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Remembering the Hollywood 10
June 21, 2008 6:45 PM   Subscribe

Remembering the Hollywood 10.   "At rare intervals, there appears among us a person whose virtues are so manifest to all, who has such a capacity for relating to every sort of human being, who so subordinates his own ego drive to the concerns of others, who lives his whole life in such harmony with the surrounding community that he is revered and loved by everyone with whom he comes in contact. Such a man Dalton Trumbo was not." (The background/history.) Then there is the opposing view.
posted by spock (34 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
When I was in film school, I had the privilege of studying film directing with one of the Hollywood 10, Edward Dmytryk, not that long before he died. He used to tell us stories about the whole thing - about going to jail in West Virginia, and about how much he hated the other communists. He had been a communist, and had quit the party by the time of the trial, but was pressured to not name names, and thought he was doing something noble to plead the 5th.

After his time in jail, he realized just what a mistake he had made. His point was that the communists in Hollywood really were doing many of the things that they were being accused of - they really did want to overthrow the government of the U.S., they really were including pro-communist propaganda and points of views in their films.

It's a fascinating, complex, and sad issue that these days often gets painted with a very simplistic brush.
posted by MythMaker at 6:50 PM on June 21, 2008


Hepburn speech Part II and III.
posted by spock at 6:57 PM on June 21, 2008


His point was that the communists in Hollywood really were doing many of the things that they were being accused of - they really did want to overthrow the government of the U.S., they really were including pro-communist propaganda and points of views in their films.


Cite, please??
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:11 PM on June 21, 2008


This promises to be a fascinating collection of links...I've got about 5 of 'em open right now, and I know I'm gonna wanna see the Trumbo documentary when it's released.

Awesome, Spock!
posted by StrangeTikiGod at 7:25 PM on June 21, 2008


How is creating Communist propaganda illegal? Someone might not like it, but then again, other people don't like capitalist propaganda, so it all evens out.

Treason would be selling State secrets to the USSR or spying for them. No one is out there trying to defend the Cambridge Five.

Just saying you like the USSR isn't treason; neither is making art which was pro-Communist, which, of course, is a much broader tent than Marxist-Leninist-Stalinism - I mean, the utopian Christian Diggers of the 1650s were communist, but not totalitarian in the least, and I would happily create pro-Digger propaganda.

Talking about things and disagreeing with the way your country organises its markets is not and has never been treason, nor is it seeking to undermine the state - though it may be seeking to undermine the currrent administration. Funny enough, just like the opposition party always seeks to undermine the current administration.
posted by jb at 7:30 PM on June 21, 2008 [10 favorites]


Cite for Dmytryk, in such a man above
He was sentenced to one year in prison but after having spent a few months in jail, Dmytryk, badly needing money as he went through a divorce, announced he was ready to name names. After his prison release he did testify, named names and was subsequently removed from the blacklist, the only of the Hollywood Ten to do so. He would go on to a mildly distinguished career as a director making such movies as The Caine Mutiny, Broken Lance, The Young Lions, The Carpetbaggers, Mirage, Alvarez Kelly and Shalako. Despite steady employment, Dymtryk was quietly ostracized by fellow filmmakers who never forgave him for talking. In the mid 70's directing offers dried up so he took to teaching until he retired. He died in 1999.
Shorter cite: Rat with asterisk.
posted by hexatron at 7:49 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


awesome, thanks.
posted by es_de_bah at 8:02 PM on June 21, 2008


typeface .... 9.5!
posted by R. Mutt at 8:17 PM on June 21, 2008


Interesting post. But what is with the monospace font? Eyes hurt.
posted by Justinian at 8:33 PM on June 21, 2008


Huh? Where's a TED talk?
posted by dobbs at 8:43 PM on June 21, 2008


Trumbo is also the name of a fine documentary on Dalton Trumbo that's about to open in theaters. It's his life story, enriched with readings of his courageous, outrageous, and often hilarious letters by Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Liam Neeson, Donald Sutherland, Joan Allen, David Strathairn, and Nathan Lane. Recommended.

MythMaker, that's interesting about Dmytryk, but if I'm not mistaken the Hollywood 10 pleaded the First Amendment, not the Fifth.
posted by muckster at 8:45 PM on June 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


TED talk one thread down, perhaps?
posted by tula at 9:05 PM on June 21, 2008


His point was that the communists in Hollywood really were doing many of the things that they were being accused of - they really did want to overthrow the government of the U.S., they really were including pro-communist propaganda and points of views in their films...

posted by MythMaker


Whee!

House UnAmerican Activities Committee. What an apt fucking name.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:13 PM on June 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love Dalton Trumbo. Really, the name would have been enough, but a career like that on top of it? And being harassed by HUAC is of course quite a badge of honor.
posted by Artw at 9:27 PM on June 21, 2008


Some of the blacklisted filmmakers made Salt of the Earth (1954).
posted by girandole at 10:47 PM on June 21, 2008


Trumbo was screwed, no doubt, but he also was a dupe of Stalin who removed his anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun from publication after the Hitler-Stalin pact feel through and Comintern wanted the US to enter the war to help Russia.

(I love Pete Seeger, too, but he did the same -- withdrew his anti-war album Songs for John Dow after Barbarossa, replacing it with "patriotic" pro-war ditties like "Round and Round Hitler's Grave" on the album Dear Mr. President.)

When a few (presumably still anti-war) fans subsequently asked Trumbo for copies of the novel, Trumbo turned them in to the FBI as unpatriotic. so Trumbo was willing to name names, when it benefited Moscow.

Now don't get me wrong. Joe McCarthy was an ass, a vile demagogue, a throughly odious little man. (And so was his understudy, Dick Nixon.)

But the members of CPUSA who almost unanimously apologized for and followed the orders of mass-murderer Stalin and child-rapist Beria were at best willfully blind and more likely cynical believers in the ends justify any means. God knows names were being named, or made up, in Lubyanka's dungeons and at the show trials of the thrirties; did no one in CPUSA notice? Did no one notice the policy changes that disavowed last week's eternal truth, or the men who disappeared?

Orwell got it right; he foiught for the Republicans in Spaion but didn't fall for the Comintern line -- why could so few of American's leaders in the arts make the distinction? Why did it have to be either Stalin or Joe McCarthy (or Faubus)?
posted by orthogonality at 11:18 PM on June 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


Er, fought...Spain.
posted by orthogonality at 11:20 PM on June 21, 2008


But the members of CPUSA who almost unanimously apologized for and followed the orders of mass-murderer Stalin and child-rapist Beria were at best willfully blind and more likely cynical believers in the ends justify any means.

That's easily said with the benefit of fifty or sixty years hindsight, but at the time, almost nobody in the party -- and very few outside of it -- were aware about the extent of Stalin's crimes. As that stuff came to light, the kind of people that the Hollywood 10 represented tended to leave the party in protest. For example, in response to the USSR's response Hungarian Uprising, the Communist Party of Great Britain lost a third of it's membership at a stroke.

So it's either disingenuous or ignorant to say that these people were either wilfully blind, or cynical believers in the idea that the ends justify the means. By and large, they were people who were committed to the principles of social justice and equality who believed that communism offered a better prospect of delivering those things than capitalism did. Looked at in the context of the period, rather than with the benefit of sixty odd years of subsequent history, that wasn't an unreasonable conclusion.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:30 AM on June 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


"His point was that the communists in Hollywood really were doing many of the things that they were being accused of - they really did want to overthrow the government of the U.S. ... "

I'm trying to picture Howard Da Silva or Zero Mostel or Burgess Meredith or Will Geer or Herschel "Charlie the Tuna" Bernardi plotting the overthrow the of government.

Not coming.
posted by RavinDave at 3:35 AM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Read Sam Tanenhaus's incredible biography of Whittaker Chambers. Chambers was a brilliant hardcore American Communist who turned against the Party and his former friend Alger Hiss, an American Communist in the State Department. In Tanenhaus's biography, Chambers is a conflicted and highly sympathetic character. In the thirties, the American Commies were the only ones speaking out against Hitler (with some rare exceptions like the UAW's anti-Communist Reuther brothers). Back then, joining made you anti-fascist not anti-American. Unfortunately, most American commies had no idea what a monster Stalin was until after the War.
posted by worbid411 at 4:29 AM on June 22, 2008


Orwell got it right; he foiught for the Republicans in Spaion but didn't fall for the Comintern line

Orwell fought with the dissident Marxists- the ones who felt that Communism is different from slavery to Stalin.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:13 AM on June 22, 2008


My father, Gordon Kahn, was a friend of Dalton Trumbo and one of the "Hollywood Nineteen," the group of screenwriters and directors HUAC subpoenaed to testify in Washington, DC. Anyone interested in knowing what it was like for a family to go through the experience of the fifteen years of blacklisting (and exile from the US) that followed can check out the docudrama I did for NPR a few years ago, called Blacklisted, (www.wgbh.org/blacklisted).

The Hollywood Blacklist is one of those American experiences that never seems to go away. Every few years there's a new book, film, tv program, memoir, drama or documentary that takes a look at what happened back then in 1947 and why it still matters today. For me, the accounts that are maybe most relevant for people in general are the stories told by those who witnessed the fear and the history of the Red Scare as children, no matter what side their parents were on. For them there was no ideology, no politics, no public posturing -- just the day to day experience of friends and neighbors turning against each other and families coming apart. The sort of experiences, often endured in silence, that happen to people everywhere -- all the time -- around the world.
posted by tonykahn at 5:29 AM on June 22, 2008 [8 favorites]


What orthogonality said, except:

the members of CPUSA who almost unanimously apologized for and followed the orders of mass-murderer Stalin and child-rapist Beria

To be fair, I doubt anyone in the U.S. knew Beria was a child-rapist. I think PeterMcDermott is wrong, though:

almost nobody in the party -- and very few outside of it -- were aware about the extent of Stalin's crimes.


There was plenty of information around for those who wanted to know. Hell, there was plenty of information around about Lenin's crimes as soon as the exodus from Russia started in 1918. People didn't want to know; they pretended the refugees were all bitter aristos and/or anti-Semitic reactionaries. The truth was out there.
posted by languagehat at 7:19 AM on June 22, 2008 [3 favorites]


Witness how complicit we are in our own government's war crimes, and how disbelieving the general populace is when the evidence is ironclad.

it appears that if you really believe in an ideology, you can excuse almost any behavior on the part of the leadership.
posted by Malor at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


MythMaker: Re. Dmytryk's "repenting", from the first link:

[Adrian] Scott [Dmytryk's producer, and another one of the Hollywood 10] would spend one year in prison while Dmytryk would name Scott and accused him of pressuring the director to include Communist propaganda in every film they worked on together. Scott took to writing for television under a pseudonym to make ends meet and would die on Christmas Day, 1973 at the age of 61.
posted by Skeptic at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2008


PeterMcDermott writes "That's easily said with the benefit of fifty or sixty years hindsight, but at the time, almost nobody in the party -- and very few outside of it -- were aware about the extent of Stalin's crimes."

Well, of course, you're partly right. It's always difficult to answer "what did he know and when did he know it" and the Byzantine internal politics of the CPUSA only muddies the waters more.

But Orwell figured it out, Max Schactman figured it out (of course, Schactman was a Trotskyite), hell even Ayn Rand was right on this one. You have to ask these members of CPUSA, well, what the hell did they think about the Dekulakization, the purges, the show trials of the thirties, of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. (You especially have to wonder about all the Jews in the CPUSA who managed to ignore the antisemitism of the Soviet Communist in gheneral and of Stalin's Georgia boys in particular.)

It's been a while since I read the (at times self-serving) memoirs of the CPUSA members and their Red Diaper babies, but as I recall there was an awful lot of rationalization and looking the other way and denouncing and savaging of any friends or fellow-travelers who raised inconvenient questions. (And like Christians today, a lot of taking some perverse comfort in real (for the Communists) or perceived (for today's Christian) persecution -- "if they hate us this much, we must be doing right".) Communism's ideal may have been the purest, but their enactment in this world was always all kinds of murky. And some people even then had the intellectual honesty to notice.

I mean, come on, those memoirs constantly talk about how they had to keep their ears to the ground to figure out if yesterday's policies and yesterday's friends were today to be thrown down the memory hole. You can't do those kinds of mental gymnastics and not be aware of it, and aware that something's wrong with having to do it. The CPUSA's reverse on intervention in Europe after Barbarossa is just the most obvious example, and one clearly followed by Trumbo.

So you have to ask, did Dalton Trumbo really believe the anti-war message in Johnny Got His Gun, or was that just what Uncle Joe needed in '38? Did Trumbo believe what he wrote in the screenplay to "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"? Or was that too just what Uncle Joe needed then?

None of this is to exonerate Joe McCarthy. McCarthy was an evil little hack, bent not on protecting the USA but on gaining power for "Tailgunner Joe", and willing to ruin lives to do it. But the issue McCarthy seized on to carry him to power was a real issue. Communism in America shouldn't have been illegal, and Congress shouldn't regulate speech, but Communist, especially Joe Stalin's flavor of it, did need to denounced.

The sad thing about the fifties is that there were so few true heroes. It was one imperialistic superpower against the other, contending for supremacy over a war ravaged Europe and the resources of the Third World. Eventually, the Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Cubans, and most Africans would be caught between these two pincers. Our side was, thankfully, a bit better and eventually with the Civil Rights Movement and after a lot of fire hoses and murders and dogs we began to live up a little more to our ideals. Had the Communists come out on top, we'd all be a lot worse off now, something that's of course no consolation to the victims of American Imperialism, or our own troops who we subjected to nuclear and medical experiments, or the minorities both here and in the USSR who got used up as cheap labor and cannon fodder.

But there were damn few heroes and far too many mountebanks and grifters and evil Machiavels. Yes, Trumbo was treated shabbily, but he got off far better than Anna Akhmatova: he was blacklisted but his work wasn't banned, his kids weren't sent to the Gulag, his wives didn't die there.
posted by orthogonality at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


languagehat writes "To be fair, I doubt anyone in the U.S. knew Beria was a child-rapist."

I could have been more clear: I wasn't implying Beria's sex-crimeswere generally known; they weren't.
posted by orthogonality at 8:40 AM on June 22, 2008


Dmytryk's point that he used to make in class was that the film makers in Hollywood who joined the CPUSA were young liberals, idealists like himself who had strong feelings about social justice.

On the other hand, the leadership of the CPUSA had, as their ultimate objective, the overthrow of the capitalist system and the government of the United States. He felt that the liberal idealists were used and misled by the leadership. What the film makers thought they were doing was trying to bring about social justice. What their leaders were trying to do was overthrow the government of the U.S.
posted by MythMaker at 8:54 AM on June 22, 2008


If you're interested in Dmytryk here's some more references.
posted by MythMaker at 9:07 AM on June 22, 2008


But you are allowed to try to overthrow the government, if you do so through the democratic system. It's called having a political party and participating in elections. I'm sure the Liberal Party of Canada would love to over throw the current Canadian government.

It's just fine to hate political parties because you feel like their policies are bad. Personally, I hate the "Throw everyone in jail who likes Ice Cream" political party; I will make propaganda against them and argue vociferously why they shouldn't be elected if they ever field a candidate in my constituency. If the leadership of the American Communist Party really were duping their membership as to their policies, that's a mark against them, and it makes them a sleazy party - but still not traitors to their country. Were they advocating armed rebellion? That would make them traitors or rebels, though not unknown in American history.

-------------------------------------

I think that the denounciation of Stalinism would have gone a lot farther had it not been a denounciation of all communist philosophies. By denouncing all leftist and communist ideals as being akin to Stalinism (which they are patently not), Stalin's critics didn't have any credibility among those who held those principles of social justice dear.

I'm having trouble explaining this -- but it would be like telling Christians that Christianity was inherently was evil because evil had been done by some Christians in the name of their religion. (And yes, I realise this has often happened.) Why would they take you seriously? How do they even know you are telling the truth about the evil that was done when you are clearly not telling the truth about their own philosophy?

I was even just listening to the radio, only to hear about the "evil" philosophy of communism being gone from Europe. And frankly, I was offended. Because Stalinism!= communism. Communism has a history centuries older than Stalin (or even Marx), and continues to this day in voluntary communistic communities. And it has many fellow travellors of all stripes - including the supporters of social democracy of which I am proud to count myself.

Call it Marxist-Leninism or Marxist-Leninism if you want to denounce it. Or, frankly, call it what it was: undemocractic. Just like a hell of a lot of non-communist places. We can all fight against the evils of undemocracy and arbitrary government.
posted by jb at 1:49 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


There were plenty of people swept up in the paranoia who had no ties to Communism beyond the traditional Rightwing mantra that anything Left = big "C" Communism. Many who did have concrete ties tended more toward European socialism. And even those who took it further differentiated between Communism and Stalinism.
posted by RavinDave at 7:01 PM on June 22, 2008


[obligatory note that by Marxist analysis of capitalism, the USSR was a capitalist country]
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:14 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes, his point was that they were advocating armed revolt against the U.S. government.
posted by MythMaker at 10:34 PM on June 22, 2008


I'm trying to picture...Will Geer... plotting the overthrow the of government...

Today Walton's Mountain, tomorrow the world!
posted by Tim McDonough at 3:07 PM on June 23, 2008


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