With the presentation of the Motion Picture Academy’s Honorary Award to director Elia Kazan, the whole issue of the 1950s Hollywood Blacklist once again rose to the surface. There are plenty of sites dealing with the political, historical, and social issues, which you’ll find listedbelow. My primary goal with this article is to tell you about the actors, actresses, directors, and films that were affected by this episode in American and Hollywood history.
Some brief background for those of you who either weren’t there or haven’t studied it: Beginning in 1947, in the early days of the Cold War and fearful about “communist influence” over impressionable Americans, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) decided to investigate communism in the movies. Committee Chairman J. Parnell Thomas called Hollywood celebrities to testify. Among the committee members was California Congressman Richard M. Nixon. (Needless to say, there was a lot of publicity.) Hollywood cooperated, on the whole, and several well-known figures began the testimony as friendly witnesses, including Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan. (Do you notice how many future Presidents have already been mentioned?) As witnesses began to “name names,” more and more unfriendly witnesses were called. Those who did not cooperate with HUAC or whose names were given by “friendly” witnesses were unable to find work in Hollywood afterwards. (HUAC itself did not blacklist people.) Elia Kazan was one of four prominent directors who eventually became cooperative witnesses. A group led by Humphrey Bogart went to Washington to protest, but many of them later claimed they were “duped” by the Party.
The Hollywood Ten
The most famous group of blacklisted inviduals was known as The Hollywood Ten, consisting of one director (Edward Dmytryk, who later named names) and nine screenwriters. They refused to answer any questions from HUAC, citing the First Amendment, and were jailed by the government and blacklisted by Hollywood. Here are their names and links to their Internet Movie Database pages.
- Alvah Bessie
- Herbert J. Biberman
- Lester Cole
- Edward Dmytryk
- Ring Lardner, Jr.
- John Howard Lawson
- Albert Maltz
- Samuel Ornitz
- Adrian Scott
- Dalton Trumbo
Others Who Were Blacklisted
Over 300 other Hollywood writers, actors, directors, etc. were blacklisted. Here are just a few of the blacklistees who have pages on the Internet Movie Database.
- Orson Bean– Actor and humorist known more for his TV appearances.
- Walter Bernstein– Nominated for an Oscar for writing The Front, the Woody Allen/Martin Ritt film about the blacklist.
- Peter Brocco– The late character actor appeared in 90 films between 1932 and 1991.
- Phil Brown– Actor who moved to England in 1953 to escape the blacklist and didn’t return for 40 years.
- Howard Da Silva– Stage actor who was named by Robert Taylor before HUAC.
- Jules Dassin– Director (Topkapi) who went to France to work (he was born in Connecticut).
- Paul Draper– Tap dancer known as The Aristocrat of Tap.
- Jerry Fielding– Composer, blacklisted in Hollywood from 1953 until 1961. Nominated for three academy awards for Best Music.
- Will Geer– Actor, folksinger, and political activist who toured with Woody Guthrie. Best known for his TV role as Grandpa Zeb on The Waltons.
- Lee Grant– Actress blacklisted in 1951 after standing by her then-husband, playwright/screenwriter Arnold Manoff. Nominated for four Supporting Actress Oscars, winning one for Shampoo in 1975.
- Judy Holliday– Though not blacklisted, just being called to testify because of her socialist background was enough to damage her career.
- Marsha Hunt– Actress who was blacklisted along with her husband, writer Robert Presnell, Jr.
- Paul Jarrico– Screenwriter who wrote many screenplays under pseudonyms. See article below, plus PBS interview.
- Victor Kilian– Actor who turned to the stage after being blacklisted in Hollywood. Best known as Mary Hartman’s grandfather on the TV show.
- Charles Korvin– Hungarian-born actor who appeared in several films and TV shows during the 50s, despite the blacklist.
- Louise Lewis– Blacklisted actress who found work on TV after turning 60.
- Arnold Manoff– Writer, husband of Lee Grant, and father of Dinah Manoff and Tom Manoff, Classical Music Critic for NPR’s All Things Considered.
- Burgess Meredith– Great charactor actor best known for his recurring role in the Rocky series, Meredith’s career was sidetracked until the 60s by his liberal politics, until Otto Preminger intervened.
- Zero Mostel– Outstanding comic actor who was blacklisted for 15 years. Played a poignant semi-autobiographical role in The Front (1976), and himself in Hollywood on Trial (1976).
- Jean Muir– Movie actress of the 30s and 40s who was blacklisted from TV in 1950 and later retired to teach drama in college.
- Clifford Odets– Once one of the most promising playwrights in America, who married or had affairs with several Hollywood actresses, he was blacklisted but continued to write for Broadway and the movies after cooperating with the committee.
- Alfred Palca– Minor producer and writer who gave up his career rather than work under an assumed name after being blacklisted.
- Larry Parks– After being nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Jolson Story, Larry’s career came to a screetching halt after he was the first actor to reluctantly admit before HUAC that he belonged to a communist cell. He later named many others rather than remaining silent.
- Leo Penn– TV director and actor, father of actors Sean and Chris Penn.
- Abraham Polonsky– Writer and director whose promising career was cut short by the blacklist after writing screenplays for several critically-acclaimed films.
- Anne Revere– Though nominated three times in the 40s for Best Supporting Actress — winning once for National Velvet (as Mrs. Brown) — Anne was blacklisted in 1951 and did not appear in a movie again until 1970.
- Martin Ritt– Director of many excellent films of social commentary, including The Front, Norma Rae, The Great White Hope, and The Molly Maguires.
- Pete Seeger– The great folksinger/songwriter was a lifelong political activist. He wrote thousands of songs, yet thanks to HUAC he acted in more movies (3) than he wrote music for (1)!
- Gale Sondergaard– Though not a communist, her career was cut short by the blacklist after 1949, in spite of two Best Supporting Actress Oscars, and one win (for her first film, Anthony Adverse, in 1936). She didn’t appear in films again until 1968.
- George Tyne– Actor who did not appear in films from 1951 to 1964. TV actor and then director during the 60s and 70s.
- Michael Wilson– Blacklisted writer whose credits for (among others) Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai were awarded after the fact, the latter posthumously.
Historical Information and Points of View
Blacklisting Hollywood’s Communists: A Qualified Defense – From the Museum of Communism, an anti-communist site.
The Hollywood Blacklist – Article by Dan Georgakas, with sub-sections on Dalton Trumbo, Elia Kazan, and others.
Three excellent and detailed articles by Michael Mills
Elia Kazan: Postage Paid
PBS Documentary – From 1997, entitled “Seeing Red,” including an interview with Paul Jarrico.
The World Socialist Web Site – A well-written anti-Kazan article entitled “Hollywood honors Elia Kazan: Filmmaker and Informer.”
Other classic movie history articles that you’ll enjoy.