Much has been written about the ten screenwriters who lost their fight against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) by arguing their First Amendment rights. What happened in the entertainment business—literature, movies, radio, TV, live theater, magazines, and newspapers— reflects the ripsaw of changing politics and world circumstances that made so many vulnerable to McCarthy’s smears.
Many of the creative artists blacklisted had indeed once been “armchair Communists”—liberals and progressives during the Depression’s financial disaster, involved with trying to unionize and improve workers’ lives, maybe passing petitions, perhaps attending political rallies or fund-raisers that had some association with the American Communist Party. At that point, in the 1930s, the American Communist Party was just another pro-labor political faction within American society. During World War II, the Soviets were allies, not trusted exactly, but admired for their stubborn fight and certainly integral to Hitler’s defeat.
All that changed after World War II with Stalin’s aggression in Eastern Europe. But American citizens could not erase their own pasts and political statements. (Think about your tweets and Facebook posts.) Fanatical Red-hunters, or those who exploited the nation’s fears simply in order to elevate themselves professionally or socially, used people’s past opinions and activities against them.
Once blacklisted, entertainment professionals could not get jobs. Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo had to ghostwrite, hiding his identity for years, even after anonymously winning Oscars for Roman Holiday and The Brave One.
Anyone who spoke out in support of the Hollywood Ten might be investigated themselves. For example, when the Ten testified in front of HUAC, a group of actors formed the Committee for the First Amendment. They signed and ran a petition in newspapers, and traveled to Washington, DC, to sit in support in the audience. Many were later hauled in front of the hearings themselves.
Despite all this, some screenwriters and studios still dared to push content to the “subversive”—themes or characters which challenge conventional thinking.
From Here to Eternity showcased the emotional devastation of WWII, while On the Waterfront focused on the plight of dockworkers during a strike against management (and the first onscreen use of the curse-word “hell”). Roman Holiday won the Best Screenplay Oscar anonymously for the man who ghostwrote it—one of the “infamous” Ten, the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo. Hitchcock’s Rear Window explored the existence of quiet desperation in every day lives. And works like Singing in the Rain expanded the artistic vision and panache of cinema.
Other films remain rooted in 1950s stereotypes and definitions, sexism and prejudices.
See links below for a taste of the most popular films, TV shows, and movie stars of 1952-1955, and to further information about blacklists:
From Here to Eternity
On The Waterfront
Singing in the Rain
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
The Wild One
For more information see:
The Red Channels:
Here are a few episodes of the undercover FBI agent show I LED 3 LIVES, which was so important to Richard, and the Pick Temple Show, where Ginny shows her pluck and natural abilities as an aspiring “camera girl.” I've also included a peek at the most popular shows of 1953-54. The variety hours and talk shows have the feel of the vaudeville and radio programs that proceeded them. The comedies typically focus on the era’s idealized, suburban family with a stay-at-home mom and a dad as the “breadwinner” and “king-of-the-castle”—even if he was slightly goofy for the sake of the audience’s laughter. In them you’ll experience the cultural context of Richard and Ginny’s dreams, limitations, and self-definitions.
I Led 3 Lives
Pick Temple Show
I Love Lucy
Jack Benny Program
Make Room for Daddy
The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet
What's My Line
with Eleanor Roosevelt as mystery guest
with Edward R. Murrow as mystery guest
Arthur Godfrey Show
Howdy Doody Show
IMAGES OF 1950s MOVIE STARS:
Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, and Henry Fonda
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell
Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart
Debbie Reynolds (holding her baby, Carrie Fisher)
Kirk Douglas (with Jane Wyman in Glass Menagerie, at the time also Mrs. Ronald Reagan)
And last, but CERTAINLY not least.....Cary Grant