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Scandalous Hollywood: The Hollywood Blacklist

Hollywood Blacklist

The Headline: Witch-Hunt ruins hundreds of careers; Artists inform on each other in anti-Communist crusade.

In the late ’40s and early ’50s was a time of rabid anti-Communist feeling in the United States, largely because of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Before Sen. Joseph McCarthy launched his own witch-hunt, the HUAC focused much of its efforts on the entertainment industry. The committee’s search for alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers marked a low point in the history of America–and Hollywood.

Some 100 entertainment figures were summoned before the committee, and nearly one-third named names. In all, informers such as actors Lee J. Cobb and Sterling Hayden, director Elia Kazan, playwright Clifford Odets and screenwriter Budd Schulberg singled out more than 300 people. The rest refused to incriminate themselves or others and were blacklisted–meaning they became unemployable. This group included actors Herschel Bernardi, Zero Mostel and Paul Robeson, novelist Dashiell Hammett, playwrights Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller, and director Joseph Losey. Some, like screenwriters Ring Lardner Jr. and Dalton Trumbo, went to prison. Others moved out of the country or worked under pseudonyms.

The unofficial end of the blacklist came in 1960 when director Otto Preminger openly hired Trumbo to write Exodus and Kirk Douglas insisted Trumbo be used for Spartacus. But the divisiveness lasted. Witness the 1999 controversy over the honorary Oscar for 89-year-old Kazan. Protestors picketed the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion before the show, and many audience members refused to applaud Kazan’s appearance.