1947 October 30

Writer of M*A*S*H Refuses to Testify Before HUAC; Is Blacklisted

 

Ring Lardner, Jr., an Oscar-winning screenwriter, on this day refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about his political beliefs and associations. As a result, he was convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison. Lardner was one of the “Hollywood Ten,” who refused to cooperate with HUAC, went to prison, and were then blacklisted by the film industry. (See the first hearings with the Hollywood Ten on October 27, 1947, and the announcement of the blacklist on December 3, 1947.) He famously told the committee that he could answer one of their questions, but “I would hate myself in the morning” (see below). Variety magazine commented about the end of the HUAC Hollywood hearings: “Commie Carnival Closes: An Egg is Laid.”

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.

Lardner later earned his second Academy Award as the screenwriter of the enormously successful film M*A*S*H (1970), which then became the basis for the hugely successful and Emmy-winning television series of the same name.The Hearing:

HUAC Chairman: “Are you, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?”

Lardner: “I could answer it, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.”

HUAC Chairman: “Leave the witness chair!”

View Lardner’s recollections about HUAC: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv97sMC2_bM

Read Lardner’s Memoirs: Ring Lardner, Jr., I’d Hate Myself in the Morning (2000)

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

Read the classic account about HUAC hearings and “naming names”: Victor Navasky, Naming Names (1980)

Lardner’s testimony is included in the play, Are You Now or Have You Ever Been (1972), by Eric Bentley (the play consists entirely of testimony before HUAC)

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