In the annals of things my country cannot be proud of, the Hollywood Blacklist certainly ranks far below the genocide of the natives, the horrors of slavery, and the internment of 100,000 Japanese during World War II. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a worthy time to remember.
I don’t think there was ever a more aptly named Congressional body than the House Un-American Activities Committee, HUAC, which operated until 1975 and accomplished absolutely nothing but misery. Everything they did was un-American! Every last sentence they uttered. Every member should have been incarcerated for treason against the ideals that this country was founded on. That very much includes Richard Nixon.
The story has been told often, but seldom this well. It covers a small group of writers in Hollywood, members of the CPUSA. The awful irony is that Americans were encouraged to cheer for Russia until 1947, when the Cold War started. Screenwriters were encouraged to write stories with heroic Russians. Then suddenly it all changed. Commie fever took over the country. Making it up out of whole cloth, pulling their “facts” straight out of their asses, traitors like Joseph McCarthy began a witch hunt. The committee began calling people to testify, and by attacking Hollywood, they insured the most possible press coverage. Many eagerly testified, such as John Wayne, Ronald Reagan, and Elia Kazan. Others were dragged in kicking and screaming, but named names anyway.
The Hollywood Ten were all members of the Communist Party. Which was not illegal, though you would never know it to read the coverage from … well, I was going to use a word that most people find as offensive as the N-word, and it describes her perfectly. It rhymes with hunt, okay? … hunts like Hedda Hopper, chillingly played by Helen Mirren. When they got there, they were asked questions that were clearly in violation of the First Amendment, as well as any human decency.
Dalton Trumbo was probably the most prominent of the Ten. The man was a writing machine, the highest paid scribe in Tinseltown. The list of his credits before the blacklist is stunning. So is the list after the blacklist. During the blacklist …
I knew that he and the others continued to write either behind fronts, or under pseudonyms, but I hadn’t realized they organized themselves and made a living by sharing out work on lots of real trash. Yet even then, while knocking off titles like The Green-Eyed Blonde, as Sally Stubblefield, he was able to win not one, but two Oscars, for Roman Holiday under the front name of Ian McLellan Hunter, and The Brave One, as Robert Rich! Naturally he was unable to collect them. In 1975, a year before his death, the Academy acknowledged that he wrote The Brave one. In 1993 his heirs were awarded the one given to Hunter (a replica; the front’s piece of shit son refused to hand over the original, though his pop hadn’t written a word of it).
Some have questioned why he and the Ten refused to answer when asked point blank, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” It was no secret that they were, or had been. So why not at least say, “Yeah, Congressman Shithead, I am, and proud of it!” Remember, it was not a crime. Then, when asked to name names, then they could have gone to jail rather than rat out friends. (Plenty of people did name names, like Edward G. Robinson.) Trumbo pointed out that Congress has no right, under the First Amendment, to ask him that question. And one day the question might be “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Democratic Party?” Or a Catholic, or a Freemason, or any damn thing. I would like to think I would have done the same.
Trumbo and the others each spent about a year in jail. The persecution didn’t end until 1960, when Kirk Douglas insisted that Trumbo get screen credit for writing Spartacus, and Otto Preminger did the same for Exodus. That … runt … Hedda Hopper tried to get people to boycott the films, and she was backed by the American Legion, but it didn’t work. JFK crossed the picket lines to see Spartacus, and said it was a great movie.
Okay, there’s my political two cents worth. What about the movie? I quite enjoyed it. There were times when I wanted to leap to my feet and shout “I am Trumbo!” It re-creates the paranoid atmosphere of the early ‘50s nicely, and it looks terrific, with all those grand old cars and period clothes. It is necessarily a talky picture, but it is anchored by a terrific performance by Bryan Cranston. I haven’t seen The Revenant yet, but I would have had no problem if Cranston had won the Oscar.