeat" every time they have tried to influence scripts or movie productions, so there was no need for the studios to fire anyone suspected of Communist sympathies.
Apparently unimpressed with Johnston's testimony, the new HUAC chairman, Parnell Thomas, R-N.J., and John McDowell, R-Penn., came to Los Angeles in May 1947 and established themselves at the Biltmore Hotel. They interviewed many "friendly" witnesses, mainly from the MPA such as actors Robert Taylor, Richard Arlen and Adolphe Menjou. Studio head Jack Warner also testified, identifying each and every person on his studio's payroll he suspected of harboring left wing sympathies.
The following month, Johnston told the leading film studios that if Hollywood hoped to deflect a potentially ruinous HUAC investigation&emdash;one which would drive paying customers from movie theatres across America&emdash;the studios should agree not to employ "proven Communists" in jobs that influenced screen content. Eddie Mannix of MGM spoke out against Johnston and for the majority of producers when he announced that his studio did not intend to join in any witchhunt against Communists. He said MGM was perfectly capable of protecting screen material from subversive influences all by itself.
Several months later, on September 21, HUAC served 43 subpoenas to various film industry personnel. The Hollywood Reporter labeled 19 of the recipients "unfriendly." That label vastly understated the feelings of those 19 people about HUAC. Viewing this Committee as a violator of every principle of constitutional protection, the unfriendly witnesses set out to destroy it. They were convinced they could use the First Amendment to challenge HUAC's right to ask any witness "are you now or have you ever been" a member of this or that organization. The SAG members among the 19 subpoenaed to appear in Washington on October 20 were Larry Parks and Irving Pichel.
Those subpoenaed and their lawyers met regularly in the month prior to the hearing to formulate a strategy they hoped would allow them to deflect the Committee's inquiries into their politics, challenge the Committee's right to exist, and preserve both their jobs and their freedom.
The group decided to prepare opening statements critical of HUAC, and, when questioned, would not refuse to answer outright, but state instead that they were resting on their First Amendment right to answer the Committee's questions "in their own way." This way, every question could be used as a vehicle for criticizing the Committee.
The Committee, however, blocked this tactic. Only one "unfriendly" witness who testified was allowed to read his prepared opening statement in full, and none of them were allowed to answer any question "in his own way." All were abruptly dismissed from the witness table, often in the midst of an answer. Committee investigators then read the dismissed witness's "subversive" activities and memberships into the Congressional record.
In contrast, the "friendly" witnesses were given ample opportunity to say anything they wanted about Communists in Hollywood. While they acknowledged the presence of Communists in Hollywood, all denied that Communists had injected their ideas into the movies, and each one claimed that Hollywood's Guilds and anti-Communist organizations were doing a fine job of preventing that from happening.
Adolphe Menjou lauded the "vigilance" of the MPA which blocked "an enormous amount of sly, subtle, un-American class-struggle propaganda from going into pictures." Robert Taylor said that at general membership meetings "there is always a certain group of actors and actresses whose every action would indicate to me that, if they are not Communists, they are working awfully hard to be Communists." Ronald Reagan, elected SAG President in March of 1947, stressed that "99% of us are pretty well aware of what is going on, and I think we have done a pretty good job in our business of keeping those people's activities curtailedオ do not believe the Communists have ever at any time been able to use the motion picture screen as a sounding board for their philosophy or ideology."
This clear difference in treatment of the "friendly" and "unfriendly" witnesses by the Committee clearly violated due process. The negative editorial response by the country's major newspapers to this blatantly prejudiced treatment convinced Committee Chairman Thomas that he was losing the media battle. Following the testimony of "unfriendly" witness playwright Bertolt Brecht, Thomas closed the hearing. After appearing before the Committee and denying membership in the Communist Party, Brecht literally went from the witness stand to the airport to fly back home to Germany.
On November 24, the House of Representatives began debate over the question of contempt of Congress citations for the 10 witnesses who had refused to directly answer HUAC questions.
That same day, the three most powerful employer groups in the motion picture industry met at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. RKO and Twentieth Century-Fox had already decided to fire their "defiant" witness employees, writer/producer Adrian Scott, director Edward Dmytryk, and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. They publicly stated these men were fired for having "brought themselves into disrepute" and defying "the institutions of the United States Government." In reality, they were fired because the studios and producers didn't want to chance losing paying movie customers by having these "subversives" associated with their films. AMPP President Johnston insisted that Dalton Trumbo and Lester Cole also be terminated.
Following their discussion, the producers issued what came to be known as the Waldorf Statement (see below). They hoped they could stall further HUAC hearings into the motion picture industry by making a strong statement of principle in regard to screen content and by denying employment to the "Hollywood Ten." Only Sam Goldwyn protested the decision to start a movie industry blacklist.
THE WALDORF STATEMENT
The producers also decided that they needed to control the industry's public relations stance toward HUAC. So, even before trying to reach an agreement with the entertainment unions, the producers targeted a high-profile film industry group already organized to challenge HUAC's threat to our constitutional freedoms, the Committee for the First Amendment. Its organizers included directors William Wyler and John Huston, and besides sending a large contingent of famous actors and actresses to Washington to witness the HUAC hearings, the Committee had sponsored two national radio broadcasts and taken out ads in The Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety critical of the hearings
Soon after the Waldorf Statement was issued, agents were summoned to the major Hollywood studios and practically ordered to tell their clients that the studios would no longer tolerate public stances by performers on political issues deemed to be detrimental to the film industry. The Committee for the First Amendment collapsed in the wake of these open threats, threats so strong that Humphrey Bogart was forced to "write" an article for Photoplay magazine admitting he had been a "dope" for flying to Washington to appear in support of fellow actors Larry Parks, Irving Pichel and the Hollywood Ten.
The producers then turned their attention to the entertainment unions. A producers group created at the Waldorf meeting met with William Wyler of the Screen Directors Guild, Ronald Reagan of SAG, and three members of the Screen Writers Guild on November 27. Participants said they wanted to protect the industry from government incursion, yet nobody wanted to challenge the decision of blacklisting the recent "unfriendly" witnesses before HUAC, instead demanding assurances that the Waldorf Statement was not the beginning of a more comprehensive blacklist.
The group met again on December 3, to be told by RKO's Dore Schary that the Waldorf Statement did not represent a blacklist: "The five men were not dismissed because they were believed to be Communists, but because it was believed that they have impaired their usefulness to the industry by their actions [before HUAC]."
Director George Stevens asked if the producers statement was based on a desire to protect their business interests or a desire to fight Communists. Louis B. Mayer replied that their first job must always be to protect the film industry and to draw the greatest possible number of people into the theatre. Nick Schenck of Loews, Inc. stated that while he was opposed to Communism, it was not his business to take any action against Communists until they hurt his industry.
All three Guilds straddled the issue, refusing to support the Waldorf Statement and refusing to offer support to the initial group of fired writers. The SAG Board did, however, send a private message to the AMPP opposing Communism and the establishment of a blacklist. The Board asserted its responsibility as a union to fight against discrimination in the employment of its members and said that Congress, not the movie industry, should act on the general question of employment of Communists. SAG's Board also voted to send a proposal to members requiring all its elected officers to sign non-Communist affidavits. It was approved by a vote of 1,307 to 157.
Like the producers, the Guilds convinced themselves that by purging left wingers and sacrificing "unfriendly" witnesses, they could convince HUAC that Hollywood was cleaning its own house. To further this image, the Guilds, producers, and IATSE's Roy Brewer formed the Motion Picture Industry Council (MPIC).
The Council announced the following goals in March of 1949:
ｴ to bring the "Communist problem" in Hollywood to the attention of all studio executives,
ｴ to publicize the efforts of the industry to purge itself of "subversives,"
ｴ to "clear" repentant Communists for employment, and
ｴ to criticize all HUAC witnesses who refused to cooperate with the Committee.
In a statement published in Variety and signed by SAG President Ronald Reagan and Jack Dales, executive secretary of SAG, the MPIC announced: "We are just a few of the many loyal Americans in Hollywood who have helped to bring about the complete frustration and failure of the Communist Party in the motion picture industry."
SAG Public Relations Director Buck Harris was instrumental in running these activities, fully cooperating with and supplying information for a wide variety of Congressional and media outlets. Harris corresponded regularly with the anti-Communist columnist Victor Riesel and the publication Counterattack. He also received reports on meetings of leftist organizations in Hollywood and exposed suspected Communists to Riesel and HUAC investigator William Wheeler.
SAG also enlisted in the global Cold War. The board voted to support the Crusade for Freedom, a public fundraising "cover" for a project organized and run by U.S. intelligence agencies to destabilize Communist regimes in Europe.
Meanwhile members of the Hollywood Ten had been tried, convicted, and sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of $1,000. The judge who rejected their appeal expressly upheld the right of HUAC "to inquire whether a witness subpoenaed by it is or is not a member of the Communist Party or a believer in Communism."
With rumors circulating of another set of HUAC hearings into Hollywood, several former Communists and one prominent liberal took action to save their careers. The Communists, screenwriters Leo Townsend and Richard Collins and actor Sterling Hayden, called the FBI to confess their political activities and inform on others. The liberal, Edward G. Robinson, testified at his own request before HUAC, bringing along stacks of documents to weigh against the suspicions mounting against his loyalty to America
Following the Committee's granting of a clean bill of health for Robinson, Representative Francis E. Walter, D-Penn., remarked: "The time has arrived when we should find out what influences have been at work in Hollywood, who was responsible for the charges of Communism, and who is and who is not a Redオ favor a full and complete investigation of the charges and rumors."
HUAC hoped that its upcoming investigation of Hollywood "will have a far-reaching effect and prevent a large-scale Communist infiltration of the television industry." This time out, however, HUAC decided to condemn individual motion picture employees, not the motion picture industry in general. This crucial move secured the cooperation of producers who were eager to do anything at all to keep the film industry itself in the good graces of the American public.
Before the second wave of subpoenas appeared in 1951, however, the foundation for a new type of banishment list&emdash;the graylist&emdash;appeared. Three ex-FBI agents formed American Business Consultants in 1947. They published a magazine, Counterattack, and, in June 1950, the bible of the graylist, Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television.
Of the 150 people whose "subversive activities" were identified in Red Channels, 59 were actors, and unlike writers, they could not use pseudonyms or fronts to earn money. If these performers ever hoped to draw a paycheck again, they needed a "clearance" procedure.
In September 1950, the SAG Board voted, on the suggestion of SAG President Ronald Reagan, that the recently formed Motion Picture Industry Council be given the task of protecting actors named in documents such as Red Channels.
The MPIC came up with a plan whereby any employee could place on written record "his own statement of facts applying to himself which he believes will clarify his position against Communism" and "explain relationships with organizations" linked to Communism. At the direction of the letter writer, the MPIC will direct their statement to any studio or producer, but will not evaluate its quality or credence; "its evaluation will rest with anyone to whom the statement shall be furnished." The MPIC also vowed not to publicize the letter without the writer's consent.
According to Reagan, this "voluntary statement of affirmation" would include an oath of allegiance to the United States, a promise to support it honestly and faithfully against all its enemies, support for the United Nations police action in Korea, a repudiation of Stalinist totalitarianism, and a pledge to take an active part in Americanism programs such as the Crusade for Freedom.
In March of 1951, nine new individuals were served with HUAC subpoenas. One of them, actress Gale Sondergaard, petitioned SAG to lend its support to her and the others subpoenaed at that time. (See her full letter and SAG response on page 30 in the article Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist.) After rebuffing Sondergaard, SAG's Board then rejected a blanket statement offered from the union of American stage performers, Actors Equity Association, condemning the practice of blacklisting.
On July 1, 1953, SAG sank deeper into blacklist hysteria by issuing a press release condemning "in the strongest possible terms" 23 of its own members "who had been named as present or past Communist Party members and who on appearing before HUAC refused to state whether they are or ever have been members of the Party." Unbelievably, SAG had itself publicly named names of its own members by issuing that release, ending the careers of 23 dues-paying performers.
That press release also recommended a new by-law, adding to the Guild's membership application a non-Communist oath. In the anti-Communist fervor of the times, SAG members voted overwhelmingly in favor of this by-law. Thanks to the rock group The Grateful Dead (see SAG President Richard Masur's statement on page 33 of this issue), the loyalty oath was made optional 14 years later in 1967 and stricken altogether in 1974.
The blacklist mechanism was simple to operate. The names of uncooperative witnesses or those provided by witnesses who informed were easily available in the printed transcripts of the hearings in the daily newspapers. Those named were automatically put on the blacklist and the major studios would not knowingly hire those listed unless they went through the process of clearing themselves. Research indicates that at least seven SAG actors informed, providing names of many Guild members who were then blacklisted.
The graylist was more complex and fiendish. This list was the combined product of right wing opportunism, occasional mistaken identity, revenge, and producers' and advertisers' fears of boycotts. Various former FBI agents and HUAC employees formed "smear-and-clear" organizations. They printed lists of performers who had signed petitions or whose names had appeared on letterheads or at fundraising events on behalf of causes deemed "subversive." If one's name appeared on these lists, the most notorious of which was Red Channels, one's employment also ceased.
Since work in the film industry is always unpredictable, it could be months or years before a graylistee discovered he wasn't working because his name was published on a list like those in Red Channels. Once one was established as graylisted, he too had to submit to a clearance procedure, usually requiring a letter detailing and apologizing for all of his subversive acts and memberships.
As late as 1959, SAG told one actor that a major studio wanting to hire him had a file disclosing that he had
been involved in "a large number of Communist organizations and fronts, going back to 1937 and up to 1949." The actor was required to furnish an affidavit "concerning his Party membership and his break with the Partyヂnd a forthright statement about his disavowal of the aims and objectives of the Communist Party and his loyalty to our form of government and the American way of life."
SAG did more than the other Guilds to help clear its members. But the number cleared represented only a small percentage of those black or graylisted, and included only those who could or would swear that their political past was meaningless, a "horrible mistake." SAG's participation in the clearance process actually served to reinforce rather than weaken the main thrust of the blacklist&emdash;the silencing of the American political left.
The blacklist era was like a cancer that reached out crablike to taint both the motion picture industry and the country. It constrained creativity and thought, weakened civil liberties, and debased culture. Such an era could, and may well happen again, as similar eras of attack on the constitutional rights and personal freedoms of American citizens have taken place every few decades since our Constitution became law over 200 years ago.
The era was the product of a nationally generated fear of Communist world domination and a Hollywood-generated economic fear that failure to remove suspected Communists from the film industry would reduce the profitability of the major studios by driving the American public from the nation's movie theatres.
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. After all, studios and producers had been controlling content since the days of Edison and Méliès.
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.
Research indicates over 500 people from the entertainment industry were black or graylisted. Appearance on either list could end a career. In as many as five cases, including those of John Garfield, J. Edward Bromberg and Philip Loeb, the stress of being named clearly contributed to their early and tragic deaths.
Beginning in 1960, because of the courageous insistence of SAG member Kirk Douglas, it was announced that Dalton Trumbo would receive screen credit for Exodus and Spartacus. After that, some blacklisted writers began to get work under their own names and some blacklisted actors and directors began working again in Hollywood. But for many, the blacklist never ended. There were always certain producers and executives who would not hire a person who had been blacklisted. Only a handful resumed what could be called full careers in the industry. Many died without receiving another film or TV credit.
Despite any mistakes they committed along the way, those blacklisted did much less harm to the U.S. than the blacklisters, who introduced fear and police-state tactics into our society and political system. Despite any criticism we might make of their uncritical attitude toward Stalin and the Soviet Union, the blacklisted deserve our thanks because for 50 years they alone have fought to keep before the conscience and consciousness of the American people the price of thought control.
Blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson was honored by the Writers Guild of America in 1976. The words he spoke are as true today as they were then, and a fitting conclusion to any examination of the blacklist era:
"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. Thank you."
Larry Ceplair coauthored the respected book on the blacklist era The Inquisition in Hollywood, and has written a biography of screenwriter Sonya Levien. He teaches history at Santa Monica College.
"... 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 throuigh the mud to be an informer ..."
On October 27 of last year, the Screen Actors Guild, the Directors Guild of America,the Writers Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists jointly sponsored an event, Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist, designed to call attention to the 50th anniversary of the start of the House of Representatives Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) hearings.
For SAG, participation in that event, combined with the publication of this special blacklist issue of Screen Actor, was part of the Guild's effort to publicly make amends not only for failing to come to the aid of its members during the blacklist era, but for contributing to the hysteria that led to the Guild publishing its very own roster of blacklisted members and making an American loyalty oath a condition of SAG membership.
Using film clips of the era, live commentary by those who were blacklisted, and dramatic re-creations of the HUAC hearings, Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist clearly illustrated how the professional and personal lives of hundreds of actors, writers, performers and directors were forever changed by the prevailing political forces in power at that time.
Billy Crystal appeared as actor Larry Parks who had just received his first big break in The Jolson Story. Crystal delivered a portion of Parks' poignant HUAC testimony, including this plea for justice: "Mr. Chairmanペou know as well as I that I know nothing that would be of great service to this Committee. I think my career has been ruined because of this, and I would appreciate not having to&emdash;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, for what purpose? I think to do something like that is more akin to what happened under Hitler, or what is happening in Russia todayサhere was another choice open to me&emdash;to refuse to answer. I chose to come and tell the truth about myselfゴo I beg of you not to force me to do thisフo crawl through the mud for no purposeフhis is what I beg you not to do."
After repeated questioning by Committee members, Parks did provide names of fellow actors who had participated in Communist Party meetings, but despite his cooperation, his career as an actor was over.
Blacklisted SAG member Marsha Hunt (see below for a interview about on her experience) spoke about the trip to Washington, D.C., she made with other film stars including Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Danny Kaye. They were called the Committee for the First Amendment and their journey to Washington was designed to defend the good name of the Hollywood movie industry and the right of every American to privacy of opinion and freedom of advocacy. Their trip backfired, failing to produce the positive publicity those involved had hoped for and calling into question the motives and beliefs of those performers who took the trip to Washington.
Hunt concluded her remarks during Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist by stating that after the Committee for the First Amendment returned to California, "サhe fear climate extended to the Screen Actors Guild where I was a Board member. Those boards were then controlled by militant arch-conservatives, some of whom were only too happy to cooperate&emdash;even collaborate&emdash;with the keepers of the blacklist. But even then, I couldn't imagine that a flight to defend my industry and its people would result in my being punished by that very industry and would help to end my career. And as the virus spread across the nation, for well over a decade, this was neither the Land of the Free nor the Home of the Brave."
Kathy Baker then read a letter from Oscar-winning actress Gale Sondergaard (the very first recipient of the Best Supporting Actress Award for her role in the 1936 film Anthony Adverse) to the Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild asking the union for protection and to carefully consider how to respond to the entire HUAC situation.
"Dear Board Members: I am addressing you of the Board not only as the directors of our union but also as fellow actors. I am addressing you because I have been subpoenaed, together with other members of our union before the UnAmerican Activities Committee. I will appear next Wednesday.
I would be naive if I did not recognize that there is a danger that by the following day I may have arrived at the end of my career as a motion picture actress. Surely it is not necessary for me to say to this Board that I love my profession and that I have tried to bring to it honesty of feeling, clarity of thought and a real devotion. Surely it is also unnecessary for me to state that I consider myself a deeply loyal American with genuine concern for the welfare and peace of my own countrymen and all humanity.
Today I read that this particular institution is not directed against the industry but is directed at individuals. This would seem to imply that any number of individual actors could be destroyed without injuring the industry&emdash;and that the employers, having been guaranteed that they would not be personally involved, have given the Committee carte blanche to attack individuals to their own purpose.
Employers have been known to do this before and members of unions have, in just such times, come to know the comfort and the dignity of belonging to a union and of seeking its strength and its higher moral dedication.
I most earnestly and fraternally ask the Board to consider the implications of the forthcoming hearing. A blacklist already exists. It may now be widened. It may ultimately be extended to include any freedom-loving nonconformist or any member of a particular race or any member of a union&emdash;or anyone.
For my own security&emdash;for the security of all our members, I ask our Board to weigh this hearing carefully&emdash;to determine whether it can afford to witness its approach with passivity.
I can find no reason in my conduct as an actress or as a union member why I should have to contemplate a severing of the main artery of my life: my career as a performer.
With my appreciation of the Board's consideration of this request, I am, fraternally yours, Gale Sondergaard."
The Screen Actors Guild's curt response to Sondergaard's plea was read by David Hyde Pierce:
"The Board of Directors of the Screen Actors Guild has received and carefully considered your letter of March 13 which you saw fit also to publish in the press. The Guild's answer should be equally available to the public and will be published. Your letter (1) attacks as an inquisition the pending hearing by the House Committee on Un-American Activities into alleged Communist Party activities by a few individuals and (2) asks that the Guild protect you against any consequences of your own personal decisions and actions.
The Communist Party press also has attacked the hearing as a "warmongering, labor and freedom-bustingヘitch-huntッy Congressional inquisitors."
The Guild Board totally rejects this quoted typical Communist Party line. We recognize its obvious purposes of attempting to smear the hearings in advance and to create disrespect for the American form of government.
Like the overwhelming majority of the American people, we believe that a "clear and present danger" to our nation exists. The Guild Board believes that all participants in the international Communist Party conspiracy against our nation should be exposed for what they are&emdash;enemies of our country and of our form of government.
The Guild as a labor union will fight against any secret blacklist created by any group of employers. On the other hand, if any actor by his own actions outside of union activities has so offended American public opinion that he has made himself unsaleable at the box office, the Guild cannot and would not want to force any employer to hire him. That is the individual actor's personal responsibility and it cannot be shifted to his union."
Kevin Spacey portrayed writer Paul Jarrico, one of the group of screenwriters who came to be known as the Hollywood Ten, and re-created the part of Jarrico's appearance before HUAC where he questioned the actions of HUAC itself:
"オ should be happy to help this Committee uncover subversion, but one man's subversion is another man's patriotism. I consider the activities of this Committee subversive of the American Constitutionオ believe this country was founded on the doctrine of freedom, the right of a man to advocate anything he wishes&emdash;advocate it, agitate for it, organize for it, attempt to win a majority for it. And I think that any Committee that intimidates people, that makes it impossible for people to express their opinions freely, is subverting the basic doctrine of the United States and of its Constitution."
The capacity crowd of entertainment industry leaders assembled at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles on October 27 for Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist gave Jarrico and screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. standing ovations as each recounted how the blacklist had unfairly deprived them of the opportunity to work at the profession which they so dearly loved.
(Tragically, Jarrico&emdash;who had spent the past few years spearheading the Writers Guild of America effort to restore proper screenplay credits for the numerous films where a "front" received recognition for a movie actually written by a blacklisted writer&emdash;was killed in a automobile accident while driving home the day after the Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist event.)
The audience also heard remembrances from directors Robert Wise and Abraham Polonsky as well as tributes delivered by Nancy Malone, Christopher Trumbo and Tim Daly. They listened to John Lithgow giving a portion of actor Sterling Hayden's HUAC testimony where he also gave names of those he knew who had participated in Communist activities and sat in silence as Alfre Woodard read Oscar-winner and former SAG Treasurer Anne Revere's scathing 1953 letter to her fellow SAG Board members:
Revere said, "ズou, the Board of the Screen Actors Guild, point with pride to your seven-year fight against the Communist conspiracy. What have you accomplished? You have sanctioned the blacklist of 23 of your fellow members because they chose to defy an unconstitutional investigation into their thoughts and beliefs. Have you given strength to the industry by depriving those artists of their art and bread? Or have you further incapacitated the industry and the art which you profess to nourish? For seven years you have purged the screen of 'dangerous ideas.' With what results? The obliteration of all ideas. And people. Behold an industry that once bestrode the envious pinnacle of world leadership, now so paralyzed with fear that the screen is now inhabited solely by three-dimensional spooks and men from Mars. But there is still hope. The invalid is sick but not dead. Unlock the dungeon doors. Give him fresh air and sunshine. Take off the straitjacket and let him move about with freedom. But above all, return his conscience which you have filched from him."
The evening concluded with comments from the current leaders of AFTRA, the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild and SAG.
In asking whether the age of blacklisting is over, Susan Boyd, President of the Los Angeles Local of AFTRA, reminded the audience that just two years ago, the new Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee demanded to know the ethnicity, religious affiliation, sex, age, salary, employment history, political contributions and other information about employees of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio. Faced with critical publicity and a vigorous protest from AFTRA&emdash;which threatened to sue&emdash;the Senator withdrew his request for that information and was later defeated in his bid for re-election.
Directors Guild of America President Jack Shea announced that the DGA was restoring Director Herbert Biberman's membership and officially returning his name to the list of legendary giants who founded the Screen Directors Guild. In 1935, Biberman (husband of blacklisted actress Gale Sondergaard) was one of the 13 founding members of the Screen Directors Guild, the forerunner of the DGA. The group included such notables as John Ford, Howard Hawks, King Vidor and Frank Capra. When Biberman was sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress in 1947, he became the first member to be expelled from the union he had helped to create, and his name was removed from the list of founders. His name and work will once again become part of official DGA history.
Daniel Petrie, newly elected President of the Writers Guild of America, said:
"We do look back, however, in sadness and in shame that our Guild at that time supported, in effect, the Waldorf Declaration, which committed the industry to the blacklist. At one time, the Board authorized the Guild President to turn over all union records to HUACクow I am humbled by the privilege of offering, directly to those seated in the theatre who suffered as a result of those actions taken so long ago, and to your families, a pledge on behalf of the Writers Guild of America that we will be out in front of all efforts today, and in the future, to prevent any governmental move to restrict expression and conform thought. It must not happen again. It will not happen again."
SAG President Richard Masur also made a statement during Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist :
"When I joined the Screen Actors Guild in 1973, I signed the loyalty oath that, 20 years earlier, the SAG Board of Directors had made a requirement for membership. I never stopped to consider what it was I was signing. It was one in a series of papers I needed to fill out, and I was so eager to join the Guild, I probably would have signed anything they put in front of me. And I did. That's one of the most frightening legacies of the Blacklist Era: the institutionalization of fear and prejudice.
You see, the Guild Board had not yet removed the loyalty oath from our bylaws. In fact, no action was taken until some new members refused to sign it. Those new members were the rock group The Grateful Dead, and the year was 1967.
Only after The Grateful Dead refused to sign did the Board of Directors reconsider the necessity of a loyalty oath as a precondition for joining a union of artists. Even so, the oath had become so ingrained and institutionalized by that time that initially it could not be entirely eliminated. It was simply made optional. Another seven years would pass before, in July of 1974, a year after I joined, the loyalty oath was finally removed from the Screen Actors Guild bylaws.
Tonight, the Screen Actors Guild would like to express how deeply we regret that when courage and conviction were needed to oppose the Blacklist, the poison of fear so paralyzed our organization.
Only our sister union, Actors Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them continue their creative live in the theater. For that, we honor Actors Equity tonight.
Unfortunately, there are no credits to restore, nor any other belated recognition that we can offer our members who were blacklisted. They could not work under assumed names or employ surrogates to front for them. An actor's work and his or her identity are inseparable.
Screen Actors Guild's participation in tonight's event must stand as our testament to all those who suffered that, in the future, we will strongly support our members and work with them to assure their rights as defined and guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
And the organizations represented by the four Presidents on stage tonight (SAG, the Writers Guild of America, the Directors Guild of America, and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) will not have to stand alone. We will be joined by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. I have been asked to read a brief statement sent to each of us by AMPTP President Nicholas J. Counter, who was unable to be here with us tonight:
'The member companies of the AMPTP join with the Guilds in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Blacklist Era and hope that these efforts will make amends for those who were scarred by the blacklist hysteria. We likewise believe there is no place in a free society for the blacklisting and censorship which took place 50 years ago. The October 27 event represents an industry statement that should ensure that history will not repeat itself.'"
This important event was videotaped and discussions are currently underway to determine the best way to make the Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist videotape available to the widest audience possible. Watch future editions of Screen Actor for announcements on how you might be able to experience this moving commemorative event.
Greg Krizman is Managing Editor of Screen Actor, SAG's national monthly publication, as well as the Hollywood Call Sheet.
Marsha Hunt was not among the Hollywood Ten or the Hollywood
Nineteen. She was not arrested or jailed, or even subpoenaed by the
House Committee on Un-American Activities. Nothing so decisive or
melodramatic was in store for the MGM and Paramount contract player
who earned the appellation "Hollywood's youngest character
Hunt ruffled feathers simply being Hunt: articulate, involved, a passionate defender of minority rights and, eventually, a Guild activist. Instead of being hauled before government inquisitors, Hunt, like others who protested from the wings, became the victim of innuendo, studio smear tactics and--most demoralizing--the Byzantine politics of her own union.
Following a stint as a Screen Actors Guild Board member, during which she earned the enmity of union co-founder Robert Montgomery, Hunt and her screenwriter husband, Robert Presnell Jr., participated in the much-publicized October 1947 flight to Washington, D.C., with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Huston and other prominent members of the Committee for the First Amendment. The plan was to thumb their noses at the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and press home the point that the Hollywood community stood foursquare behind the 19 people subpoenaed by the tribunal. In Hunt's words, they flew to Washington "to reassure an alarmed public that movies were not, as charged, filled with subversive Red propaganda."
It didn't work out that way. Immediately upon returning to Hollywood, Bogart and most others who had been called on the carpet by their respective studios renounced the flight in the press as being "ill-advised." Hunt made no such public apology and, though she had never so much as poked her head into a Communist Party meeting, became what Victor S. Navasky in his book Naming Names classifies a "guilty bystander."
In June 1950, on the heels of her return to Broadway, Hunt's name appeared with 150 others in the pamphlet Red Channels, which targeted individuals in the entertainment and broadcast industries. Listed under her name were leftist petitions she had signed, the anti-HUAC gatherings she had attended, and other "Communist front" activities. After 50-plus feature films at Paramount and MGM, including noteworthy appearances in Pride and Prejudice, Blossoms in the Dust, The Human Comedy, None Shall Escape and Smash Up, the good roles stopped coming. There were a handful of minor parts--the leads' mother in Blue Denim and Bombers B-52--but the momentum of her studio years was never regained.
Q. I feel funny even now asking this, but it establishes the
context: You were never a member of the Communist Party?
A. No. They never asked me to their party. I never came to it. There were, it turned out, several people I knew who were members of the Communist Party, but they never pressed it on me.
Q. Does that include screenwriter Richard Collins, who later
A. I never met Richard Collins, but when he was in some executive post on Bonanza, a friend of mine knew him slightly. At one point, when I was recommended for a script, she was astonished to hear him say, "Don't bother bringing up Marsha Hunt to me. As long as I'm connected with this show, she will never work on it." He was so vehement and adamant about it. I've since heard that he was someone who had been a Communist and repented, which was an enviable position. It was better to have loved and lost, to be the prodigal son.
Q. What did you think of the Martin Ritt-Walter Bernstein film The Front (1976), with Woody Allen ghosting for a blacklisted writer?
A. It dealt very slightly with it; but at least it tackled the topic only not in depth. Still, I was glad they found dark humor in the situation. So much of what happened was filled with horror. People today don't believe it happened. This being the 50th anniversary, I've been asked to do some lectures. I didn't want to before; I wanted to get away from it, not look back. But now I think it's important to do them. It's important for college people to know, to understand what it's like to be in the grip of hysteria, paranoia, the finger-pointing that crippled our society. I'm someone who had no interest in Communism and lost her career.
Q. I was very moved by your comments in the American Movie Classics special; your memories of fans coming up to you at the supermarket and post office.
A. It happened dozens of times. People would scold me. "Why did you retire? We miss you. Why don't we see you on the screen?" And what do you tell them?
Q. You were so passionate about your craft. Why didn't you just hold back, safeguard your career?
A. We didn't know the extent of the risk, or the dimensions of the pall that would fall over motion pictures and broadcasting at the time, Franchot Tone, who was on SAG's Board, was going back (east) to do a play or something, and he asked me if I would fill out his term. I was so flattered, knowing nothing of organizations never having joined anything. My father, you have to remember, was a very conservative Republican, and I wasn't sure about unions.
Q. So you went from anti-union to union leader?
A. I joined, as I said, perforce. But some years later--I guess it was around '46 '47--I became a Board member of SAG to fill out Franchot's term. George Murphy was president, then Ronald Reagan.
Q. How well did you know Reagan?
A. Socially. He was a boring liberal. He would buttonhole you at a party and talk liberalism at you. (giggles) You look for an escape. That (arch-conservatism) was quite an about-face.
Q. Any warnings from studios or your agent about joining the SAG Board?
A. I was freelance then. Didn't ask the studios. No warnings from anybody. The first month I was on the Board, I sat and listened.
Q. But you evolved into quite an activist.
A. Gradually, I began to speak. I remember Gene Kelly giving me a warning one day. He said, "Marsha, save your fire for when it matters. You are beginning to be heard."
Q. You eventually crossed swords with SAG co-founder Robert Montgomery.
A. I remember getting up (at one meeting) and setting the record straight, and contradicting this venerated man and saying, "This is not what I heard when we met."
Q. You were shouted down?
A. As I spoke, I could see eyes rolling. "She must be one of them."
Q. "One of them"--a Communist?
A. Yup. That was when the word "Communist" began to dominate Guild activities, Guild business.
Q. And everyone began taking sides?
A. There began to be camps of liberals and reactionaries or conservatives. Sam Wood--Samuel Grosvenor Wood, the director--was the head of the Motion Picture Alliance (for the Preservation of American Ideals). John Wayne, Ward Bond--a lot of very conservative members of the industry were active in that--I do know that because I contradicted Bob Montgomery on this matter of the three guilds coming together at contract time. As of then, I was suspect.
Q. What happened when your term was up?
A. When Franchot's term as Board member expired (in 1947) and a new slate came up, lo and behold, my name was not to be found. I was not proposed for the next Board of Directors, even though I had a perfect attendance record and had served on three committees.
Q. Ever feel because of your popularity as an actress you were in danger of becoming a pawn?
A. No. Nobody ever cued me. Nobody was ever steering me in any direction. I think I'm probably too independent for that.
Q. Did your husband's writing career suffer?
A. Oddly enough, it didn't. I never understood why. We were on the same plane to Washington in '47. Robert was not blacklisted but I was.
Q. Let's talk about the flight to Washington, D.C. What was the mood like?
A. We were revved up. We were doing something new to all of us, and with a sense of mission.
Q. Did you, as a group, make your presence known at the hearings?
A. No. We sat there for two days. We were not given any role in the hearings at all. Later, back at the hotel, we held a press conference, which was well-attended.
Q. The mood must have been different on the flight home.
A. There was a stark difference. We went full of verve and dedication and outrage. We were going to try to explain and clarify things to a really confused public. On the flight back to Hollywood, we were, I think, subdued, kind of shaken by what we had witnessed and heard in the hearing room, by the ridicule and suspicion that the press afforded us. When we returned to Hollywood,. The Hollywood Reporter and people like (columnist) Hedda Hopper wrote that "they ought to be asked the $64,000 Question." Were we then, or had we ever been members of the Communist Party? Far from being offered thanks for defending our industry, we were suddenly controversial ourselves, and under suspicion.
Q. Let's flash forward to June 1950, and the so-called "Bible of the graylist"--the pamphlet Red Channels. Do you have a copy here?
A. I would never sully my house with it.
Q. It's of historical importance...
A. (disgusted) Oh gosh, that's what ended my career eventually.
Q. Talk about that period.
A. Red Channels came out in the summer of 1950, while--how's this for irony?--I was in Paris being invited to dinner by Eleanor Roosevelt. Red Channels was concerned with the broadcast field...they tossed me into the hopper because of my TV and radio work. They listed several things under my name. Some I'd never heard about. Complete lies. The rest were innocent (appearances) that were viewed with suspicion. That, I think, is what sealed my fate.
Q. And you protested HUAC's treatment of the Hollywood Nineteen?
A. Yes. I signed a friends-of-the-court petition protesting the conviction of the Hollywood Nineteen for contempt of Congress. We were trying to keep them out of prison. We didn't succeed.
Q. Before Red Channels were there warnings? Anything from anybody in the industry--a Deep Throat like call or something to warn that clouds were gathering?
A. One saw clouds. There were camps: the liberal vs. the reactionary or conservative camps. And friends, old friends, sometimes stopped speaking.
Q. Old friends stopped talking--who, specifically, stopped talking?
A. When I returned from New York to Hollywood (in 1951), it was a changed place. Now it was armed camps. I do remember a couple of guests at our house getting up and sweeping out when another couple arrived. They just would not be under the same roof with "those people." And "those people" had apparently informed at HUAC hearings.
Q. OK, you're back to Hollywood. How bad was the news?
A. How bad for me? Or how bad for the industry?
Q. For you personally.
A. Nobody would tell me.
Q. They wouldn't discuss it with you?
A. No. It was a complete conspiracy. The offers stopped. In the case where a few offers leaked through--because word had not gotten around--they were later rescinded. You see, I was never publicly controversial; I was never subpoenaed, not to Sacramento or Washington. I guess they had researched my background and found me wanting as a subversive. But I was articulate; I was an articulate liberal. And we had to be silenced right along with anybody who had ever joined the Communist Party.
Q. You were being asked to renounce the flight to Washington?
A. What was asked of me was repentance. I was told that if I would say I was sorry I had gone to Washington with the Committee for the First Amendment, which is what we became called, then the smoke would clear and I would be free to work again anywhere I wanted My agent read a statement over the phone that was full of mea culpa and what an innocent dupe I had been by making the flight, which was really masterminded by Commies. I said, "But it's not true! (The flight) was not masterminded by Communists; the flight to Washington was concocted by Willie Wyler and John Huston and (screenwriter) Phillip Dunne, having lunch at Lucy's across from Paramount one day, saying 'We have to fight fire with fire!'" It was their idea, not the Communists. So I said, "No, I can't sign such a thing."
Q. Though you were blacklisted--sorry, do you prefer 'graylisted?'"
A. These shadings are beyond me. I was denied work, and I know I must have been on the list that the studios and networks consulted before they hired anyone. If that's black or gray or charcoal doesn't really matter: the result is still the same.
Q. Could you make enough money to get by?
A. I don't think I could have without being married. Inexplicably, Robert was not blacklisted. I cannot tell you why. He was more, uh, fearless in his political pronouncements and outrage about what was going on. He was without any kind of political discretion. And yet he worked. I, to keep functioning and also fill out the larder, would do plays in stock.
Q. Give me some idea of what it meant monetarily. What would you have been making as a star at your peak?
A. I was never a money-maker. I think the most money I ever was paid for a film was $20,000.
Q. Key participants in the blacklist drama Philip Dunne, Norman Corwin, Jules Dassin, Dalton Trumbo keep popping up in your career: Dassin as your director on The Affairs of Martha (1942), A Letter for Evie (1945) and your first Broadway show, Joy to the World (1948); Dunne as the director of Blue Denim. Coincidence, or kindred spirits gravitating toward one another?
A. Julie, his wife and children became good friends. He was the reason I took the plunge and co-starred on Broadway. I felt so safe in Dassin's hands: he was a superb comedy director. As for talking politics, I don't remember. I knew that he was liberal in his viewpoints just from his remarks on this and that. But to this day, I don't know if Julie joined the Communist Party. It was none of my business, and I never inquired into these things and he never volunteered. I supposed later that there was some of that (kindred spirits things) but not entirely. I will never know. Those people who employed me during the drought, the worst years, never said, and I never asked them if it was mercy employment out of sympathy for my plight.
Q. How long were you blacklisted? Did the blacklist end for you?
A. Never really. Never fully. Well, I can't say the blacklist never ended, but what is true is that the momentum never was recaptured. I had such an ongoing, thriving career. What was it? Fifty some movies before "the Dark Ages." Then, since 1950, I've made about eight.
Q. Are you bitter about what transpired?
A. No point in it. But I'm certainly entitled. They nipped a career that was just starting to flower.
Q. Your life has gone in new and unexpected directions?
A. I've worked on committees for youth centers. I emceed eight telethons (starting in 1954) for cerebral palsy. In 1955 I girdled the globe and came back a different person. I became so involved in what the United Nations was doing. I spent time pounding its corridors, learning about health, nutrition, the basic needs of Third World countries. I was on the Board of Planned Parenthood for 10 years; I founded the Valley Fund for the Homeless in 1983; and I'm still Sherman Oaks' honorary mayor. Then I was asked to do this book of fashions in the '40s, The Way We Wore: Styles of the Nineteen Thirties and Forties Our World Since Then, which turned out to be such a joyful endeavor. Libraries virtually bought it up. We had to do an emergency printing of 25,000. I mortgaged my house for the third printing rather than see the book die. And now I'm impoverished by it, which isn't fair. I have 3,200 books in the garage. That's the remaining stock. I'm the distributor.
Q. You haven't stopped fighting the good fight.
A. I don't suppose I'm able to. Besides that, it was too late: I was already unemployable, so I had nothing to lose I remember one night as Robert and I were going to sleep, and we were commiserating about whatever was going wrong. Robert said, "Cheer up, it gets worse." All you can do is laugh at a line like that. No, blessedly, I had enough compensation in my personal life that made up for all the rest and put everything into proportion.
Glenn Lovell, a recent National Arts Journalism Fellow, is a writer for the San Jose Mercury News. His complete interview with Marsha Hunt can be found in the book Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (St. Martin's Press) with 30 other profiles of blacklisted filmmakers. He has served as entertainment editor for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and other papers. His ground-breaking survey of film critics, Caught in the Machinery: How Hollywood Subverts the Media, earned national attention in 1997.
Jeff Corey and John Randolph may be the most recognizable actors who were blacklisted. After being denied employment for some 15 years, each went on to roles in many memorable films: Corey in True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Little Big Man; Randolph in All the President's Men, Serpico and Prizzi's Honor. In addition, Corey is a past member, and Randolph a current member of the SAG National Board of Directors.
Q. You were blacklisted despite being a World War II veteran?
A. I was in the Navy and received a citation, signed by Navy Secretary Forrestal, for outstanding achievement in combat photography for putting myself at risk while shooting a photo sequence of a kamikaze attack on the U.S.S. Yorktown. The funny thing is that I was actually out at sea on the Yorktown when a HUAC informant, Mark Lawrence, named me as being present at various Communist meetings.
Q. But you did participate in Communist meetings....
A. Yes. I was drawn into it not because of the politics, but because it seemed to be so humanistic. At the time I think a lot of us wanted very hard to believe in it. The whole notion of it seemed so romantic. But we were no dummies. Most of us soon heard and saw what was really going on in the Soviet Union and we became thoroughly disgusted and disenchanted with the movement. We knew we had been misguided.
Q. When did you first feel you were going to be blacklisted?
A. I knew something was up about a year before the Hollywood Ten were called to testify before Congress in 1947. The California UnAmerican Activities Committee was subpoening members of the Group Theatre. The accusation was producing plays of Shaw, O'Casey and Chekhov. I could see the handwriting on the wall at that point. Political inquisitors were going to make people accountable for supposedly subversive things they did and opinions they held a decade earlier. Then I felt a little doomed after the experience of the Ten, for me it was simply a matter of time before I'd be called in.
Q. What happened immediately after you were blacklisted?
A. I lost a marvelous pilot for a show with the wonderfully talented Ann Harding. Oddly enough, I was supposed to play a U.S. Senator. I was called in and told that all the advertising agencies had said they couldn't go on and support the show if I was going to be in it. Then I lost a role in the film Angels in the Outfield.
Q. With your livelihood taken away, how did you survive?
A. Several people mentioned that I should start an acting class, so since they kept asking me to start one, I did. I had 30 people at my house for the first session, soon people were showing up practically every day. You got to attend two classes a week for $10 a month. People like James Dean, Jack Nicholson, Rita Moreno, Richard Chamberlain, Dean Stockwell and Robert Blake all were there at one time or another. I even built a six foot extension on my garage to create a sort of stage space where we could perform. It was a wonderful, nurturing experience for many of them, so much so that I hear a few still drive by that house on Cheremoya just to try and rekindle all those warm feelings. I also enrolled at UCLA under the G.I. Bill of Rights&emdash;at least they didn't take that away from me&emdash;and did carpentry work and even dug ditches to support my family.
Q. What was the impact of all this on your family?
A. Let me put it this wayヘe learned to make do. For 15 years we all went camping each year but we did it all over the United States. It was joyous, a wonderful experience that kept us close together. Today my grandchildren all camp. You can't buy the feeling of community that we share, and that's how it is with almost all of the children of those who were blacklisted. A special bond developed between and among these families.
Q. What was it like not to work in your chosen profession?
A. Total frustration. Especially since I knew many directors who wanted to use me in various feature film and television projects but simply couldn't. However, I never let that frustration boil over. Like most of those who were blacklisted, I've continued to be a good citizen. I don't think any of us has ever failed to vote in local or national elections. And we've been good parents to our children.
Q. What was the response from Actors Equity to the blacklist era?
A. Equity fully supported their members, but you have to remember that censorship is a dirty word around the stage, and any pressure by anybody to limit creative expression has historically been met with strong resistance by stage performers. The strength Equity displayed at that time came from the clear unity of rank-and-file members.
Q. What about the leadership of Equity and the producers?
A. I believe the leadership of Equity was scared, but they knew they had the backing of their members and the League of New York Theatres, and I think that helped make us all stand strong.
Q. How did the League help support Equity?
A. Organizations like Brooklyn Against Communism were starting to picket the various theatres where blacklisted performers were on stage. I myself was in a play soon after being subpoenaed. An Equity committee was formed to meet with a group from the League, and we were delighted when the League announced they were going to put flyers in show programs denouncing the picketing and saying that nobody has a right to tell other people what to see or not to see....a marvelous defense of personal rights and liberty. A joint statement was issued and what happened at that time became the basis for the anti-blacklist clause that I think still exists in Equity contracts today.
Q. Was everyone in the theatre supportive?
A. Not everyone. I remember doing a play in Boston when a youngster in the cast came up and said, "My mother says I shouldn't work with you." I'm sure there were resentments all around me, but I just kept moving forward. My wife, actress Sarah Cunningham, would say, "John looks cheerful, he just doesn't notice all the knives in his back."
Q. SAG President Richard Masur noted Equity's supportive stand during the Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist 50th anniversary event last October.
A. And I'm glad he did. To my way of thinking, Actors Equity hasn't received as much positive credit as it should have for taking the courageous action of standing against the blacklist at that time. It was a wonderful thing for Equity to be recognized before that influential entertainment industry crowd.
Q. How did AFRA (The American Federation of Radio Artists) respond during the era?
A. Quite differently. When you attended AFRA meetings, people were openly taking notes, writing down who said what to whom. In such emotionally charged times, that's a truly intimidating thing, to be so obviously recorded. I'm sure that tactic silenced a lot of people. I guess that was the point. Then AFRA members received an official letter from the union stating that you could be fined, suspended or even expelled for failure to cooperate with HUAC.
Q. What about SAG?
A. To stage actors in New York, SAG wasn't much of a concern at that time, but I learned in later years as I began to work in feature films how really frightened SAG members in Hollywood were during that period. I became a client of Jack Fields because he was the only agent who took blacklisted actors when they came to Hollywood.
Q. Did the blacklist experience teach you anything?
A. That it can't be repeated. I became a Board member of both SAG and AFTRA to be a constant reminder of that era.
The Screen Actors Guild Foundation provides student actors, established performers, researchers and the general public with an opportunity to learn about the history of the Screen Actors Guild and the motion picture industry from those who actually made it happen....surviving members and staff of SAG who were active in Guild activities and the entertainment industry from the 1930s through to the present.
Video interviews have been conducted with former SAG Presidents, Guild Executive Directors and Board members such as John Randolph and Marsha Hunt to document their personal remembrances about the early struggles and successes of the Guild as well as SAG's role in the development of the motion picture industry. The Foundation is committed to preserving this vital part of Hollywood history which is being compiled as a permanent part of the Screen Actors Guild archives.
For further information on the Legacy Documentation program, call Marcia Smith of the SAG Foundation at (213) 549-6708.
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