1953 March 19

Howard Hughes Explains How to Make the Hollywood Blacklist Really Work


The wealthy industrialist Howard Hughes, at the time owner of the RKO motion picture studio, explained on this day how to make the Hollywood blacklist and alleged subversives really work.

Many people today assume that the blacklist was limited to Hollywood studios refusing to hire directors, writers and actors who had refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), or had otherwise been identified as Communist Party members or communist sympathizers. But as Hughes explained, the weapons of the blacklist through the entire process of producing and exhibiting motion pictures.

In a letter to HUAC member Rep. Donald L. Jackson, published in the Congressional Record on this day, Hughes explained that pressure to not employ blacklisted individuals or films they were associated with could be applied to 1. film laboratories, 2. suppliers of film, 3. musicians and recording technicians necessary for a film, 4. film technicians who make dissolves, fades, and other cinematic effects, 5. sound recording studios and technicians, 6. film editors and cutters, and 7. film laboratories that make prints for release.

In addition to the Congressional Record, the letter is reprinted in Herbert Biberman, Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film (March 14, 1954). Biberman produced the film, based on a true story about striking mine workers, which was heavily boycotted by the industry because of its left-wing perspective. Biberman was one of the original Hollywood Ten, who were convicted of contempt of Congress for defying HUAC on October 27, 1947.

Learn more: Herbert J. Biberman, Salt of the Earth: The Story of a Film (originally 1965; reissued 2004)

And more: James J. Lorence, The Suppression of Salt of the Earth. How Hollywood, Big Labor, and Politicians Blacklisted a Movie in Cold War America, (1999)

Learn more: Michael Freedland, with Barbara Paskin, Witch-Hunt in Hollywood: McCarthyism’s War on Tinseltown (2009)

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