In the late 1940s, the Cold War between the US and the communist-controlled USSR was beginning to pick up steam. On October 20t, 1947, a special congressional committed authorized investigations into alleged communist influence in Hollywood.
The House Un-American Activities Committee, or the HUAC, begins asking public figures, entertainers, and actors straightforward questions.
“Have you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”
It is out of fear or from a place of patriotism and witnesses giving the committee the names of people. They suspect ties to the Communists and their sympathizers. While many people comply with the committee’s interrogations, a small group, the ‘Hollywood Ten’ put up a bit of resistance.
Every one of these resistors slap with obstruction charges and ended up serving prison sentences. That’s when Hollywood comes up with its blacklist policy which bans 325 screenwriters, directors, and actors. They didn’t clear by the committee from working in the entertainment industry.
Some folks still managed to keep working. A few adopted aliases while others credited their work to other people. In the 60s, the blacklist begins to dismantle, and in 1997, the Writers Guild of America votes unanimously to correct the writing credits of two dozen films. Which produces during this strange and troubling period.
Join us as we take a look back at some of these public figures, actors, directors, and producers that are blacklisted for ties to communism back during the era that is now known as the Red Scare. You’ll probably even see a few familiar names that you never knew endured this kind of treatment. So, let’s start.
Pete Seeger is a founding member of the folk band The Weavers. He is radical for his time, and when he is young, he is a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. Seeger investigates by the FBI in the 1940s and 50s. He’s blacklisted when his name appears in a pamphlet, ‘Red Channels’, which suspects communists who work in the entertainment industry.
Seeger and his band ban from performing on TV, and the Weavers disband in 1952 when their recording contract dismisses. In 1955, Seeger calls before the House Un-American Activities Committee to testify.
Seeger refuses to invoke his fifth amendment right not to witness against himself. He announces that he won’t answer any questions regarding his affiliations, philosophical, political, or religious beliefs, or voting in elections. He further expressed his belief that it would be improper to ask any American these kinds of questions.
Seeger ends up hurt with ten counts of Contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in jail. While that ruling overturns, he still remained blacklisted for ties to communism from TV until 1968.
Even though the actress is never involved in Communists politics, she places on the Hollywood blacklist. In 1951, weeks past when her film ‘Detective Story’ ends, Grant comments critical of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigations. During a speech that she gives at the funeral of a fellow blacklist actor, Edwards Bromberg.
Her seemingly innocuous comments are in public, and she calls to testify before the committee. She pressures her to name her own husband a communist. Grant pleaded the fifth and refused to answer any of their invasive and leading questions. While she didn’t go to jail, she bans from appearing in films and television shows for 12 years.
When she removes from the blacklisted for ties to communism in the 60s, she return with victory in film and honors with three Oscar. She won one of those for her role in the 1975 film Shampoo.
This fantastic Western Actor is famous for his portrayal of Jed Colby on Rawhide. And much like the character he played on TV, he wasn’t willing to go down without putting up a fight. He adds to Hollywood’s blacklist, Ireland ended up suing two television producers for slander and breach of contract.
During the Red Scare, Ireland is labeled as politically unacceptable, but after complaining, his award is a large cash settlement. He appears in the hit film Spartacus, which was written by another blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo.
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When the Blacklisted for ties to communism starts adding names to its career-killing list, one of the first names is screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. He is a member of the Communist Party at one point unlike the other members of the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo refuses to answer the committee’s questions and even calls into question the legitimacy of the committee in his testimony.
Trumbo charges with contempt of Congress and was blacklisted by Hollywood. For his contempt charges, his charge is to serve a year in federal prison. When he releases, Trumbo writes under aliases and sells his scripts to the black market just to make ends meet.
During this period, he wrote several classic screenplays such as Gun Crazy and The Brave One. His works are honored with two Academy Awards even though they didn’t bear his name. Naturally, he isn’t able to collect those awards either.
Trumbo’s name removes from the blacklist in 1960. His fellow actor Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger announce that he’ll write credit for the films Spartacus and Exodus. While clearing his name, Trumbo resumes his career as a Tinseltown screenwriter. Decades later, in 2011, the Writer’s Guild gives the credit that he deserves for the 1953 Oscar-winning film Roman Holiday.
As one of the African American stars of the screen and stage, Lena Horne rise to fame in the 1940s. A little help from her silky-smooth voice and her strikingly good looks. She often faced racism, and eventfully she chose to join a handful of activist groups who were fighting for racial equality and civil rights. At the time, many of these groups are members of a roster full of names associated with the Communist Party.
Even though Horne herself is never a member of the party, she blacklists and finds guilty by association after her name in list in that infamous ‘Red Channels’ pamphlet in 1950. Since she was unable to work in Hollywood anymore, she spent the next several years touring as a cabaret and nightclub singer.
In an attempt to clean up her name and reputation, she publicly condemned Communism and embarked on a letter-writing campaign to seek sympathy from prominent figures in the fields of journalism and entertainment.
Her efforts end up paying off, and slowly but surely, her reputation restores. By the late 50s, she was again making appearances on TV variety shows and releasing hit albums. Despite in blacklist and label a national security risk, Horne remained a political activist and involves in the Civil Rights protests of the 1960s.
This figure might not have been a star of the entertainment industry, but she was still very famous back in her day.
While the world tends to think of her as a fairly saint-like individual based on her fascinating life story and how she managed to communicate despite being both blind and deaf, apparently though, she was pretty radical when it came to her political ideologies and beliefs. The FBI monitored Keller fairly extensively and took notice when she sent a birthday greeting to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a prominent member of the communist party, for her 65th birthday.
The entire time that the actor, writer, and director Orson Welles is making his trailblazing movies and radio shows, he is under investigation by the FBI for potentially having allegiances and ties with the Communists and for being politically subversive.
Welles became a target partly because of his progressive political beliefs. But when his film Citizen Kane releases in 1941, suspicions continue to grow, seeing as how the film’s main character was essentially just a thinly-cloaked representation of the anti-Communist news magnate William Randolph Hearst.
The FBI concluded that the film Citizen Kane is Communist propaganda is to smear and discredit one of the most prominent anti-communist figures in the United States. Even though they didn’t find any evidence that Welles was, in fact, a communist himself, the Bureau still added him to their list of persons believed to pose a threat to national security.
Welles is also on the lists in that ‘Red Channels’ pamphlet in the 50s, but by that time, he had already been in self-imposed exile in Europe for quite some time.
Even though he is never a member of the Communist Party, Chaplin, who is famous for his work in silent films, became a target of the United States Government for his politically subversive movies and ardent support for left-leaning political causes and ideologies.
In films like Moderns Times, Monsieur Verdoux, and The Great Dictator, Chaplin rallied against capitalism and industrial society. The creator of ‘Little Tramp’ is based On a Communist sympathizer when he donated to the defense fund for the Hollywood Ten and Dalton Trumbo.
The FBI kept close tabs on Chaplin and compiled a document on him that was more than 2,000 pages long. In 1952, Chaplin, who was a British citizen, was denied a re-entry visa to the US after taking a trip overseas.
He tells the House Un-American Activities Committee that he needs to testify before them to justify his ‘moral worth’ before he could reenter the country. Instead of kneeling to the committee’s demands, Chaplin instead chose to cut ties with the US and spend the remainder of his life and career in Europe. Besides one lone trip to the United States in 1972 to accept an honorary Oscar, Chaplin never again set foot in America again and part of the blacklisted for ties to communism.
The Green Acres star was labeled as a communist after his name was listed in the Red Channels pamphlet. Margo, Eddie’s wife, was openly aligned with the political left. Albert was able to overcome these accusations after serving his country heroically in World War II, although his Mexican-born actress wife’s career was never the same.
Well, that about wraps up our list of Celebrities who were blacklisted for ties to communism and accused of being aligned with the Communist Party and their vision back during the red scare. Which star were you most surprised to learn faced this kind of scrutiny? Let us know in the comments section below.
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