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.”
THEY DID it, however, a few days later at a famous meeting in the Waldorf-Astoria. Depositions taken from persons present reveal a long and stormy session during which the Hollywood executives strongly opposed demands of the “Eastern people” for a blacklist. The “Eastern people,” unfortunately, controlled the film corporations involved and the source of investment capital with which production is maintained. It was no contest. The meeting ended with a sullenly unanimous proclamation of the first blacklist in the history of motion pictures.
The Hollywood Ten, blacklisted and cursed with the worst press since Bruno Hauptmann, stood trial for contempt of Congress, drew maximum fines and sentences, wrangled their way through skeptical courts and finally were distributed throughout the federal penitentiary system. Ring Lardner, Jr., and Lester Cole landed in Danbury, Connecticut, where they renewed an old acquaintance with ex-Congressman J. Parnell Thomas, chairman of the 1947 hearings which had done them in. Thomas had been caught with his hand in the wrong cash drawer.
Jack Lawson, Adrian Scott and this correspondent, incarcerated under heavy guard in the grand old state of Kentucky, were thrown into intimate contact with its favorite son, ex-Congressman Andy May, who had celebrated the glory of American arms by snatching a few wartime defense bribes. Almost every jail in the country during that curious time found Congressman and contemptee standing cheek by jowl in the chow line, all their old malignities dissolved in common hunger for a few more of them there beans.
Meanwhile, sustained by an Appellate Court decision which confirmed its right and even its duty to investigate artists and their works, the committee embarked on a permanent career in Hollywood. Francis Walter, his chariot drawn by captive starlets, passed like Caesar through the lots attended by a chanting host of the repentent. Under the yelping attack of this stream-lined, sharp-toothed wolf pack, Communists, near-Communists, neo-Communists, proto-Communists, non-Communists and a few friends of anti-Communists fell like tenpins.
And then, imperceptibly at first, the uproar began to diminish. It faded off, about a year ago, into a stunned and terrible silence. There wasn’t anybody left to investigate. The silence continues to this day, broken only occasionally by the contemplative licking of old wounds.
A BLACKLIST, far from being a funny thing, is an illegal instrument of terror which can exist only by sufferance of and connivance with the federal government. The Hollywood blacklist is but part of an immensely greater official blacklist–barring its victims from work at home, and denying them passage abroad–which mocks our government in all its relations with civilized powers that neither tolerate nor understand such repression. The shock of the blacklist produces psychic disorders among sensitive persons, from which result broken homes, desolate children, premature deaths and sometimes suicide.
It is not alone the loss of income or of property that hurts: the more terrible wound is the loss of a profession to which one’s entire life has been dedicated. A director must have the facilities of a studio: denied them, he sells real estate. A violinist must appear in person for the concert: barred from admittance, he becomes a milkman and practices six hours a day against the unrevealed time when his music once more may be heard. The actor’s physical personality, which is his greatest asset, becomes his supreme curse under the blacklist; he must be seen, and when the sight of him is prohibited he becomes a carpenter, an insurance salesman, a barber.
A writer is more fortunate. Give him nothing more than paper, a pencil and a nice clean cell, and he’s in business. Dante, Cervantes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Ben Jonson, Milton, Defoe, Bunyan, Hugo, Zola and a score of others have long since proved that in jail or out, writing under their own names or some one else’s or a pseudonym or anonymously, writers will write; and that having written, they will find an audience. Only fools with no knowledge of history and bureaucrats with no knowledge of literature are stupid enough to think otherwise.
And so it chanced in Hollywood that each blacklisted writer, after swiftly describing that long parabola from the heart of the motion-picture industry to a small house in a low-rent district, picked himself up, dusted his trousers, anointed his abrasions, looked around for a ream of clean white paper and something to deface it with, and began to write. Through secret channels, and by means so cunning they may never be revealed, what he wrote was passed along until finally it appeared on a producer’s desk, and the producer looked upon it and found it good, and monies were paid, and the writer’s children began contentedly to eat. Thus the black market.
In the meantime, quietly domiciled nearby with his stunningly beautiful wife and two infant daughters, a young man of Irish descent named Michael Wilson sat down at his typewriter and went furiously to work writing scripts. By 1951 he had risen to a position of such prominence that he was subpoenaed by the committee. Appearing before it in good form, Wilson took the Fifth Amendment, ending his career at the very moment it seemed ready to flower. Four months later his screenplay of A Place in the Sun, adapted from An American Tragedy, was nominated for an Academy Award. He thus became the first American screenwriter to be nominated for an award after being blacklisted. A month later he chalked up another first for the blacklist by winning the Oscar.
Wilson apparently had a number of unproduced scripts lying around the studios, for the following year his screenplay of Five Fingers was produced, and once again he received the Academy’s scroll of nomination for the Award. With two nominations and one Oscar under his belt, Wilson continued the quiet life of a blacklistee until some two years later, when Allied Artists decided to produce another of his old scripts, this one an adaptation of Jessamyn West’s Friendly Persuasion.
When the time rolled around for screen credits, Wilson discovered that Miss West and Robert Wyler, brother of the film’s director, were credited as sole authors of the screenplay. Wilson appealed to the Writers’ Guild arbitration committee, which ruled in his favor. Allied Artists thereupon released the picture without screenplay credits of any kind.
THE Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was now confronted with the horrid possibility that the picture might bring Wilson, who had been dead professionally for five years, still another Oscar. The man seemed to be getting out of hand; God alone knew how many more of his unproduced manuscripts were lying in studio, files. So twenty-two members of the Academy’s Board of Governors passed a by-law which was to remain secret unless “Friendly Persuasion receives a writing nomination as the best screenplay.” It provided that no person who behaved as Wilson had before a Congressional committee was eligible for an Academy prize. That is why, when the screenwriters did nominate Wilson for Friendly Persuasion, there was appended to the listing the sad little note: “Achievement nominated, but writer ineligible for Award under Academy by-laws.” (See Credits and Oscars, The Nation, March 30.)
Wilson, who during World War II served as a Captain in the Fifth Amphibious Corps, U. S. Marines, under Major General Holland (Howling) M. Smith, doesn’t scare too easily, and appears to take a dim view of secret by-laws designed to celebrate his professional demise. He is presently bringing suit against the Academy, in the course of which the patriots on the Academy’s board who barred his work will be given an opportunity to explain under oath just how their unanimity was achieved.
With Friendly Persuasion barred, the Academy for the first time in its history offered four instead of five candidates for its Best Screenplay Award. The Oscar, shabby and compromised but quite as golden as its twenty brethren, went almost by default to James Poe, John Farrow and S. J. Perelman for the screenplay of Eighty Days Around the World. The Oscar for the Best Original Story, glowing with the virtue of a fair contest, went to Robert Rich for The Brave One. The remaining writer’s Oscar, for Best Original Screenplay, fell into the foreign hands of Albert Lamorisse for the French film, The Red Balloon.
AND THEN something happened. A young man named Robert Rich (but not the Robert Rich for whom a proxy had picked up the Oscar), thinking no doubt to make sport of the Academy, pretended to be the real Robert Rich and sought to receive from the Academy those courtesies and distinctions that seemed to lie without visible claimant. In some fashion not yet known he got tangled up with Miss Margaret Herrick, executive director of the Academy, or George Seaton, its president, or some other Academy factotum yet undiscovered, and confessed his deception.
The Academy, giddy by now with patriotism, flushed with its victory over Wilson, anxious to proclaim itself Cerberus of the blacklist and sensing that a second barbarian might have breached the defenses and profaned the sanctuary, rushed at once into print with the most disastrous publicity release of its twenty-nine year history. “Robert Rich,” it announced ominously, “credited by the studio which produced The Brave One with authorship of the motion-picture story and winner of the Academy Award in this category: stated today he was not the author of the story.”
There followed a series of dire warnings from Mr. Seaton and his underlings. The original story, it was hinted, wasn’t original at all, or if so it was very likely a plagiarism, and the Academy would probably withhold the award, or punish the King Brothers by giving it to the owners of another story who were suing the Kings, or even declare Robert Rich, like Wilson, a nonperson, and turn the Oscar over to the next highest man in the vote, or maybe shoot craps for its custody.
ENGROSSED in its fierce pursuit of the infidel, the Academy had overlooked the fact that there are literally hundreds of valid, free-born, no- Amendment Robert Riches scattered through practically every country in the Western world. The King Brothers said theirs was a goateed young photographer-writer from whom they had purchased the story in 1952 in Munich, and no one has yet disproved their claim. Overnight the New York Post turned up five Robert Riches. From San Francisco the nephew of a deceased Robert Rich announced he was arriving shortly to claim the trophy for his uncle. The large vacuum which now surrounded the Oscar was quickly filled with claims, counter-claims and disavowals on behalf of such disparate characters as the late Robert Flaherty, Orson Welles, Jesse Lasky, Jr., Willis O’Brien and Paul Rader.
The search even penetrated those cavernous depths wherein dwell the blacklisted and the anonymous. Among those flushed for questioning was this correspondent, who cannily refused to affirm or deny authorship. Suspicions then skittered like a starling from Albert Maltz to Michael Wilson, from Wilson to Carl Foreman, from Foreman to PauI Jarrico to others of the damned.
As the fourth day of turmoil dawned, the Academy took rueful stock of its coup. Someone with more perspicacity than president Seaton began to comprehend what had happened to the Immortals. First, they had flatly declared that Robert Rich wasn’t the author of The Brave One, whereas there was a very good suing chance that Robert Rich was. Second, they had revealed themselves somewhat too nakedly as chief advocates and policemen of a blacklist that everybody else was fed up with. And third, they had cast a fatal shadow over the only other Oscar won this year by an American writer, the first having already been dishonored by the ex post facto annihilation of Michael Wilson. The Academy, retiring behind its own version of the Fifth Amendment, announced that “on advice of counsel we are going to keep out of this situation.” Since then there has been nothing but blessed silence.
Meanwhile William Stout, a brilliant young news commentator for Los Angeles Station KNX-TV, casting bemused eyes at Mr. Seaton and his cohorts, began to have a funny feeling. He telephoned me suggesting lunch, and we discovered that we both had a funny feeling. There was a stillness over Hollywood that seemed to call for a little noise., We decided on the spot to make our feelings known to the world via a filmed interview about the blacklist and the black market it produces.
The next evening Mr. Stout put part of the interview on the Emmy-winning program called The Big News. The following day four more minutes went coast-to-coast on the Douglas Edwards CBS-TV News show originating in New York. Later that night Mr. Stout wrapped It up with a second interview over KNX-TV.
What I said during the interview was what everyone in Hollywood knew but no one had ever mentioned: that I had been working steadily since the blacklist began; that others of my kind had also been working; that the major studios were openly in the black market, purchasing plays and other material and releasing them without their authors’ names; that the Academy had become official guardian of the blacklist; that it had launched against the producers of The Brave One an attack it would never have,dared make against any major producer; that I myself had been nominated for Academy Awards and would not tell whether had won any Oscars; that I intended to keep right on working, and that I assumed others would continue also.
FIVE years ago, two years ago, perhaps even six months ago, such an interview would have brought down upon my head maledictions from the committee, outraged denials from the producers and parading delegations from the American Legion.
But in this pleasant April of 1957 I heard not one yelp of anger nor a single denial. All over town publicity departments worked furiously and overtime at the job of saying nothing and making sure nobody else said anything either: For the first time in ten years I was the only man in Hollywood who could be heard. Feeling that my personal charm alone couldn’t explain such amiable treatment, I glanced cautiously about for the real reason, and came across a legal action called Wilson vs. Loew’s, Inc.
On three different occasions, members of the Hollywood Ten have won jury decisions in contract cases against the producers; but each victory has been reversed by higher courts who found little merit in the opinions of twelve good men and true. Thus when Wilson vs. Loew’s, Inc. was filed, it seemed only another futile and expensive attempt to crack the impregnable structure of the blacklist, and was presumed doomed to fail like all the others.
The suit, filed by Michael Wilson, Ann Revere, Gale Sondergaard, Guy Endore and nineteen others, charged that the plaintiffs had been blacklisted and demanded $52,000,000 for losses and damages inflicted upon them. Loew’s, Inc., while not admitting the existence of a blacklist, argued from the assumption that if a blacklist does exist it is justified and therefore legal. The district court ruled that even if everything alleged were true, the defendants were not entitled to judgment, and hence there was no reason for a trial. The Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the lower court. And then, quite suddenly and without warning of any kind, the Supreme Court granted certiorari, indicating the suit involves more substantial questions of law than the lower courts suspected.
Wilson vs. Loew’s, Inc. will be argued before the Supreme Court next autumn. If the court rules for the plaintiffs–and there is just as much reason to believe it will decide for them as against them–the ruling will declare, in effect, that if the facts charged are true the plaintiffs are entitled to judgment. Then the lower courts will be compelled to accept for trial an issue which juries thus far have invariably decided in favor of plaintiffs. Pondering the possibilities, I am inclined to believe that Wilson vs. Loew’s accounts for a great deal of the silence that has settled over Hollywood. It might even be the reason why the Motion Picture Association of America, ordinarily so greedy for space, denied to readers of The Nation answers to the questions propounded by their correspondent (see page 384).
THERE is, of course, another reason, which lies in the fading power and the growing disrepute of the committee itself. Only a few weeks ago the Board of Governors of the eminently conservative Stare Bar of California charged that ”the proceedings of the committee and the conduct of the committee’s counsel…I were improper and lacking in dignity and impartiality which should govern the conduct of agencies, of the United States…and they were of such a character as to pose a *threat to the right to appear by counsel and to the proper independence of the Bar.” (See editorial in The Nation, April 13.)
Rumblings now are heard from another quarter. The Hollywood Reporter, a trade paper which has been the, committee’s staunchest friend, carried on March 14 an item by its leading reporter, Mike Connelly, to the effect that “The House Un-American Activities Committee plans holding executive sessions to probe a report that one of its members received money to clear a show-business personality of suspicions of being a Red.”
Thus far no member of the committee has denied the report. The committee’s own standards of evidence would seem to require that each of its members take the oath and swear that he isn’t receiving bribes–or to tell how much and from whom. It seems inconceivable that future witnesses won’t demand such testimony in return for their own.
IN THE meanwhile there is a stillness at Appomattox, broken only by an occasional crack in the blacklist. The committee has no clothes, no honor, small power and practically no remaining candidates for oblivion. Far from being able to sell indulgences, it can scarcely give them away in the present declining market. The black market flourishes and the producers know it and dare not deny it and pray each night for a court decision, please God just one decision, that will give them an excuse to shake young Mr. Wheeler off their backs and regain control of the organizations they head. The “Eastern people,” cocking a thoughtful eye at the Supreme Court and Wilson vs. Loew’s Inc., begin to recall the glories of free enterprise, and to wonder whether those plaintiffs would really want $52,000,000 if they were given a chance to return openly to their professions.
Only George Seaton and twenty-two Immortals still like the blacklist; but even they, with the shadow of Wilson vs. Academy Board of Governors darkening their little patch of sky, may find it in their hearts to decide that ten years is punishment enough for any crime–especially when you can’t be sure the criminal isn’t anonymously undercutting you in the financial department.
There may come a time in this country when blacklists turn popular, and inquisitors are invited to dinner, and mothers at bedtime read to their children the story of the good informer. But just now the current turns in the opposite direction.
All things, as the man said, change.