September 14, 2003


The Truth About the Hollywood Ten: "Trumbo" Doesn't Tell The Full Story (Spencer Warren, September 12, 2003, The Claremont Institute)

New York Times drama critic Bruce Weber writes, near the beginning of his review of a new off-Broadway show based on the letters of the late Hollywood screenwriter and author Dalton Trumbo, that Trumbo was "a leading member of the Hollywood 10, a group of writers, producers and directors who, after appearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in Washington in 1947, were branded as Communist sympathizers and blacklisted by the studios." Rather than answer the question whether these career-crippling accusations were justified or not, Weber ends his notice: "The theater makes you hungry for the whole truth, no matter how eloquent one side of the story is." Let us review the films and the facts about Communism and Hollywood to see what is merely eloquent and what is the truth.

Trumbo and eight of the other "Ten" not only were Communist sympathizers, they were or had been card-carrying members of the Communist Party USA. Which means, as scholars John E. Haynes and Harvey Klehr have documented using the archives of the Soviet Communist Party, that Trumbo and company were participants -- witting or unwitting -- in a secret conspiracy, directed and financed by the Kremlin, to overthrow the United States government. (See The Secret World of American Communism and, with Kyrill M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism, both published by Yale University Press.)

Now, the blacklist should be condemned insofar as it caused much pain and injustice to innocent people.

That last bit is just a politically-correct platitude. No one who went in, testified honestly, and repudiated Communism was blacklisted and no one who failed to do so should have gone unpunished. For a good look at just how extensive and systematic Communist penetration of Hollywood was, try Kenneth Billingsley's Hollywood Party.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 14, 2003 7:02 PM

The people who were black listed and suffered by it were those who cooperated, not the commies who went to Europe and were treated like heroes. Poor Larry Parks was crucified and died a broken man.

Posted by: erp at September 14, 2003 8:13 PM

I think there were clearly people - a small number - who were innocent of being active Communist Party members who had their careers ruined. These were people who perhaps had attended a Party meeting but quit or never returned and who were falsely accused of being Communists.

Didn't HUAC start out investigating Nazi sympathizers? The Bund, et cetera? Anyone had their careers/lives ruined by being falsely accused of Nazi sympathies/membership?


Posted by: SteveMG at September 14, 2003 8:16 PM

Their kind are still there, producing, directing, writing, acting and undermining for sport, if not for other more nefarious reasons. Am I paranoid? you bet.

Posted by: genecis at September 14, 2003 9:23 PM

Were the Hollywood Commies actively endorsing violent overthrow of the U.S. Government and/or a war against the U.S. and/or spying for foreign governments? I honestly do not know.

Posted by: Jimmy at September 14, 2003 10:23 PM

Read Sidney Hook on this issue (Heresy, Yes - Conspiracy, No). Hook's argument, which is pretty strong if not irrefutable, is that to be a active member of the CP during this period REQUIRED your devotion to the overthrow of the U.S. government. Your membership required that you promote the ideology of the CP above all else, openly if possible, secretly if necessary (which was why Hook believed that active members should be forbidden from teaching).

The CP of the US, Hook argued, was not some independent party or movement that grew out of American progressive ideas or history but a foreign or alien conspiracy that was slavishly working for the Soviet Union.

The Venona tapes clearly show that this was right. The CP, unlike the CPs in Europe, followed the Soviet line on every issue. Totally subservient to Moscow.

The question is how seriously did INDIVIDUAL members of the party take this oath? I think the error in the period was to consider all members equally guilty. Some were less devoted than others; less guilty, if you will.


Posted by: SteveMG at September 14, 2003 10:53 PM

And those who were persecuted were those who stayed Communist after Stalin cut his deal with Hitler. The decent folk, dupes though they may have been, left the party then.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 12:09 AM

"Poor Larry Parks was crucified and died a broken man."

You can tell when the left is in trouble the trot out the corpse of tail-gunner Joe. A few guys lost their jobs, a smaller number went to jail for contempt. Trumbo lost a couple of screen credits.

I have no idea who Larry Parks was. If he was this guy:
He died 20 years later of a heart attack, not crucifiction.

As persecutions go this was pretty small beer. I think it is time to stop tearing up everytime McCarthy gets mentioned.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at September 15, 2003 1:02 AM

There is no greater crime among the smart
set to be rough and rude. That was Joe's
real error. Irish, Midwestern and
sure of himself. Makes me think of that
Nicholson speach in "A Few Good Men".

Posted by: J.H. at September 15, 2003 8:57 AM

The problem is that some of these, well idiots, actually believed that the reports of the show trials, the executions, the deportations, the forced famines WERE lies.

Robeson actually thought that Stalin was a great and peaceful leader. Dismissed the reports of the terror. Reportedly, after learning about Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" revealing (sic) Stalin's crimes, Robeson had a nervous breakdown. It was a stunning revelation to him.


Posted by: SteveMG at September 15, 2003 9:54 AM

Well, the Hollywood communists did give us Ronald Reagan. Bless them for that.

Posted by: jefferson park at September 15, 2003 12:08 PM


You should find (tape if possible, transcripts are likely on the internet somewhere) Reagan's testimony to the HUAC. Staunchly anticommunist, but with a warning against government witchhunts, advocating that communism in the US could be destroyed by mere exposure rather than attacked judicially. (I'm not paraphrasing well, and cannot find a link right now, alas).

Posted by: Mike Earl at September 15, 2003 1:31 PM


I can buy Robeson as fool, but Trumbo, Hammett, Hellman, etc, never showed a whiff of regret and remained not just Communists but Stalinists.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 1:41 PM


. . . tis the greatest of all treason
to do the right deed for the wrong reason


Posted by: SteveMG at September 15, 2003 5:02 PM

Like if you, as the leader of an ostensible democracy, overthrew a terrible despot but lied to the public to make it happen?

Posted by: Jimmy at September 15, 2003 10:29 PM

That's the right deed for the right reason.

Posted by: oj at September 15, 2003 10:32 PM

"Ostensible democracy"??

Your mask is dropping.


Posted by: SteveMG at September 16, 2003 9:42 AM