AS THE YEAR 1957 lurches toward its mid-point, Hollywood fiands itself celebrating, willingly or unwillingly as the case may be, the tenth anniversary of a blacklist which began in 1947 when a producers delegation composed of Messrs. Dore Schary, Walter Wanger and Eddie Mannix appeared before the, Screen Writers’ Guild to plead for acquiescence in the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten.
Mr. Schary, who is probably the most civilized and certainly the most literate man ever to achieve executive leadership of a major motion picture producing company, acted as reluctant spokesman for the producers: reluctant because some of the doomed men were his friends; reluctant because he had worked with others of them in the various Roosevelt campaigns; reluctant because he was and is a liberal who hated the idea of a blacklist and probably hates it even more today.
Despite assurances that ten heads would appease the gods, the guillotine has since claimed some 250 other artists and technicians. The most powerful man in Hollywood today is an inconspicuous, pleasant-mannered fellow named William Wheeler, who works as investigator for the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Upon his modest shoulders has fallen the glory that was Zanuck’s and the power that was Mayer’s.
The paradox of the tenth anniversary of the blacklist lies in the fact that while it finds most surviving members of the Hollywood Ten busily engaged in the practice of their professions, Mr. Schary, amidst a hideous outcry from avaricious stockholders, has just been ejected from his producership at M-G-M and presently, as the euphemism goes, is at liberty.
The reason for his discharge, Mr. Schary wrote in The Reporter of April 18, 1957, was “that I made too many speeches and wrote too many articles, and that my participation in the 1956 Presidential campaign on behalf of the Democrats had made for “irritation and enmity.” Mr. Schary, in a word, fell victim to the blacklist his own eloquence had inaugurated; the decade ends, as it began, with an absurdity.
The truth, of course, is that the blacklist was openly called for in 1947 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (“…Don’t you think the most effective way is the payroll route?” “…Do you think the studios should continue to employ these individuals?”) and that the producers opposed the idea. Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, told the committee that for producers “to join together and to refuse to hire someone or some people would be a potential conspiracy, and our legal counsel advised against it.”
Louis B. Mayer testified that “They have mentioned two or three writers to me several times. There is no proof about it, except they mark them as Communists, and when I look at the pictures they have written for us I can’t find once where they have written anything like that…. I have asked counsel. They claim that unless you can prove they are Communists they could hold you for damages.” Jack L. Warner declared under oath that he wouldn’t be a party with anyone in an association, especially where you would be liable for having a fellow’s livelihood impaired; I wouldn’t want to do that.”