“Are You Now or Have You Ever Been–?” Marking HUAC’s Foray into Hollywood

The Blacklist. Sixty-six years ago the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) began a nine day hearing on Communist influence and propaganda in Hollywood, resulting in the boycotting, or blacklisting, of 300 actors, directors, radio commentators, and  screenwriters. Those called before HUAC had been named in a Hollywood Reporter column written by the trade paper’s founder, William Wilkerson entitled “A Vote For Joe Stalin.” In subsequent columns, Wilkerson named others he suspected of being commies and pinkos.

Ten of those called before HUAC, now known as the Hollywood Ten,  refused to answer some of committee’s questions and were cited for contempt of Congress. Bertold Brecht who was also called did give names, while director Edward Dmytryk later announced that he had once been a Communist and was prepared to give evidence. When Congress announced that they would go forward and press charges against the Hollywood Ten, the Screen Actors Guild voted to make its officers swear to a non-Communist pledge, while Hollywood executives hastily cobbled together an agreement that the Hollywood Ten would be fired or suspended without pay, and until they were cleared of contempt charges and had sworn that they were not Communists, they would not be reemployed.

In response to HUAC, director John Huston and actors Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye organized the Committee for the First Amendment to protest the government targeting of the entertainment industry, Bogart later had to defend himself in print against charges of being a Communist sympathizer. HUAC’s influence, which cast a chill over Hollywood, lasted until the late 1950s. Even J. Edgar Hoover’s favorite comedienne, Lucille Ball, was questioned.

The Hollywood Ten

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