October 5, 2015


How Red Was My Hollywood : review of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters--Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, Allan H. Ryskind (TIMOTHY STANLEY • October 5, 2015, American Conservative)

[R]yskind succeeds in three regards. First, he conclusively proves that each of the Ten was guilty of having been a Communist at some stage and that the degree of Communist subversion of Hollywood was substantial. The lying was extraordinary. In the case of the writer Lillian Hellman, it lasted a lifetime: obfuscating the details of her support for Communism until her death and, along the way, gaining plaudits for her supposedly noble resistance to false charges. Entertainment professionals joined cells so secret that each could operate quite separately from the others. These men and women put into their movies Marxist messages ranging from the subtle to the overt. MGM's 1944 film "Song of Russia" stars Robert Taylor as an American conductor who visits the USSR in 1941. His love affair with a beautiful pianist in a surprisingly prosperous socialist republic is ruined by Operation Barbarossa. Ayn Rand, testifying before HUAC, described the Nazi invasion as depicted in "Song of Russia." Border guards are shown listening peacefully to a Tchaikovsky concert:

Suddenly there is a Nazi attack on them. The poor, sweet Russians are unprepared. Now realize--and that was a great shock to me--that the border that was being shown was the border of [Soviet-occupied] Poland. That was the border of an occupied, destroyed, enslaved county which Hitler and Stalin destroyed together. That was the border being shown to us--just a happy place with people listening to music.

Ryskind's second success is to remind us of the moral ghastliness of the Nazi-Soviet pact. One of the frequent excuses made for Communist sympathy in the 1930s is that it was a form of opposition to fascism. Yet between 1939 and 1941, Stalin carved up Eastern Europe with Hitler, allowing the German dictator to wage war uninterrupted in the West. Ryskind shows how faithful Soviet agents fell in line, switching overnight from advocating an anti-fascist front to urging America to stay out of the war. It is upsetting to see included on the list of guilty people the names of some the century's greatest writers: "Lillian Hellman, Donald Ogden Stewart, Langston Hughes, Dashiell Hammett, and Erskine Caldwell backed [the antiwar effort], which savaged the parties resisting Hitler and the nations overwhelmed by his armies as 'imperialist'. Caldwell, author of Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre, sent greetings from Moscow."

But Hollywood did fight back, and Ryskind's third achievement is to revive some of the reputations of the red baiters. Enter Ronald Reagan. He was a transformative president of the Screen Actors Guild in the 1940s and 1950s. Reagan was a liberal in transition to conservatism, and he navigated Hollywood's complex politics with intelligence and skill. His goal was to preserve the principles of fair union representation without succumbing to left-wing agitation. Ryskind is at his most revealing when detailing meetings between union activists and stars like Reagan, Gene Kelly, Dick Powell, and Robert Taylor.

Posted by at October 5, 2015 6:45 PM

blog comments powered by Disqus