Paul Jarrico was born in Los Angeles, California, on 12th January, 1915. He attended the University of California before moving to Hollywood where he found work as a screenwriter. Early films include No Time to Marry (1937), The Little Adventures (1938), Beauty for the Asking (1939), The Face Behind the Mask (1941), Tom, Dick and Harry (1941), Thousands Cheer (1943) and Song of Russia (1943).
During this period the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The chief investigator for the committee was Robert E. Stripling. The first people it interviewed included Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Jack L. Warner, Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Thomas Leo McCarey and George L. Murphy. These people named several possible members of the American Communist Party.
As a result their investigations, the HUAC announced it wished to interview nineteen members of the film industry that they believed might be members of the American Communist Party. This included Larry Parks, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.
The first ten witnesses called to appear before the HUAC, Biberman, Bessie, Cole, Maltz, Scott, Trumbo, Dmytryk, Lardner, Ornitz and Lawson, refused to cooperate at the September hearings and were charged with "contempt of Congress". Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The courts disagreed and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison. The case went before the Supreme Court in April 1950, but with only Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, the sentences were confirmed.
Others called before the HUAC were willing to testify and the screenwriter, Richard Collins, named Jarrico as a former member of the American Communist Party. Another member of the party, Larry Parks, gave evidence on 21st March, 1951. He admitted that he joined in 1941 because it "fulfilled certain needs of a young man that was liberal of thought, idealistic, who was for the underprivileged, the underdog". At first he refused to name other members of the party: "I would prefer not to mention names, if it is at all possible, of anyone. I don't think it is fair to people to do this. I have come to you at your request. I have come and willingly tell you about myself. I think that, if you would allow me, I would prefer not to be questioned about names. And I will tell you everything that I know about myself, because I feel I have done nothing wrong, and 1 will answer any question that you would like to put to me about myself. I would prefer, if you will allow me, not to mention other people's names.... The people at that time as I knew them-this is my opinion of them. This is my honest opinion: That these are people who did nothing wrong, people like myself.... And it seems to me that this is not the American way of doing things to force a man who is under oath and who has opened himself as wide as possible to this committee - and it hasn't been easy to do this -to force a man to do this is not American justice."
However, Parks did agree to name members in a private session of the HUAC. This included Joseph Bromberg, Lee J. Cobb, Morris Carnovsky, John Howard Lawson, Karen Morley, Anne Revere, Gale Sondergaard, Dorothy Tree, Roman Bohnan, Lloyd Gough and Victor Kilian. Three days later Paul Jarrico, who was due to appear before the HUAC, told the New York Times, that he was unwilling to follow the example of Parks: "If I have to choose between crawling in the mud with Larry Parks or going to jail like my courageous friends of the Hollywood Ten, I shall certainly choose the latter."
Jarrico gave evidence on the 13th April and argued that the treatment of the Hollywood Ten meant that it was impossible for him to cooperate with the HUAC: "Ten of my friends, very dear friends, have gone to jail for coming before this body and saying that Congress may not investigate in any area in which it may not legislate, and since the Constitution of the United States specifically states that Congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of speech, and since countless decisions of the courts have held that this provision of the Constitution means that Congress cannot investigate into areas of opinion, of conscience, of belief, I believe that in asking that those men be cited for contempt of Congress and in successfully sending these men to jail, that this committee has subverted the meaning of the American Constitution."
Jarrico refused to identify people who were members of left-wing groups and after being sacked from his $2,000 a week job with Columbia Pictures, was blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. Jarrico pointed out in 1955: "There is a direct relation between the blacklist and the increasing emphasis of the Hollywood film on prowar and anti-human themes. We have seen more and more pictures of violence for the sake of violence, more and more unmotivated brutality on the screen as the blacklist grew."
In 1954 Jarrico worked with Michael Wilson, Adrian Scott and Herbert Biberman on Salt of the Earth (1954), a film about a mining strike in New Mexico. Although the film earned critical acclaim in Europe, winning awards in France and Czechoslovakia, it was not allowed to be shown in the United States until 1965.
Jarrico continued to write under assumed names. This included the film The Girl Most Likely (1957). After the blacklist was lifted he write the screenplays for All Night Long (1961), Seaway (1965), Sanctuary (1967) and Avenging Angels (1988).
Paul Jarrico was killed in a road accident on 28th October, 1997.
Paul Jarrico visited me and wanted my personal assurance that I would not give any names. I didn't give that assurance. We then had a long political discussion. Paul Jarrico feels the justice of his position, and he went over the situation that he believes the Soviet Union is devoted to the interests of all people and is peace-loving as well.
Ten of my friends, very dear friends, have gone to jail for coming before this body and saying that Congress may not investigate in any area in which it may not legislate, and since the Constitution of the United States specifically states that Congress shall make no law restricting the freedom of speech, and since countless decisions of the courts have held that this provision of the Constitution means that Congress cannot investigate into areas of opinion, of conscience, of belief, I believe that in asking that those men be cited for contempt of Congress and in successfully sending these men to jail, that this committee has subverted the meaning of the American Constitution...
I want to make it clear that I am personally opposed to the overthrow of this Government by force and violence and to the use of force and violence. However, President Lincoln said that the people of this country have the right to revolution, if necessary, if the democratic processes are clogged, if the people can no longer exercise their will by constitutional means.
I want to talk for a few minutes about the Hollywood investigation now being conducted in Washington. This reporter approaches the matter with rather fresh memories of friends in Austria, Germany and Italy who either died or went into exile because they refused to admit the right of their government to determine what they should say, read, write or think. (If witnessing the disappearance of individual liberty abroad causes a reporter to be unduly sensitive to even the faintest threat of it in his own country, then my analysis of what is happening in Washington may be out of focus.) This is certainly no occasion for a defence of the product of Hollywood. Much of that product fails to invigorate me, but I am not obliged to view it. No more is this an effort to condemn congressional investigating committees. Such committees are a necessary part of our system of government and have performed in the past the double function of illuminating certain abuses and of informing congressmen regarding expert opinion on important legislation under consideration. In general, however, congressional committees have concerned themselves with what individuals, organizations or corporations have or have not done, rather than with what individuals think. It has always seemed to this reporter that movies should be judged by what appears upon the screen, newspapers by what appears in print and radio by what comes out of the loudspeaker. The personal beliefs of the individuals involved would not seem to be a legitimate field for inquiry, either by government or by individuals. When bankers, or oil or railroad men, are hailed before a congressional committee, it is not customary to question them about their beliefs or the beliefs of men employed by them. When a soldier is brought before a court martial he is confronted with witnesses, entitled to counsel and to cross-questioning. His reputation as a soldier, his prospects of future employment, cannot be taken from him unless a verdict is reached under clearly established military law.
It is, I suppose, possible that the committee now sitting may uncover some startling and significant information. But we are here concerned only with what has happened to date. A certain number of people have been accused either of being Communists or of following the Communist line. Their accusers are safe from the laws of slander and libel. Subsequent denials are unlikely ever to catch up with the original allegation. It is to be expected that this investigation will induce increased timidity in an industry not renowned in the past for its boldness in portraying the significant social, economic and political problems confronting this nation. For example, Willie Wyler, who is no alarmist, said yesterday that he would not now be permitted to make The Best Years of Our Lives in the way in which he made it more than a year ago.
Considerable mention was made at the hearings of two films, Mission to Moscow and Song of Russia. I am no movie critic, but I remember what was happening in the war when those films were released. While you were looking at Mission to Moscow there was heavy fighting in Tunisia. American and French forces were being driven back; Stalin said the opening of the Second Front was near; there was heavy fighting in the Solomons and New Guinea; MacArthur warned that the Japanese were threatening Australia; General Hershey announced that fathers would be called up in the draft; Wendell Willkie's book One World was published. And when Song of Russia was released, there was heavy fighting at Cassino and Anzio; the battleship Missouri was launched, and the Russian newspaper Pravda published, and then retracted, an article saying that the Germans and the British were holding peace talks. And during all this time there were people in high places in London and Washington who feared lest the Russians might make a separate peace with Germany. If these pictures, at that time and in that climate, were subversive, then what comes next under the scrutiny of a congressional committee?
Correspondents who wrote and broadcast that the Russians were fighting well and suffering appalling losses? If we follow the parallel, the networks and the newspapers which carried those dispatches would likewise be investigated.
Certain government agencies, such as the State Department and the Atomic Energy Commission, are confronted with a real dilemma. They are obligated to maintain security without doing violence to the essential liberties of the citizens who work for them. That may require special and defensible security measures. But no such problem arises with instruments of mass communication. In that area there would seem to be two alternatives: either we believe in the intelligence, good judgment, balance and native shrewdness of the American people, or we believe that government should investigate, intimidate and finally legislate. The choice is as simple as that.
The right of dissent - or, if you prefer, the right to be wrong - is surely fundamental to the existence of a democratic society. That's the right that went first in every nation that stumbled down the trail toward totalitarianism.
I would like to suggest to you that the present search for Communists is in no real sense parallel to the one that took place after the First World War. That, as we know, was a passing phenomenon. Those here who then adhered to Communist doctrine could not look anywhere in the world and find a strong, stable, expanding body of power based on the same principles that they professed. Now the situation is different, so it may be assumed that this internal tension, suspicion, witch hunting, grade labeling - call it what you like - will continue. It may well cause a lot of us to dig deep into both our history and our convictions to determine just how firmly we hold to the principles we were taught and accepted so readily, and which made this country a haven for men who sought refuge. And while we're discussing this matter, we might remember a little-known quotation from Adolf Hitler, spoken in Konigsberg before he achieved power. He said, "The great strength of the totalitarian state is that it will force those who fear it to imitate it."
There is a direct relation between the blacklist and the increasing emphasis of the Hollywood film on prowar and anti-human themes. We have seen more and more pictures of violence for the sake of violence, more and more unmotivated brutality on the screen as the blacklist grew.
Elizabeth Farnsworth: Paul Jarrico, tell us how you came to be blacklisted.
Paul Jerrico: Well, I was pretty well known as left of center, considerably left of center. There was no secret about my political orientation, and I, in fact, produced a film about the "Hollywood Ten," called the "Hollywood Ten" in the summer of 1950, on the eve of their going to prison. So I was not at all surprised when the committee began its new hearings in the spring of ‘51 as the ten were, in fact, coming up to be called.
Elizabeth Farnsworth: So you were called and then were you automatically blacklisted? How did you know? When was the moment you knew you’d been blacklisted?
Paul Jerrico: Well, I knew I was blacklisted the moment I arrived at RKO Studio in my car and was barred from the lot, but that was before I testified. That was the morning after I had been served a subpoena and had said to some of the reporters who accompanied the marshal and who asked me what stand I would take, I had said I wasn’t sure but if I had to choose between crawling in the mud with Larry Parks or going to prison like my courageous friends, the Hollywood Ten, you might--you could be sure I would choose the latter. And that was in the papers the following morning, and I was barred from the lot within an hour or two of that.
Elizabeth Farnsworth: Paul Jarrico, once you found out you were blacklisted, once you could no longer work in Hollywood, what did you do? How did you manage to produce Salt of the Earth.
Paul Jerrico: The hard way. I and Herbert Biberman and Adrian Scott, both of whom were - had been members of the Hollywood Ten and were blacklisted, of course, formed a company to try to use the growing pool of talent of the blacklistees. And we had several projects underway with - that is to say being written and came across - I came across by coincidence - this strike and in New Mexico in which Mexican-American zinc miners were on strike, the company got an injunction, saying that company - that striking miners may not picket - the wives said the injunction doesn’t say anything about their wives - we’ll take over your picket line, and the men were reluctant to, as they put it hide behind women’s skirts. But there really was no other alternative. The women found themselves on the picket line being attacked by force, arrested in droves.
Elizabeth Farnsworth: And did people try to stop you from making this film?
Paul Jerrico: Well, of course. There was a concerted effort to stop the making of the film after it became known that we were making the film. We had started the film in quite a normal fashion with contracts with Pate Lab to develop our film and rental of the equipment from Hollywood, people who supplied such things. A whistle was blown by Walter Pigeon, the then president of the Actors Guild, and the FBI swung into action and movie industries swung into action and we found ourselves barred from laboratories, barred from sound studios, barred from any of the normal facilities available to film makers, and we found ourselves hounded by all kinds of denunciations on the floor of Congress and by columnists.
The public was told that we were making a new weapon for Russia, that since we were shooting in New Mexico, where you find atom bombs, you find Communists, and every kind of scurrilous attack - vigilante attacks - on us while we were still shooting developed.
Our star, who had come up from Mexico to star in the film - LeSoro Regueltos - was arrested and deported before we were finished shooting her role. We had difficulty getting permission to shoot the remaining scenes with her in Mexico, which we absolutely had to have, and so on.
REVISITING PAUL JARRICO'S JOURNEY: INTERVIEW WITH LARRY CEPLAIR
In 1941, the comedy “Tom, Dick and Harry” was released to popular acclaim, and screenwriter Paul Jarrico, received an Academy Award nomination. A decade later, Jarrico could not get a job in Hollywood. An unapologetic Communist, Jarrico was among the scores of creative artists whose careers were disrupted by the McCarthy-era blacklist.
Jarrico tried to fight back, independently producing the 1954 feature “Salt of the Earth.” Working with other blacklisted artists, Jarrico was driving force behind this startling drama, which was inspired by a strike among Mexican-American zinc miners in New Mexico. Alas, political pressures and a hostile media killed the film’s U.S. theatrical release and left Jarrico in financial difficulties. It would not be until decades later that “Salt of the Earth” was recognized as a classic of independent cinema.
Unable to get work in Hollywood outside of anonymous script doctoring duties, Jarrico relocated to Europe, where he hunted for work with various degrees of success. It would not be until the early 1970s that he would be able to resume his Hollywood career, albeit without the level of energy he enjoyed before the blacklist.
Larry Ceplair created a fine biography on Jarrico’s unusual life. “The Marxist and the Movies,” published by University Press of Kentucky, offers a rare insight to Jarrico’s odyssey. Ceplair, a former professor of history at Santa Monica University, spoke with Film Threat about Paul Jarrico’s strange and tumultuous career.
What inspired you to write about Paul Jarrico?
I knew, liked, and admired Jarrico. I also knew that his extensive personal archive would provide a biographer with unprecedented information about Jarrico’s screenwriting and his politics. I thought that his archive would allow me to present a more detailed and complete analysis of the career of a Communist screenwriter than Steven Englund and I had been able to do in our book “Inquisition in Hollywood.”
Finally, Jarrico’s experiences intersected with all of the important left-wing political and cultural cross-currents of United States history during the 20th century.
During his pre-blacklist Hollywood career, Jarrico seemed to work everywhere from MGM to Monogram Pictures. Was he viewed as an A-list screenwriter during this period or as a writer-for-hire?
Jarrico was perceived as a skillful constructionist and script doctor. Though most of his early work was on screwball comedies, he was also considered relatively versatile. His scripts were rewritten on a regular basis, to eliminate his social and political commentary, and, in some cases, to improve the dialogue.
Jarrico moved around as much as he did for two reasons. First, he was quick to anger, and he regularly refused assignments he did not like. Second, he became increasingly restless with the quality of assignments offered him and suffered periodic bouts of ennui about screenwriting. During the 1940s, he was highly paid, but I do not think he was considered an A-list screenwriter.
Did Jarrico genuinely believe that “Salt of the Earth” would receive a normal American theatrical release, given the political climate of the 1950s?
Jarrico genuinely believed that he could find a way past the numerous obstacles posed by the Cold War apparatus against making and distributing “Salt of the Earth.” He maintained an almost surreal optimism. This ability, to see triumph just around the corner, sustained him through many dark years on the blacklist.
To be sure, we can now see that he underestimated the power and determination of the anti-Communists, particularly Roy Brewer, who used his position as International Representative of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, to block production workers from working on the film, laboratory workers from processing it, and projectionists from showing it.
And Jarrico overestimated the support the movie would receive from the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers (whose strike was the inspiraton of “Salt of the Earth”). Jarrico and his partners hoped that the union would mobilize to bring pressure on theater owners to show the movie. The partners did not expect, and did not receive, any assistance from the Communist Party.
How was it that some blacklisted artists, such as Jules Dassin and Carl Foreman, were able to revive their careers when the blacklist began to crumble while someone like Jarrico continually encountered employment problems well into the early 1970s?
Career revival was an arbitrary process. Though blacklisting ceased, the blacklist did not simply disappear, and many blacklisted people found it difficult to resume their careers. They were too old they had been out of circulation for too long and younger producers did not know their work they were perceived as hard-core Communists or they had fought the blacklist too openly. Those who had earned a solid reputation, either in Hollywood before the blacklist or in Europe thereafter, and were not too closely identified with communism or litigation against the blacklist – Foreman, Dassin, Joseph Losey, Sidney Buchman, Dalton Trumbo, Marguerite Roberts, inter alia – were quickly rehired.
But others, such as John Howard Lawson and Lester Cole, were considered too “red.” Jarrico, for his part, was considered too litigious and contentious, he had not written any notable scripts in Europe, and he was stuck in Europe (his wife could not get a visa) at a time when one had to be located in Hollywood to pitch and promote ideas. On the other hand, Michael Wilson, who had been as stalwart a Communist and almost as litigious as Jarrico, was very much in demand, because he was considered a brilliant script writer, and he had written scripts for “Bridge Over the River Kwai” and “Lawrence of Arabia” while he was on the blacklist.
Do you believe it is possible for another blacklist to take root in Hollywood again?
Yes, I do. Film producers are an easily frightened group of people. They fear anything that will hurt their product at the box office or get in the way of its export. Given enough pressure, they will just as surely cave into it as they did from 1947-61.
What new projects are you working on?
I have completed an article on the screenwriter Isobel Lennart, which will be published by the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television, in October. And I am currently completing a series of articles on anti-communism and Communist Party cultural debates.
The Communist Hunters Come to Hollywood
Harris & Ewing, official White House photographers/U.S. Library of Congress
You Must Remember This, the podcast that tells the secret and forgotten history of 20 th -century Hollywood, is back for a new season. When each episode airs, creator and host Karina Longworth will share some of the research that went into the episode in an excerpt here on Slate. Listen to the complete Episode 1 below, on the pre-history of the Hollywood blacklist, and subscribe to You Must Remember This on iTunes.
A pervasive idea about the Hollywood blacklist seems to be that its victims were persecuted and punished despite little to no evidence that they were actually communists. This was true, in many cases, and some people who were blacklisted were not and had never been members of the Communist Party. There were people who were denied their livelihoods, and thus happy lives, for reasons that were stupid or petty, or for virtually no reason at all.
But there were also dedicated Communists in Hollywood. They weren’t necessarily revolutionary Communists. Just because you were a member of the Communist Party, that didn’t mean that you wanted to overthrow the government or pass state secrets to the Soviets. It didn’t mean you were going to deny the sizable salary offered to you by a studio, or that you wouldn’t use that salary to buy a nice house and car.
Most Hollywood Communists were concerned with domestic social issues, like racial inequality. They hoped the party could someday compete alongside the Democratic and Republican parties for a real voice in the shaping of the nation. And as both the Communist Party and the U.S. media changed their rhetoric during the period in which the U.S. and the USSR were allies, it looked like American acceptance of domestic communism might not be far off.
Circa 1944, the Communist Party of the USA billed itself in its constitution as “a political party carrying forward … the traditions of Jefferson, Paine, Jackson, and Lincoln … through a government of the people, by the people, and for the people its abolition of all exploitation of man by man, nation by nation, and race by race … striving toward a world without oppression and war, a world of brotherhood of man.” When you read the memoirs of Hollywood people who admit an association with the party, one sentiment comes up over and over again: If you were concerned about inequality and systemic oppression abroad and at home, the Communists were the only people who seemed to be committed to doing anything.
As the numbers of movie folk attending Los Angeles-area Communist Party meetings began to swell, the party itself took notice. Though the percentage of movie workers drawn into the party remained small, those members associated with the film industry tended to donate more money than workers in other industries. A party organizer named Stanley Lawrence referred to the new Hollywood recruits as “fat cows to be milked.”
How many cows were there? The conservative point of view, then and even today, holds that even if membership in the party was small, communists managed to infiltrate and seize a disproportionate amount of power, particularly within certain unions. The counter-argument is that if there was a communist conspiracy to infiltrate Hollywood, the communists were stupid in the way they went about it. They basically got nowhere with the really powerful people—the producers—and made the biggest impact with the least powerful people in town: the writers. That said, a number of screenwriters associated with the party did take an active role in the formation and governance of the Screen Writers Guild. But this was a small victory because that guild was plagued by infighting from its inception, and the known or suspected communists who did have power in the guild were opposed by a sizable faction of anti-communists.
The most committed Communist activist in town was John Howard Lawson, writer of the Hedy Lamarr vehicle Algiers and the Bogart war flick Sahara, and as of 1937, the president of the Hollywood chapter of the Communist Party. Lawson espoused the party line, no matter how that line changed, and he seems to have been the most aggressive and unyielding soldier fighting to inject American movies with leftist ideology.
Less doctrinaire than Lawson were passionate believers like Screen Readers Guild president Bernard Gordon and screenwriters Paul Jarrico, Ben Barzman, and Michael Wilson—an Oscar winner for A Place in the Sun, a film which managed to be both class-conscious and totally decadent in the best classical Hollywood fashion. Barzman spoke for many when he described the party thusly: “It’s just the best, most organized way I know to fight fascism and imperialist war and to aid the colonial peoples in their struggle for freedom.” Barzman and friends had heard stories of the dark side of Joseph Stalin’s rule, tales of mass arrests, show trials, and executions, but weren’t sure what to believe. Maybe those stories were just Western propaganda.
For others, communism was a fad, something to check out once or twice before moving on to the next thing. The Communist Party was a supposedly secret organization. In the early 1940s, Barzman told his future-wife Norma that if anyone found out he was active in the party, then that would be the end of his career working for studios. Many, including director Edward Dmytryk, registered under aliases. There were some records kept of who joined or gave money to the party, and of who attended meetings—and the FBI seized many of these records by breaking into the party’s Hollywood headquarters. But there were not records kept of who left the party in disillusionment or disgust, or who attended a handful of meetings but never fully committed.
The shades of red were made blurrier in 1934, when the Soviet Union established the Popular Front, which called for all leftists and antifascists to join forces. Previously, communists had been trained to shun noncommunist leftists, who were branded as capitalists in pinkish clothing. But now, virtually anyone opposed to Nazism or fascism was given the Soviet seal of approval, a fact that would later give red hunters license to attack many non-communists who had once been associated with a group that fell under the Popular Front rubric. Some of those progressives were none too happy to be associated with Communists even at the time, especially after the temporary Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939. But by early 1943, few could deny that Stalin was, as Bernard Gordon put it, “heading the most ferocious, bloody, and heroic fight against Hitler.”
The threat of Nazism was a mobilizing force for Hollywood leftists. Hollywood, of course, was a town peopled with refugees. There were New Yorkers, like Nathanael West and Dorothy Parker, who had come to make a quick buck as writers, and there were a host of Europeans in exile—anti-Fascists who’d had their lives directly threatened by Fascism.
In 1936, a number of Hollywood workers, including Dorothy Parker and Oscar Hammerstein, had banded together to form the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. They were ahead of the times, and dangerously so: Most of their peers and colleagues and bosses were not ready to turn their backs on as rich a source of revenue as Nazi Germany, or on other nations that would eventually become the United States’ enemies. It was well known that Columbia chief Harry Cohn idolized Benito Mussolini, and Mussolini’s son Vittorio came to Hollywood in 1937, where he was feted at a reception attended by Walt Disney and Gary Cooper.
The first attack on Hollywood leftists came from Martin Dies, a Texas congressman described by the New Republic as “cocksure.” Dies first came to Los Angeles to investigate communism in the movie industry in 1938. The politician apparently was hoping to smear and conquer the New Deal, and as such he first turned his attention to the WPA theater program, which he helped shut down. Then, in an editorial for the magazine Liberty published in February 1940, Dies accused “forty-two or forty-three” unnamed but “prominent members of the Hollywood film colony” of being “either full-fledged members of the Communist Party or active sympathizers and fellow travelers.”
Dies apparently got his intel from John Leech, a former Communist Party organizer who gave him a list of Hollywood people he claimed were involved with the party. Using Leech’s intel as guidance, Dies held closed-door hearings in Los Angeles and New York in 1940. Some members of the film industry pledged their cooperation with the congressman others protested loudly. Dies interviewed some of the boldfaced names on Leech’s list, including Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney, and concluded that there was no threat in Tinseltown. The celebrities, Dies concluded, “are not or never have been Communist sympathizers.” Hollywood on the whole, and its leftists in particular, assumed that they had dodged the bullet, and that that was that.
Dies was barking up the wrong trees, but he wasn’t the only dog sniffing around. Before Pearl Harbor, Americans weren’t supposed to be concerned with what was going on in Europe. The only political party that made anti-Fascism part of its agenda was the Communist Party, so to express anti-Nazi or anti-fascist sentiment was to mark oneself as a communist. It was more common and more accepted to be against the United States’ involvement in another costly war, and there were isolationists on both sides of the aisle in Congress. A number of congressmen attacked Hollywood for allegedly producing propaganda designed to encourage the American people to support intervention abroad.
Sen. Burton Wheeler, a Democrat from Montana who had once been conspicuously lefty and union-minded, broke with President Roosevelt and made himself a champion of the America First Committee, a powerful nationwide anti-interventionist group which also included Walt Disney and Charles Lindbergh. Wheeler was head of the Senate Interstate Commerce Commission, which also included Republican Gerald Nye and Democrat Bennett Clark. Wheeler announced in 1941 that he intended to investigate the studios, which he pointed out were run primarily by foreign-born Jews. Why were a bunch of foreigners being allowed to influence American opinion, Wheeler wondered, pushing what he termed “a violent propaganda campaign intending to incite the American people to the point where they will become involved in this war.”
Nye and Clark introduced a bill to combat “war propaganda.” Nye spoke out against Hollywood’s hiring of filmmakers who had fled Nazism, citied a wide variety of films from The Great Dictator to Sergeant York as potentially dangerous pieces of propaganda, and warned that that the Jews were using the movies to “fan race hatred” across the nation. Hearings were held Nick Schenck, Harry Warner, and Darryl Zanuck were among the bigwigs who testified.
And then Pearl Harbor happened, and everything changed. The government quickly reversed course. For the next few years, public officials would put pressure on the studios to make war propaganda that was way more blatant than most of what Wheeler and friends had attacked.
The Marxist and the Movies: A Biography of Paul Jarrico. By Larry Ceplair. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. xii, 327 pp. $40.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-2453-7.)
David J. Snyder, The Marxist and the Movies: A Biography of Paul Jarrico. By Larry Ceplair. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2007. xii, 327 pp. $40.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-2453-7.), Journal of American History, Volume 95, Issue 3, December 2008, Pages 902–903, https://doi.org/10.2307/27694498
Larry Ceplair's biography of the Communist screenwriter Paul Jarrico is a fine account of the intersection of popular culture and American politics. If less probing than Ceplair's earlier work, The Marxist and the Movies nevertheless offers a complex portrait of the kind of figure still too often reduced to political caricature.
Born into an immigrant “Russian Jewish socialis[t]” milieu, Jarrico gravitated toward Eugene V. Debs and Upton Sinclair, and then further leftward during the depression (p. 3). Here, early on, Ceplair's narrative falters, as he insufficiently develops the complex factors radicalizing writers such as Jarrico. Ceplair relies largely on Jarrico's own limited perspective the intellectual terrain that Jarrico and other writers traversed is not deeply explored, leaving untold the deeper intellectual implications of what John Howard Lawson, also a Communist writer in Hollywood, called “commitment.”
By 1938 Jarrico had begun to establish.
Films as Screenwriter:
Little Adventuress (Lederman) (co-story only) No Time to Marry (Lachman) (also story) I Am the Law (Hall) (contributed to script)
Beauty for the Asking (Tryon) (co-sc)
Tom, Dick and Harry (Kanin) (also story) The Face Behind the Mask (Florey) (co-sc) Men of the Timberland (Rawlins) (story only)
Thousands Cheer (Sidney) (co-sc and story) Song of Russia (Ratoff) (co-sc)
Little Giant (Seiter) (co-sc)
The Search (Zinnemann) (co-sc)
Not Wanted (Clifton, Lupino) (co-sc)
The White Tower (Tetzlaff)
The Las Vegas Story (Stevenson) (co-sc, originally uncredited)
The Girl Most Likely (Leisen) (story and co-sc, originally uncredited)
5 Branded Women (Ritt) (co-sc, originally uncredited)
All Night Long (Dearden) (co-sc, billed as Peter Achilles)
Treasure of the Aztecs (Siodmak) (uncredited)
Wer Kennet Jonny R? (Who Killed Johnny Ringo) (Madrid) (co-sc as Peter Achilles)
Le Rouble a Deux Faces (The Day The Hot Line Got Hot) (Perier)
Sarajevsky Atentat (The Day That Shook the World Assassination at Sarajevo) (Bulajic) (co-sc)
Messenger of Death (Thompson)
Stalin (Passer—for TV) (uncredited rewrite)
You Must Remember This
Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts.
Today we explore one of the more troubling aspects of Howard Hughes’ legacy: the firm hand he played in enforcing the blacklisting of Hollywood workers, both as the head and owner of RKO Pictures, and as a powerful rich guy whose influence went as high as the U.S. Congress. This episode also tells the story of Paul Jarrico, the first screenwriter to be taken to court by a studio (RKO) over the question of his firing during the blacklist period. In partnership with the also-blacklisted writer Michael Wilson and director Herbert Biberman, Jarrico made Salt of the Earth, a pro-Union, proto-feminist, Neorealist-influenced independent film which the blacklisting-supporting unions effectively squelched, with the help of the media, politicians, and Hughes.
Paul Jarrico testifying to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1951.
Here is a list of published sources that the entire season draws from:
Sources specific to this episode:
Much of the research for this episode stemmed from the book I’m working on about Howard Hughes in Hollywood. I’ve taken two trips to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, which holds nearly 100 boxes of Hughes materials from the office of Dick Hannah, who supervised Hughes’ publicity for the second half of his life. Hughes instructed his press agents to clip every article about him that they could find, as well as published pieces relating to his obsessions, from organized crime and gaming to certain actresses with whom he was once or currently sexually involved, to people he sued or was sued by. Thus, the files include much material on Jarrico, HUAC and Hughes' management of RKO.
Key sources referenced in this episode found at UNLV include:
--Transcript of Hughes’ 1952 American Legion address
--Jimmie Fidler’s November 8, 1951 column “Views From Hollywood,” published in the Valley News
--Coverage of the Hughes/Jarrico trial in The Mirror, Variety and the Los Angeles Examiner
--”Silver City: Who Caused the Trouble?” by Elizabeth Kerby, Frontier, May 1953
--”Reds in the Desert” no byline, Newsweek March 2, 1953
Special thanks also to Hilary Swett at the Writers Guild of America West for pointing me to clippings files and documents in their collection -- a true wealth of information, much which, in the interest of running time, I wasn’t able to include or could only briefly mention in this episode.
Key sources referenced in this episode found at the WGA include:
--Reports from the American Library of Information, and many memos and documents relating to RKO’s subscriptions to their service.
--”The Hughes-Jarrico Imbroglio and the Screen Writers’ Guild” by Mary C. McCall, Jr., Frontier, May 1952
--”Jarrico vs. Hughes: A War For Credit That Could Have Ended the Screen Writers’ Guild” By Barbara L. Hall, Written By September-October 2015
Special thanks to our special guest, Noah Segan, who returned as Howard Hughes.
This episode was edited by Henry Molofsky, and produced by Karina Longworth with the assistance of Lindsey D. Schoenholtz. Our logo was designed by Teddy Blanks.
Hughes' last stand
HOLLYWOOD &mdash Fifty-three years ago this week, Howard Hughes found himself locked in a battle against powerful political forces he believed were bent on undermining the free market system.
The billionaire industrialist, airplane manufacturer and filmmaker became so passionate about the fight that he summoned all his emotional and physical strength to overcome a crippling fear of the public so he could make his case for what he saw as truth, justice and the American way.
Hughes' candor stunned the country, especially Washington politicians, who thought he was finished. From coast to coast, Americans rallied to his side. The enemy Hughes was fighting, however, wasn't Pan Am president Juan Trippe, Sen. Ralph Owen Brewster, R-Maine, or the issue of unfair monopoly of the skies &mdash the climactic struggle at the heart of The Aviator, the Martin Scorsese film up for a Best Picture Oscar tonight. Instead, it was a defiant screen-writer named Paul Jarrico, the influential Screen Writers Guild, and communism in Hollywood.
The Aviator ends in 1947, when Hughes confounded critics by flying the Hercules, a plane that wasn't supposed to fly, and thwarting Pan Am and its powerful allies in Congress. While the picture gives moviegoers a sense of Howard Hughes' relentless determination, it was his experience with Jarrico in 1952, now long forgotten history, which was a watershed event in his life, transforming him philosophically.
What Hughes did almost single-handedly was unprecedented for a Hollywood studio chief. By not resorting to Red-baiting and McCarthyism, and instead standing up to communism with honesty, Hughes became a voice in the wilderness and galvanized the public. It pulled him into a cauldron of political controversy and intrigue, and was his last hurrah. In time, it will stand as one of the most consequential parts of his legacy.
Hughes didn't bother with politics for most of his life, but communism on the RKO Studios lot served as his great awakening to what was happening on the world stage after World War II. The horrors of life in Josef Stalin's Russia were no longer secret, and the way loyal Soviet Communists made Pavel Morozov a cult hero in the 1930s for turning in his own father for disloyalty gave Hughes and others a sense of the implications of being an apologist for communism, even if you lived far away from Moscow in Beverly Hills.
Hughes appreciated the movies as a powerful communication medium and insisted that RKO releases depict the military as peacekeepers and resist ideas being pushed by communists.
The party worked tirelessly to foil Hughes, so he came to believe he was protecting the industry &mdash and serving a larger mission as well. He did his part to fight Stalin by green-lighting such pictures as 1949's Woman on Pier 13, an anticommunist drama starring Robert Ryan.
When Jarrico, a Communist Party member and screenwriter whom Hughes had been paying $2,000 a week, started publicly maligning congressional investigators and pled the Fifth Amendment when questioned under oath about the party in 1951, Hughes was incensed.
For Jarrico, the party cause was more than ideological: If the United States were to go to war against the Soviet Union, Jarrico said, he would find it impossible to support America. Hughes refused to put Jarrico's name on any picture released by RKO, even when the Writers Guild threatened to strike RKO to support Jarrico.
"My determination that I will not yield to Jarrico or anyone else guilty of this conduct is based on principle, belief, and conscience," said Hughes. "These are forces which are not subject to arbitration. My conscience cannot be changed by a committee of arbitrators."
Initially, Jarrico wanted either screen credit or $5,000 for Las Vegas Story, a script from which he had been fired because his work was unsatisfactory. Hughes took Jarrico to court, asking for relief from Jarrico's private demands, arguing that Jarrico's allegiance to the Soviet Union had violated the morals clause of his contract, especially when American troops were fighting the communists in Korea. Reportedly, this was the first time a studio had taken legal action against a Communist Party member.
Sensing how a fight with Howard Hughes could be exploited, Jarrico upped the ante by filing his own suit against RKO, asking for $350,000 in damages. Hughes could have easily settled the case with Jarrico and avoided a protracted legal war. But the issues involved symbolized too much for him. "As long as I am an officer or director of RKO, this company will never temporize, conciliate with, or yield to Paul Jarrico or anyone guilty of similar conduct," he said.
During the trial, Jarrico asserted that it was Hughes' conduct that ought to be questioned. His lawyers quoted a 1948 Time story: "Howard Hughes will never die in an airplane, he'll die at the hands of a woman with a .38," They also used Hughes' creative publicity for the provocative picture The Outlaw, starring the buxom Jane Russell. Hughes had the title written in smoke over Pasadena, Calif., with two large circles with a dot in each beneath it. That was supposedly evidence that Hughes was the immoral one. (Curiously, Hughes did die in an airplane, in 1976, en route from Mexico to Houston seeking medical treatment.)
Hughes, however, was interested in more weighty matters. "Do you think if they asked a man if he was a Democrat or a Republican that he would refuse to answer on the grounds that his answer might incriminate him?" Hughes asked. "The very fact that this man pleaded his constitutional privilege &mdash that is his admission that he is not talking about politics. If you believe that the Communist Party is in the same category as the Democrat Party or Republican Party, then I think I can answer you in this way: We are not fighting Democrats or Republicans in Korea."
Eventually, through three years of appeals, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, Hughes was vindicated: Jarrico wasn't entitled to damages, and Hughes and RKO were well within their rights by keeping his name off the picture.
Despite the verdict, Jarrico's reputation has been rehabilitated and today he is celebrated in Hollywood and film schools as a heroic figure. However, the facts of the case, coupled with the evidence that has emerged since the end of the Cold War showing the enormous depth of Soviet influence in the American Communist Party, are increasingly difficult to deal with for those who want to dismiss Hughes' anticommunism as the ravings of an obsessive madman or assert that communists were denied their day in court. In the fog of the so-called blacklist era, Hughes seems to have taken a clear, almost high-minded approach in a time that has been characterized as hysterical.
Hughes was far from vindictive. He was correct when he said that communism had seduced well-intentioned liberals, and that the party couldn't care less for the public viability of artists after they had been used up for Stalinist agendas in the film colony. "There are many Reds who are not Reds at all," said Hughes.
I watched The Aviator with Roy M. Brewer who, as a liberal Democrat labor chief in the 1940s and '50s, helped lead anticommunism in the film business.
As one of the remaining few who knew Hughes during those tumultuous days, Brewer found Scorsese's picture especially sublime. Sitting in a theater on Sunset Boulevard, just a few blocks from Hughes' old office, Brewer told me that the film brought back memories of a man whose reputation for obsession has overshadowed the real essence that made Hughes a unique American character. Brewer, who started in the business as a projectionist, said theirs was an era when, in the blink of an eye, events unfolded that meant a larger purpose &mdash and unavoidable duty. "Howard Hughes loved the movies, and his country," Brewer said. "What happened to us back then was tremendous."
Jarrico’s Last Words on Blacklisting
Editor’s note: Writer Paul Jarrico, 82, who was nominated for an Oscar for “Tom, Dick and Harry” (1941), was killed Tuesday south of Oxnard driving home to Ojai from the second of two events in Los Angeles this week honoring blacklisted writers. Jarrico, who was himself blacklisted, was point man on a committee working to restore credits denied to writers who were blacklisted as a result of the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearings led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
These were Jarrico’s remarks made at the event Monday staged by Hollywood’s four major guilds--the Writers Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America and AFTRA, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists:
The guilds have come a long way since they failed to protect the Hollywood 10 and the Hollywood hundreds. What [the guilds’] presidents have affirmed tonight is the guiding principle of unionism: that an injury to one is an injury to all.
In Budd Schulberg’s novel, “What Makes Sammy Run?,” Sammy has lied and cheated and knifed his way up the ladder to become head of a major studio. As he surveys his domain from the window of his penthouse, glowing with satisfaction, the writer who is telling the story asks him how he feels. Sammy considers this. “Patriotic,” he says.
As we heard Parnell Thomas say to Ring Lardner Jr., “Any real American would be proud to answer that question.”
Any real American? And of course the next question: “Who else?”
Patriotism defined as your willingness to betray others: Do it to show that you love your country refuse to do it and you’re in contempt of Congress, a Congress beneath contempt.
Patriotism--a contradictory word, for the history of our country is contradictory. I think of it as a double-helix: two strands of history intertwined. One strand is brutal slavery, the genocide visited upon Native Americans, the ugly waves of know-nothing bigotry that have greeted every wave of immigration, women subordinated, labor strikes broken by force of arms, lynchings, periodic repression of dissent.
The other strand is noble history: the abolitionists, the suffragettes, the ongoing fight to end racism, to end sexism, to end the obscene chasm between poverty and wealth.
Our brutal history defines patriotism as: “My country right or wrong.” Our noble history defines it as: “My country: right the wrong.”
Right the wrong. It may take another 50 years, but we shall overcome. The good guys will win.
‘Shakespeare,’ ‘Out of Sight’ Win Top Writers Guild Honors
The films “Shakespeare in Love” and “Out of Sight” won top honors Saturday night at the 51st annual Writers Guild Awards.
Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard won for their original screenplay for the lusty romantic romp “Shakespeare in Love,” at the black-tie ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.
12:00 a.m. Feb. 24, 1999 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 24, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 10 Entertainment Desk 2 inches 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Clarification--Although its name was printed on leaflets handed out at the Writers Guild Awards dinner Saturday night to protest the honorary Academy Award for director Elia Kazan, a spokesman for the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation said the group was not responsible for distributing them, as reported in The Times on Monday. He said the group’s name was used because it is collecting contributions to buy a trade paper ad to voice its opposition to the Kazan tribute.
“This is very cool,” said Norman. The erudite British playwright Stoppard hoped “Shakespeare in Love” would change people’s perceptions of him and open more doors to write in Hollywood. “I like being here,” he said.
Norman and Stoppard previously won the New York Film Critics Circle and Golden Globe honors and are also nominated for an Academy Award.
The Writers Guild of America honored Scott Frank for best screenplay based on material previously produced or published for his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s crime caper “Out of Sight.” Frank previously had adapted Leonard’s “Get Shorty.”
“I do feel a little bit guilty because I’ve been stealing from Elmore’s books for years,” he said. Frank also received the National Society of Film Critics award and is nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay.
On the television side, Bill Cain won for episodic drama for his “Proofs for the Existence of God” script from the short-lived, controversial 1997-98 ABC series “Nothing Sacred.” Rob Greenberg picked up the award for episodic comedy for his “Frasier’s Imaginary Friend” episode of NBC’s “Frasier.”
Nina Shengold won for original long form for the Lifetime drama “Labor of Love,” and James Henerson received a guild award for adapted long form for the CBS “Hallmark Hall of Fame” presentation “The Love Letter.”
Several special awards also were handed out during the two-hour-plus ceremony. Paul Schrader, writer and director of the 1998 film “Affliction,” received the Laurel Award for Screen, the guild’s highest honor for screenwriting.
Schrader told the audience he had written an acceptance speech on the plane but was too “drunk to read it anymore. This is the first award I’ve ever received for screenwriting,” he said, adding that out of the 18 scripts he’d written over the past 20 years, 11 were on speculation, not commissioned. “I’m the first recipient to work primarily on spec,” he said.
David Milch, executive producer and co-creator of ABC’s “NYPD Blue,” received the annual Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television, given to writers who have “advanced the literature of television through the years, and who have made outstanding contributions to the profession of television writer.”
Kirk Douglas presented the rare Lt. Robert Meltzer Award for bravery to the late Paul Jarrico, the blacklisted screenwriter who fought the Hollywood blacklist and worked tirelessly to restore blacklisted writers’ credits to the films on which they worked. Jarrico died in late 1997 in a car accident after driving home from an event honoring those who were blacklisted. His widow, Lea Benedetti Jarrico, accepted the award.
“He acted according to his instincts,” said his widow. “His instincts were good. Paul was and will always remain my true hero.”
Presenter Hal Kanter was the only person to mention two-time Oscar-winning director Elia Kazan, who is set to receive a special Academy Award next month. Kazan was a star witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee and informed on several of his closest friends.
“I am ambivalent about honoring Elia Kazan,” Kanter said, adding that he hoped the director would apologize for his actions of nearly 50 years ago.
At the end of the ceremony, the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation handed out leaflets asking those who will be attending the Oscars not to stand and applaud Kazan when he receives his award on March 21.
The winners Saturday were:
Screenplay written directly for the screen: Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, “Shakespeare in Love”
Screenplay based on material previously produced or published: Scott Frank, “Out of Sight,” based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
Original long form: Nina Shengold, “Labor of Love,” Lifetime.
Adapted long form: James Henerson, “The Love Letter, CBS
Episodic drama: Bill Cain, “Proofs for the Existence of God” (“Nothing Sacred”), ABC
Episodic comedy: Rob Greenberg, “Frasier’s Imaginary Friend” (“Frasier”), NBC
Comedy/variety--music, awards, tributes, specials: Tim Doyle, “Ellen: A Hollywood Tribute,” ABC
Comedy/variety (including talk) series: “Dennis Miller Live,” HBO
Daytime serials: “All My Children” (ABC)
Documentary--current events: David Grubin, “Truman” (“The American Experience”), PBS
Children’s script: Christine Ferraro, “Telly as Jack” (“Sesame Street”), PBS
News--regularly scheduled, bulletin or breaking report: Stuart H. Chamberlain Jr., “World News This Week,” ABC Radio Network
Morgan Cox Award for exemplary service to the guild: Del Reisman
Valentine Davies Award for professional and community service: Barry Kemp
Edmund H. North Award for leadership and professional achievement: Frank Pierson
Paul Selvin Award for script embodying constitutional civil rights and liberties: Frank Military, “Blind Faith,” Showtime
Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television: David Milch
Laurel Award for Screen: Paul Schrader
Lt. Robert Meltzer Award: Paul Jarrico
Susan King is a former entertainment writer at the Los Angeles Times who specialized in Classic Hollywood stories. She also wrote about independent, foreign and studio movies and occasionally TV and theater stories. Born in East Orange, N.J., she received her master’s degree in film history and criticism at USC. She worked for 10 years at the L.A. Herald Examiner and came to work at The Times in January 1990. She left in 2016.
12:00 a.m. Feb. 24, 1999: For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 24, 1999 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 10 Entertainment Desk 2 inches 68 words Type of Material: Correction
Clarification--Although its name was printed on leaflets handed out at the Writers Guild Awards dinner Saturday night to protest the honorary Academy Award for director Elia Kazan, a spokesman for the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation said the group was not responsible for distributing them, as reported in The Times on Monday. He said the group’s name was used because it is collecting contributions to buy a trade paper ad to voice its opposition to the Kazan tribute.
With the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus continuing to spread statewide, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is recommending that all residents wear masks in public indoor spaces — regardless of whether they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19.
At least eight people died while they were living at the Airtel Plaza Hotel in Van Nuys, where hundreds of homeless people have been housed through Project Roomkey.
Accuracy in Media
Cliff Kincaid, director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, interviewed Allan H. Ryskind, author of the book, Hollywood Traitors, and long-time editor of the newspaper Human Events, about the life and beliefs of Dalton Trumbo, a major Hollywood screenwriter and the subject of the film “Trumbo.” Trumbo supported Lenin, Stalin, Hitler and North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung. He condemned Martin Luther King, Jr., for not being a true revolutionary. Yet, he is depicted in the film as just a family-friendly socialist and defender of the First Amendment in the film.
Ryskind’s father, the famous Hollywood screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, worked with Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Walt Disney and others against communist domination of Hollywood. Reagan considered Human Events as his favorite newspaper when he was president.
In addition to being honored by Hollywood, Trumbo’s star, Bryan Cranston, and director Jay Roach, were given an “exclusive private tour” of the Newseum, the privately-funded museum in Washington, D.C. dedicated to the First Amendment.
Q: Much of Hollywood has given a major send-off to the movie, “Trumbo,” which celebrates the famous Communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Bryan Cranston, who plays Trumbo in the movie, has just been nominated “best actor in a leading role” by the Screen Actors Guild. SAG had even pushed for the entire cast to get an Oscar. Many Hollywood organizations, like the Broadcast Film Critics Association and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, have wholeheartedly embraced the movie’s message of Dalton as a First Amendment hero and Cranston as a best actor nominee. And this is only part of the story. The Hollywood Reporter, the industry’s well-known trade publication, and the SAG’s influential magazine, Written By, have devoted loads of publicity to the supposed importance of the film and the wonders of Dalton himself. You’ve seen the film, so what do you make of it as an accurate picture of the times?
A: Look, if you didn’t know anything about the effort by serious Communists—and Dalton was a very serious Communist—to capture the movie industry for the purpose of serving our deadly enemy, the Soviet Union, you’d think this was a pleasant movie and that Dalton was an avuncular idealist whose guiding political philosophy was not communism but helping the underdog and preserving the First Amendment. He is portrayed as something of a saintly socialist who not only defied the Hollywood blacklist, but defeated it and struck a major blow for freedom and patriotic progressives. To the extent it is conceded that he had some theoretical beliefs that could be considered Marxist, he is depicted as more Pope Francis than Vladimir Lenin.
Q: In what way does the movie hide or gloss over Trumbo’s Red record?
A: All of his heavy-duty propaganda and activities on behalf of the Soviet Union, Joseph Stalin and the Communist Party are omitted. So is his vigorous support of Lenin, Adolph Hitler (during the Hitler-Stalin pact) and North Korea’s Kim Il-sung after his aggressive attack against South Korea in 1950. Even his membership in the American CP, which he eventually bragged about, is ignored. Dalton was on Stalin’s side virtually all of his adult life—in important ways—but those unfamiliar with the titanic battle between the Sovieteers and the anti-Communists in Hollywood wouldn’t have a clue as to what that fight in the movie colony was all about and Trumbo’s deep involvement on the Soviet side.
The villains in the movie, incidentally, are not the party members who worked covertly—and relentlessly—to turn Hollywood over to Moscow but the anti-Communist community who fought the Red conspiracy in the film industry—and won, at least for a time. Columnist Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, labor leader Roy Brewer, the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Motion Picture Alliance and other opponents of the Communists come in for a severe beating. And while the picture blasts the blacklist, which banned Communist Party members from the industry, the average viewer would have virtually no idea as to what it meant to be a party member and why the blacklist was imposed.
Q: How did this movie come about?
A: The film’s screenwriter, John McNamara, who has done a number of TV shows, was inspired by Bruce Cook’s 1977 friendly biography of Trumbo. McNamara, who worked on the script for years, is plainly a big admirer of the screenwriter who wrote a number of excellent movies, including “Spartacus” and “Roman Holiday.” Director Jay Roach, who directed the “Austin Powers” movies, is another Trumbo fan. The star who plays Dalton, Bryan Cranston, the meth dealer in the hit TV show, “Breaking Bad,” has been touring the nation singing the praises of Dalton as a fighter for freedom.
Q: You say he was a “Stalinist” and a member of the Communist Party, facts that you argue are fundamentally ignored by the movie. But how do we know he was a party member?
A: There is no question about his CP membership. In those famous 1947 hearings, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) submitted material proving beyond a doubt that he was a party member, though Trumbo and nine other screenwriters and directors refused to respond to questions about party membership, accusing HUAC of violating their First Amendment rights. Trumbo and the other nine, soon to be dubbed The Hollywood Ten, served time in prison for contempt of Congress and were blacklisted because the Hollywood studios laid down the rule that no one could work in Hollywood if he or she belonged to the Soviet-controlled Communist Party or refused to tell Congress they were party members. (Each of the Ten, by the way, was a party member and their Communist cards were produced at the ’47 hearings.)
Years later, however, Trumbo finally admitted to his biographer, Bruce Cook, that he joined the party in 1943, and that “I might as well have been a Communist ten years earlier. But I’ve never regretted it. As a matter of fact, it’s possible to say I would have regretted not having done it.” (Bruce Cook’s Dalton Trumbo, pp. 146-148) No regrets about being a tool of a party controlled by the Caligula in the Kremlin? Apparently not.
In an unpublished memo among his papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison (a copy of which is in my possession), Trumbo writes, after his prison term and a lengthy sojourn to Mexico, that he “re-affiliated with the party in 1954” and that “in the spring of 1956, I left the party for good.” His papers in Madison also revealed he remained a Stalin apologist until Trumbo’s death in 1976, insisting that whatever his defects, the Kremlin dictator’s most important historical contribution was to have advanced the cause of socialism worldwide.
Q: But is it really fair to call him a Stalinist, rather than a man who frequently followed the party line?
A: Though he says he joined the party in 1943, Trumbo never publicly deviated from the Stalinist line since the late 1930s and never publicly displayed a bit of remorse for that evil man’s malevolent rule. In a sympathetic portrayal of the Hollywood Communists in their classic [book], The Inquisition in Hollywood, authors Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund ask: “Were the Hollywood Communists ‘Stalinist?’ The initial answer must be ‘yes.’ Communist screenwriters defended the Stalinist regime, accepted the Comintern’s policies and about-faces, and criticized enemies and allies alike with an infuriating self-righteousness, superiority and selective memory, which eventually alienated all but the staunchest fellow travelers.” (p. 239)
“As defenders of the Soviet regime,” they added, “the screen artists Reds became known apologists for crimes of monstrous dimensions, though they claimed to have known nothing about such crimes, and, indeed, shouted down, or ignored those who did.” Ceplair and Englund also stress that they “defended that regime unflinchingly, uncritically, inflexibly—and therefore left themselves open to the justifiable suspicion that they not only approved of everything they were defending, but would themselves act in the same way if they were in the same position.” (emphasis added) (p. 241)
Trumbo fits that description to a tee.
Q: Both the liberals and the Left continue to say that there never was a genuine Red “threat” in Hollywood to begin with. Yes, there were some folks who might have mouthed the Soviet line once in a while or “flirted with Communist ideas,” as industry representative Jack Valenti put it, but they weren’t really subversive and had no real influence over the movie colony to begin with. So why did HUAC feel compelled to hold those 1947 hearings on the Communist influence in the movie industry?
A: By 1944, a number of important Hollywood writers, directors, labor union officials and studio executives, alarmed by the Red infiltration of the industry, formed the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (the MPA). Among the founders and members were Morrie Ryskind (my dad), Walt Disney, Russian émigré Ayn Rand, labor union officials and executives from various studios. Actors Robert Taylor and John Wayne were leaders in the group, (which, incidentally, is walloped by the Trumbo movie). They were of various political persuasions, but they all despised the Communists, whom they viewed as enemies of America.
The group was formed because in 1944 it looked as if committed Stalinists had taken control of Hollywood. Hard-core party members had major influence in the powerful guilds and unions, with the very influential Screen Writers Guild picking party members Dalton Trumbo and Gordon Kahn in June 1945 to run the guild’s flagship publication, The Screen Writer. Under Trumbo and Kahn, the publication became a tool of the CP, celebrating important screenwriter Reds and advertising lectures on history, economics and foreign policy from a Marxist and Soviet point of view. Trumbo also used it as a platform to attack the Hollywood anti-Communist community. Communist screenwriters, moreover, had major influence on Hollywood scripts and were turning out films hailing the Soviet economic and political system and even the murderous Joseph Stalin himself.
By 1947, you also have to remember, the Cold War, which Stalin had initiated by seizing Eastern Europe and a portion of Central Europe through force and threats of force, was already under way. And the overwhelming majority of Americans had come to realize that Stalin was a deadly enemy. Even the cream of the liberal community, such as FDR’s widow, Eleanor Roosevelt, liberal lawyer Joseph Rauh and union leaders Walter Reuther and David Dubinsky had deliberately split with the Communists, forming in January of 1947 the Americans for Democratic Action which banned, or should I say blacklisted, anyone who was a Communist. But Hollywood Communists, through party fronts, books, essays, movies, political activities and pots full of money, deliberately allied themselves with Moscow against America and the rest of the Free World.
Q: You say that Trumbo sided with Hitler at one point, but didn’t the Communists in Hollywood lead the fight against fascism and Naziism?
A: Early on, they opposed Hitler, whom they rightly viewed as a major threat to the Soviet Union, the country they had embraced as their own. They formed the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, called on the country to boycott German goods and urged the U.S. to aid the “anti-fascist forces” in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. John Howard Lawson, who became the chief enforcer of the Stalinist line in Hollywood, even wrote a movie, “Blockade,” to help persuade FDR to assist the Soviet side.
What is customarily omitted in so much of the “history” is that the Soviet Union and the Communist parties around the globe switched sides on August 23, 1939, when Hitler and Stalin formed the Hitler-Stalin pact. The Hollywood Reds now supported Hitler when he invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939—the immediate cause of World War II—and backed him the next year when he conquered Norway, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and then put down the Nazi flag in France. Stalin’s key aide, V. Molotov, even sent Hitler a congratulatory note when France fell to German forces. And the Red screenwriters, Trumbo especially, backed Hitler when he began raining death and destruction on London.
Trumbo, in fact, led the fight to ease Hitler’s burden of conquest. He did this by demonizing all of Hitler’s enemies and accusing Great Britain of being deceptive, dishonorable and unworthy of American assistance. England, he noted, was a monarchy, not a democracy, and had declared war against Hitler, not the other way around. He also accused FDR, previously a Communist Party favorite, of being guilty of “treason” and “black treason” for giving weapons to the British in their hour of peril. Trumbo enthusiastically presented his views in speeches and in writing and laid out the case most explicitly in his 1941 novel, The Remarkable Andrew.
The Hollywood Communists, including Trumbo, quickly turned against Hitler after the Fuehrer double-crossed Stalin and launched a massive invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941. Then, and only then, did the radical screenwriters switch sides again, now demanding America give major military and economic assistance to Moscow to help it survive the Nazi onslaught. Only after Hitler invaded the USSR did the Red screenwriters become “patriotic,” since they believed U.S. assistance was crucial to the Soviet Union’s survival. Their patriotic feelings were for Stalin’s Russia, not their country of birth.
Q: But was Trumbo a faithful follower of the party line after World War II?
A: Trumbo, as even Larry Ceplair and Dalton’s late son, Christopher, note in their new book on the screenwriter, also called, Dalton Trumbo, accepts that Dalton embraced the Stalinist line for many years after World War II. A number of Soviet experts maintain that Stalin initiated the Cold War in April 1945 when Jacque Duclos, a prominent French Communist, assailed the American party boss, Earl Browder, for saying there could be a peaceful transition to socialism in America and that the United States and the Soviet Union could work together peacefully in the post-World War II period. The American CP, thinking this was a signal from Stalin himself to renew the class warfare rhetoric and paint America as an enemy that needed to be defeated, then booted Browder out of his job and then out of the party. Trumbo was on board, saying: “It comes down to this, if Lenin was right, then Browder was wrong—and vice versa. I prefer to believe Lenin was right.” (Bruce Cook, Dalton Trumbo, p. 163.)
Trumbo then lined up with Stalin against America on all important foreign policy issues: supporting the Soviet seizure of Eastern Europe, backing Stalin’s effort to conquer Western Europe, declaring America “the main enemy,” embracing serious Communist efforts in the United States to penetrate crucial elements in American society, including Hollywood, the unions, the military, the State Department, our atomic energy installations and the White House.
Nothing so underscores his love for Leninism, Stalinism and communism in general than his post-WWII unpublished manuscript discovered in his papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society. “This is not by me,” Trumbo lightheartedly scribbles onto a piece of paper covering the 145-page screen treatment dealing with the Korean War. Then he boyishly confesses: “Ah yes it is! For $2,000 I dramatized a local child-custody case for a group composed of Paul Jarrico, Adrian Scott, Herbert Biberman, et al. [Scott and Biberman were two of the Hollywood Ten. Jarrico headed the CP in the 1950s.] It was naturally never made [into a movie]. Dalton Trumbo.”
Trumbo titled his script An American Story and the heroine, Catherine Bonham, is said by her ex-husband to be an unfit mother because she favors Communist North Korea’s swift and brutal invasion of South Korea in June 1950. She insists the invasion was completely justifiable, for this is “Korea’s fight for independence, just as we had to fight for our own independence in 1776.” She is hopeful, nay predicts, that “people all over the world” will rise up and create other North Koreas. “Many will suffer and die fighting for this goal,” she tells her children, “but we will win. Never doubt it.”
Q: The Trumbo film also suggests that he was a champion of blacks and the civil rights movement. Is that true?
A: In their new Trumbo biography, Larry Ceplair and the late Christopher Trumbo, Dalton’s son, write that Dalton did not care much for the non-violent civil rights forces. They noted that Dalton was a champion of the Black Panthers and “had come to believe that non-violent resistance had its limitations. When David L. Wolper contacted Trumbo about adapting William Styron’s novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner, (about the leader of a bloody slave revolt in Virginia in 1831), Trumbo expressed interest and described Turner as ‘a far more contemporary figure than Martin Luther King…In his resort to violence, Nat Turner is truly a man of the Twentieth Century, which Martin Luther King, unhappily, is not.’” (page 473. Wolper had contacted Trumbo in 1968 after King’s non-violent tactics had proved key to the passage of the sweeping 1964 and 1965 civil rights laws.)
Q: Is Trumbo the first Stalinist screenwriter who has been celebrated by Hollywood since Dalton broke the blacklist in 1960?
A: No. Trumbo is just the latest. Hollywood screenwriters, authors and essayists have been hailing devoted Hollywood Reds for years, especially The Hollywood Ten. In 1997, the 50 th anniversary of the blacklist, I attended a gathering of celebrities at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, where Hollywood was honoring several long-time Stalinists, including Hollywood Ten member Ring Lardner, Jr., and the former head of the Communist Party in Hollywood, Paul Jarrico. The Writers Guild of America, West, a successor organization to the powerful Screen Writers Guild, bestowed on them First Amendment awards, no less, for refusing to tell HUAC whether they were party members who were conspiring with the Kremlin leader to impose a Soviet style government in America. Each of the Ten was a committed Red and only one, Edward Dmytryk, broke with the party. Whatever one might think of the blacklist, why in the world would Hollywood award a First Amendment award to anyone who was a Communist, since Communists the world over have never believed in free speech?
The film “The Majestic,” starring Jim Carrey, runs regularly on TV and the authors name a wonderful patriotic town, filled with Middle-American virtues, after John Howard Lawson, an excellent screenwriter, but Hollywood’s veteran CP boss, who died yearning for a Stalinist America. Lawson was the chief enforcer of the party line in the movie colony. Trumbo himself has been honored before in a 2008 documentary by his late son, Christopher, which received a ton of praise from Hollywood actors and reviewers. And the new movie, Trumbo, pays tribute to the Hollywood Ten. The truth is the rewriting of history never quits in Tinseltown.
Note: Director of the AIM Center for investigative Journalism Cliff Kincaid sent a February 6, 2015 letter to Bryan Cranston, informing him that “playing the role of Stalinist Communist and Hitler apologist Dalton Trumbo” in the film, “Trumbo,” then in production, could be damaging to his career. Kincaid said, “Since the facts about Trumbo’s service to the Soviet Union and Hitler’s Germany are not widely known, this information may be new to you…We hope you issue a statement clearing up the controversy surrounding your involvement in the ‘Trumbo’ film and your knowledge, or lack thereof, regarding Trumbo’s service to Stalin and Hitler.”
Cranston never responded to the letter.
This is a Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
This is a Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism.