“Hollywood Ten” HUAC Hearings Begin
The famous confrontation between the “Hollywood Ten” and the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began on this day. The first “hostile witness” was the screenwriter John Howard Lawson, who like members of the Hollywood Ten who followed, was aggressively confrontational with the committee, refusing to answer questions and challenging the committee’s legitimacy.
HUAC had launched an investigation into alleged Communist influence in Hollywood that is probably the most famous event in the entire history of the committee. The hearings began on October 20, 1947, with a series of “friendly” witnesses who testified that there was Communist influence in Hollywood. Beginning on this day, a group of so-called “unfriendly” witnesses who refused to testify about their beliefs and associations resulted in stormy confrontational hearings. This group of directors and screenwriters became known as the “Hollywood Ten.” In retrospect (and for many people, almost immediately), it was apparent that the aggressive, confrontational tactics of the Hollywood Ten only alienated potential support across the country.
The hearings ended on October 30, but HUAC conducted another set of hearings in 1951, which resulted in more blacklisting.
All members of the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress, convicted and sentenced to prison, and then blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. They included Dalton Trumbo (see his testimony on October 28, 1947), who won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay on March 27, 1957, which he wrote under the pseudonym “Robert Rich” while blacklisted. Other included Adrian Scott, Alvah Bessie, and Ring Lardner, Jr. Lardner testified on October 30, 1947, and after the blacklist became famous as the author of the movie M*A*S*H, which inspired the popular television series of the same name).
Contempt of Congress indictments became a heavy weapon against alleged subversives during the Cold War. While it had rarely been used before World War II, HUAC issued 21 contempt citations in 1946, 14 in 1947, and 56 in 1950. All other House Committees in those years issued a total of only 6 contempt citations.
Michael Wilson was blacklisted after the 1951 HUAC hearings on Hollywood. When he was able to return to work in the 1960s he took his revenge by including a wicked parody of HUAC in the script for the original version of Planet of the Apes. In the key scene, Charlton Heston is forced to stand naked in from of an “Un-Ape Activities Committee.” See February 8, 1968.
Learn more: Michael Freedland, with Barbara Paskin, Witch-Hunt in Hollywood: McCarthyism’s War on Tinseltown (2009)
View a collection of videos about HUAC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1Z5aYU6x0o&list=PL5Ep0ZOB1B7o1mtMHEJsO08H0ZQ0whwsZ
Learn more about the history of HUAC: http://www.history.com/topics/cold-war/huac
Read the classic account of HUAC’s process: Victor Navasky, Naming Names (1980)