“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

Late Night: Pigskin Parade’s Footballers vs. the Commie Comic Foil

Spoiler alert: Plot points revealed!

Pigskin Parade (1936) features Judy Garland as the perky and talented sister of Amos Dodd, a hick kid illegitimately recruited to a Texas university in order to beat Yale in the season’s big game.  There is a hitch, though. Dodd is a hillbilly melon farmer who has never gone to school (but he is a super talented harmonica player,  music runs in that family!). Amos doesn’t have his admission credentials in place, so the clever members of football frat Delta Delta Pi come up with a solution:
One of the transferring DDP  members, Herbert Terwilliger Van Dyke, has already declared his loathing of football, arguing that the sport is a capitalist plot designed by meat barons. (Van Dyke is played by Elisha Cook, Jr. who five years later would appear in a completely different role as  Wilmer the gunsel in John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon.)

Though an obviously wealthy nerd, H. Terwilliger Van Dyke–as he calls himself–has actually done jail time (two months in jail in New Jersey!) by turning against his class and putting his beliefs  into action.  As H. Terwilliger Van Dyke tells his Texan frat brothers, while attending the (fictional) East Coast Bradley University, he:

crashed a brick through the window of a bank. The capitalistic faculty at Bradley expelled me.

As seen in the video above, the stalwart Texans set up Van Dyke by pretending to support his

vital message to the collegiate youth of the nation,

published in his  manifesto, Youth vs Capitalism: A Militant Message to College Students so they use HTVD’s credentials to get Amos into school after the budding radical is arrested re-creating the New Jersey bank window crashing escapade while tossing around copies of his manifesto. Wow, the frat boys are outside agitators!

So let’s see, the football coach knowingly recruits an ineligible, illiterate talented football player while members of the team:

• encourage vandalism
• get a frat brother arrested
• perpetuate what today would be considered identity theft in order to enroll the ineligible and illiterate Amos Dodd (and his sister) in college so the team can win against Yale
• finagle funds to pay for the sibling’s tuition
• force a false identity on Amos’ sister Sairy Dodd (Judy Garland) in order to encourage Amos to participate in the ruse.

Wow. So Pigskin Parade basically is saying that it’s better to be an unethical college sports coach or simply malicious, deceitful and cruel than to be a Commie. God/s bless America!