Witch Hunt in Hollywood by Michael Freedland.
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Jr Books Ltd (July 25, 2009)
This is the story of how the politicians took Tinseltown to task in the late 1940s and 1950s. As the Cold War with the Soviet Union began in earnest, the search for ‘Reds under the bed’, later led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, was felt most keenly in Hollywood where the investigations were carried out under the full glare of the flashlights. Painstakingly researched and drawing on numerous exclusive interviews, the book charts the generation of actors who found their livelihood ruined by being ‘blacklisted’ and the writers forced to hire ‘fronts’ to continue to work; it reveals how Arthur Miller was offered the chance to have his hearing dropped in return for a photo-opportunity with Marilyn Monroe; and how Kirk Douglas’s naming of Dalton Trumbo as the writer of Spartacus signaled the end of this extraordinary era. Witch Hunt in Hollywood is the definitive account of how political paranoia shaped cinema for a decade. Michael Freedland is an author, journalist and broadcaster. He has written over 40 books, many of them telling the stories of the Hollywood greats, from Frank Sinatra to Al Jolson. He is also a BBC broadcaster and writes regularly for national newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Most of us who have any interest at all in movies and Hollywood have heard about Hollywood’s “Blacklist” and the investigations by Joseph McCarthy for those who “might be, or ever was a communist”. Some of us are old enough to have seen the tail end of some of the “interviews” on television.
Some time ago I read a book by one of the “Hollywood Ten” most involved called Odd Man Out by Edward Dmytryk. In my many moves I must have lost the book because I met Mr Dmytryk once for a few moments late in his life and I wouldn’t have gotten rid of the book. My interest in him was because DeForest had made a few westerns and he was the director and he had some comical stories of working with him.
As I was reading this book (and it is quite informative) I had a feeling in the back of my head that I couldn’t shake. Quite possibly something I had heard when I was very young while the “trials” were going on. It lingered in my head while I read.
As a young person I could remember the word “communist” which seemed to be someone to fear, but I couldn’t remember why. Nor, why I was so sympathetic to feeling about those being accused of being a communist.
Finally I came to a page that reminded me WHY I was so confused… remember I wasn’t even a teenager when this happened and things influence young children differently than they do an adult.. so, I read:
I read it and then I understood, once again, why it had never seemed to me to be such a bad thing to be a “communist”! (back then) What they told these people was too good to be true. And we all know better … we know if it sounds too good to be true.. it is too good to be true.
But you have to admit if you were led to believe those things…well.. they sure do sound good!
But even knowing this was what was being told to them, and what they “wanted to believe”…how could you fault them? How could you ruin their lives because they believed there was a “possible” life where no one was neglected or frowned upon, and everyone, EVERYONE, was truly treated equal.
However, if you believed what was being preached to them… you were a traitor. You were un-American. You no longer had the rights of other Americans to believe life could be anything but what it was.
Later most would learn, that it wasn’t the sort of thing it seemed to be, and there was more to it than meets the eye… but it didn’t help those that got prosecuted back then. And it ruined many lives. Many more then the Ten that went to prison.
I think this subject is most interesting to me because of knowing DeForest and his connection to the director Edward Dmytryk and because of feeling like I knew a bit about Betty Garrett and her husband Larry Parks from reading Naomi’s blog. So when those names appeared I took it a bit more personal.
It’s quite a bit of history for anyone interested in Hollywood and those who have entertained us all our lives. I would suggest you read this book or another on the topic, there are many books out on McCarthy’s War on Tinseltown.
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