How Religion and Big Money Censor the Media

By Stickney, Brandon M. | Free Inquiry, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

How Religion and Big Money Censor the Media


Stickney, Brandon M., Free Inquiry


Be it imposed by religions, governments, or corporations, censorship is alive and well in America. So says screenwriter and author Ring Lardner, Jr., who suffered the consequences of McCarthyism in the 1940s and 50s. "To me the greatest censorship threat in this country today is from the Christian Coalition and other manifestations of the Christian right," says Lardner. "These groups often get the aid of government and business in enforcing their will."

Lardner, 82, one of the four sons of famed sports and short story writer Ring Lardner, knows the power of censorship well. In 1942 he co-wrote the Academy Award-winning script for Woman of the Year, which starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. But his screenwriting career was almost erased in the late 1940s.

Because he refused to reveal to the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities that he was a communist or turn in fellow writers who held communist sympathies, Lardner spent a year in jail for contempt. He was put on the infamous Hollywood blacklist, and had to make money by underground writing because any script or book with his name on it was taboo during the two decades of political paranoia that followed.

He was one of the famous "Hollywood Ten," filmmakers who refused to make a deal with the inquisitors in order to get back on the payroll. Lardner went for 17 years without a screen credit. Hundreds of people were put out of work, and many left the entertainment business forever. But Lardner defiantly endured. "I still wrote for movies and television, using pseudonyms. Many blacklistees used 'fronts,' who were unblacklisted friends willing to pretend they were the authors of the scripts," he says.

"For this work we were paid much less money than we had previously received, but some of us managed to survive on it. The main weapon against the blacklist was a campaign of ridicule, led by Dalton Trumbo (author of Johnny Got His Gun), that was based on the fact that banished writers were winning Oscars and other accolades under their false names."

In the 1960s, Lardner penned M*A*S*H, which won a screenwriting Academy Award and the Grand Prix at Cannes. On October 27, 1997, he was honored by the actors, writers, and directors guilds at the Motion Picture Academy Theater in Beverly Hills. Representatives of the three guilds made formal apologies, acknowledging that Hollywood had participated fully in Senator Joseph McCarthy's plot to harass certain people merely because of their political beliefs.

During his suspension from screenwriting, in 1954, Lardner wrote The Ecstasy of Owen Muir (released in November 1997 by Prometheus Books with a new introduction by the author). Through the humorous misadventures of hero Owen Muir, the novel pokes fun at religious conformity, politics, the military, and social constraints. Lardner was inspired to begin the book while in federal prison. When first completed, the novel ran into the same wall of censorship that had imprisoned its author, but this time there was a religious twist. …

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