Hollywood Ten

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Playwright Arthur Miller testifies before HUAC

The Hollywood Ten was a group of American screenwriters, actors, and directors, alleged and admitted members of the American Communist Party, who were convicted of contempt of Congress during the height of the Red Scare.

As background, during the 1930s, political ideology was being shaped by the rise of fascism abroad and domestically by the ruthless business tactics of capitalists such as John D. Rockefeller while at the same time the unemployed and working poor of the Great Depression were suffering terribly. At this time, communist ideals of equality for all citizens were being falsely promoted as how life was in the Soviet Union by the Josef Stalin government. Given the desperate unemployment conditions and lengthy soup lines in every city in America, the popularity of communism grew. During World War II, this would be aided, even legitimized, because the communist Soviet Union was part of the Allies against Nazi Germany

Things changed at War's end and communism became a feared doctrine that spawned paranoia amongst some and opportunity for others such as U.S. Senatoir Joseph McCarthy. In October of 1947, a list of suspected communists, deemed "subversives," working in the Hollywood film industry were summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating Communist influence in the Hollywood labor unions. Because many of these people refused to give evidence, the United States House of Representatives voted 346 to 17 on that November 24 to approve citations of contempt. They were convicted in 1948.

Specifically, they were cited for contempt for their efforts to disrupt the committee's proceedings by making political statements while refusing to answer questions put to them by the committee concerning their Communist affiliations and activities. Among the questions they refused to answer were: "Are you a member of the Screen Writers Guild?" and "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?". Their unsuccessful defense was based on First Amendment claims. Following unsuccessful appeals and denial of review by the Supreme Court, they served 6-month (in two cases) or 1-year prison terms in 1950.

On November 25, 1947 (the day after the full House approved citations of contempt) they were "blacklisted" by the major Hollywood producers, who declared publicly that the ten would be fired or suspended and not rehired until they were acquitted or purged of contempt and had sworn that they were not Communists. Because of their notoriety, they were unable to obtain work in the American film and television industry for many years. However, some continued to write Hollywood films, using sometimes thinly-veiled pseudonyms (and much reduced pay) or the names of friends who posed as the actual writers (those who allowed their names to be used were called "fronts".) Much later, when anti-Communism became less fashionable, they were sometimes portrayed as heroes for their defiance of the committee. Being a member of the American Communist Party was never illegal.

The blacklisting by studio executives went hand in hand with the activities of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI that was under his total control. People such as Bartley Crum, a lawyer who defended some of the "Hollywood 10" in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, was labeled a subversive. The FBI tapped his phones, opened his mail, and shadowed him constantly. Bartley Crum ended up losing most of his clients and, unable to cope with stress from the unrelenting harassment, committed suicide in 1959.


The "Hollywood Ten":

  1. Alvah Bessie, screenwriter
  2. Herbert Biberman, screenwriter, director
  3. Lester Cole, screenwriter
  4. Edward Dmytryk, director
  5. Ring Lardner, Jr, journalist, screenwriter
  6. John Howard Lawson, writer
  7. Albert Maltz, author, screenwriter
  8. Samuel Ornitz , screenwriter
  9. Adrian Scott, screenwriter, film producer
  10. Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter, novelist

Following his blacklisting, Trumbo and others were able to continue working without screen credit by using a pseudonym or having a fellow member of the MPAA submit their scripts to the studio in their name. Movies such as The Bridge on the River Kwai were done this way. Several screenwriters moved to England where they were able to find work in film there or wrote scripts that were then sent surreptitiously to a Hollywood studio. Some, like playwright Arthur Miller, and actor John Randolph were able to continue to work in New York City where theatre owners and producers ignored the Hollywood studio bosses.

The first break with the blacklisting came when director Otto Preminger announced he was hiring Dalton Trumbo to write "Exodus." Then, powerful superstar Kirk Douglas said he would give Trumbo full credit for writing "Spartacus." Soon, producer Martin Ransohoff and director Norman Jewison gave Ring Lardner, Jr. screen credit for writing "The Cincinnati Kid" and things began to change, albeit more slowly for many. In later life many of the "Hollywood Ten" continued to defend their right to political association and to oppose red-baiting. In 1997, the Writers' Guild of America unanimously voted to change the writing credits of 23 films made during the blacklist period.

Note: While the Hollywood Ten were the most high-profile screenwriters and directors blacklisted, many others, including some of Hollywood's most famous and successful writers found themselves unable to work in their fields during the time of the red scare. According to Carl Foreman's son, Jonathan Foreman, a lawyer, historian, and editorial writer and senior film critic for the New York Post, there were 500 or so victims of the Hollywood blacklist. Dalton Trumbo said of it: "the blacklist was a time of such evil, no one survived untouched."

The Hollywood blacklist included:

Films and books about the Hollywood Blacklist

See also:


James J. Lorence. The Suppression of Salt of the Earth. How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America. University of New Mexico Press: 1999. ISBN 0-8263-2027-9 (cloth) ISBN 0-8263-2028-7 (paper)de:Hollywood Ten fr:Dix d'Hollywood


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