1951 July 9

Author Dashiell Hammett Refuses to Provide Names of Contributors to Left-Wing Bail Fund


The famous novelist Dashiell Hammett testified in District Court on this day regarding the Civil Rights Congress Bail Fund, which had posted bail for the Communist Party leaders convicted of violating the Smith Act in 1949. (Passed on June 29, 1940, the Smith Act made it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government.) Several of the defendants fled rather than go to prison. The District Court subpoenaed Hammett, seeking information about the missing defendants. He refused to cooperate on this day, and in particular refused to provide the names of contributors to the CRC Bail Fund. He was sentenced to six months in prison for contempt of court.

The Civil Rights Congress was blacklisted as a result of being included on the 1947 Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.

In a separate development, in March 1953, Hammett was called to testify before the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He refused to give names about other alleged Communists, and was blacklisted as a result. Hammett is famous as the author of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man, among many other novels and short stories.

Hammett also fell under suspicion in the Cold War because of his 30-year relationship with the noted playwright Lillian Hellman. Hellman was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and, on May 21, 1952, delivered a famous rebuke to the committee:  “I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions . . . .” 

Read a Classic Dashiell Hammett Novel: The Maltese Falcon (1930); The Thin Man (1934)

Or watch the classic movies made from these novels.

Learn more about his life: Joan Mellen, Hellman and Hammet: The Legendary Passion of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett (1996)

Learn about the creation of the Attorney General’s blacklist here.

Watch a documentary on Hammett’s life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuyjghLSS5E

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