Dalton Trumbo, a militant blacklisted screenwriter and novelist, commenting on the fifties struggle against government attempts to throttle the American left, said that in that battle there were no heroes or villains, only victims. Understandably, this view is impossible to accept for those whose lives were uprooted by blacklisting, or their careers derailed as Trumbo’s was, but it comes as close to wisdom in this matter as one is likely to come.
There is a practical side to his remark; revulsion toward informers who helped validate the various investigations into fellow artists had tended to deflect attention from the Un-American Activities Committee, the real culprits, and onto those whose resistance broke and who were led to cooperate.
I made my own position sufficiently clear at the time through my writings and statements; I thought the investigations of writers’ politics suspended democratic norms. My passport was canceled for nearly five years, but more to the point now is that in 1948, well before Hollywood had come under full-scale attack, my play All My Sons was pulled off the stages of the Army’s theatrical troupe in Europe at the behest of the Catholic War Veterans. The play raised the issue of war profiteering and the shipment of faulty engines to the Army Air Corps during the war and was deemed dangerous to troop morale. But more important, an order was issued–as I learned many years later–that any play of mine was also to be denied performance then and in the future. In short, it was a blacklisting not of offensive works but of a person, something that, incidentally, was common Soviet practice.
So I am perhaps overly sensitive to any attempts to, in effect, obliterate an artist’s name because of his morals or political actions. My feelings toward that terrible era are unchanged, but at the same time history ought not to be rewritten; Elia Kazan did sufficient extraordinary work in theater and film to merit its acknowledgment. Few of us are of a piece, as Trumbo seemed to be saying. Perhaps all one can hope for is to find in one’s heart praise for what a man has done well and censure for where he has tragically failed.