Hollywood blacklist, per the daughter of Bartley Crum

The New York Times

Sunday, April 20, 1997

"Receiving Credit Where Credit Is Long Overdue"
Patricia Bosworth

ON THE LAST DAY OF LAST month, the Screen Writers Guild West, representing more than 7,000 writers, quietly took action at its board meeting to restore 10 writers' screen credits on 24 films like "Robe," "Hellcats of the Navy," "Inherit the Wind" and "Born Free." Since the guild has also restored credits to other writers including Dalton Trumbo for "Roman Holiday," "The Brave One" and "Gun Crazy."

When I heard the news about the restored credits I thought, Hey, it's about time. The injustice has been going on for 50 years.

I first learned about the Hollywood blacklist on Nov. 24, 1947. I remember the exact moment. I was standing with my father, Bartley Crum, by a phone booth near Union Square in San Francisco, feeding him nickels and dimes while he made a series of intense phone calls to Dore Schary, who was the head of MGM.

If you're wondering why he had to make from a pay phone, it's because was bugged by the F.B.I. At that point I was too young to quite grasp the bugged calls, but I did know that my father had been one of six lawyers who had just defended the "Hollywood 10" in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in Washington.

These were the writers like Waldo Salt, directors and producers who had been subpoenaed to testify about their political beliefs. But they stood on their First Amendment rights and refused to reveal whether they were Communists. After the hearings, in October, the Hollywood 10 were indicted for contempt. In the weeks that followed it seemed as if the studios would oppose any further HUAC attempts at censorship, but on Nov. 24, the studio heads did about-face and instigated their blacklist.

On that foggy afternoon in San Francisco so long ago, my father stopped making phone calls and turned to me to try to explain why the Hollywood 10 would have to be sacrificed to appease HUAC. It was the start of the Red Scare and America's paranoia about Russia and Communism.

Eventually, of course, the Hollywood 10 -- among them Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo -- went to prison for refusing to cooperate with the committee. When they came out, they were blacklisted and would remain so until they testified under oath whether they were Communist Party members.

Today, almost nobody I know has anything but the vaguest memories of the Hollywood blacklist. Nobody remembers that HUAC continued its investigations into the film community well into 1956 and that hundreds of witnesses were called to testify and to inform on colleagues to prove their loyalty and their patriotism.

In January, the subject of blacklisting swam back briefly into our national consciousness when the great director Elia Kazan was rejected for two lifetime achievement awards from the American Film Institute and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association -- because of what he did during the blacklist. Tempers ran high, with Kazan's' defenders insisting that he be judged solely on his artistry, not his politics, and his detractors maintaining that he should still be punished for informing and for selling out.

Back in the 50s, there wasn't any talk of selling out when blacklisted writers, just out of jail, huddled in our living room. Instead, my father's conversations with them focused on the meaning of loyalty and questions about censorship and how one could survive in the writers' black market. All the best writers had been blacklisted, and everyone was writing under pseudonyms and being paid in cash; it was hard to open a bank account, impossible to get life insurance. Nobody had enough money. Everyone was being hounded by the F.B.I.

My father was being hounded too. Because he had defended the Hollywood 10 and taken on numerous loyalty cases as well, he was labeled subversive. He was followed relentlessly by the F. B. I., and our phones remained tapped. My father was even put on the F.B.I. security index, which meant that in the event of an "emergency" he would be put in a concentration camp. He lost most of his clients. Close to bankruptcy and in despair, my father informed on two colleagues already known to be Communists. In 1959, he committed suicide.

By that time the blacklist had ended. The first break came with Otto Preminger, who announced he was hiring Trumbo to write "Exodus." Then Kirk Douglas said he would give Trumbo full credit for writing "Spartacus." These actions paved the way. In 1961, Ring Lardner, who had been blacklisted since 1947, was given credit for writing "The Cincinnati Kid." He went on to win an Oscar for "MASH." Salt came back with "Midnight Cowboy" and "All the Way Home," winning Oscars for both.

Now we are in the spring of 1997, and the Guild has restored screenwriting credits to more writers who have been long blacklisted. Though years after the fact, I suppose itís a nice gesture and maybe it can make a difference, if only to remind people that in Trumboís words "the blacklist was a time of such evil, no one survived untouched."

But why did it take so long to have those writers recognized? I think it is a combination of embarrassment and hypocrisy. The cold war lasted until 1991. During much of the time between the 1950ís and then HUAC was still active in various forms. Many movie executives were afraid to stand up for anything Ė least of all blacklisted writers. And nobody wanted to seem soft on Communism.

Today there are still threats to our freedom of expression, many of them the work of self-appointed guardians of decency. We can put them in historical context by remembering the blacklist of the 1950ís.


Document URL: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/50s/crum.html
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:37 EDT