The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten

The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten

The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten

The Final Victim of the Blacklist: John Howard Lawson, Dean of the Hollywood Ten


Before he attained notoriety as Dean of the Hollywood Ten--the blacklisted screenwriters and directors persecuted because of their varying ties to the Communist Party--John Howard Lawson had become one of the most brilliant, successful, and intellectual screenwriters on the Hollywood scene in the 1930s and 1940s, with several hits to his credit including Blockade, Sahara, and Action in the North Atlantic. After his infamous, almost violent, 1947 hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Lawson spent time in prison and his lucrative career was effectively over. Studded with anecdotes and based on previously untapped archives, this first biography of Lawson brings alive his era and features many of his prominent friends and associates, including John Dos Passos, Theodore Dreiser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Chaplin, Gene Kelly, Edmund Wilson, Ernest Hemingway, Humphrey Bogart, Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner, Jr., and many others. Lawson's life becomes a prism through which we gain a clearer perspective on the evolution and machinations of McCarthyism and anti-Semitism in the United States, on the influence of the left on Hollywood, and on a fascinating man whose radicalism served as a foil for launching the political careers of two Presidents: Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In vivid, marvelously detailed prose, Final Victim of the Blacklist restores this major figure to his rightful place in history as it recounts one of the most captivating episodes in twentieth century cinema and politics.


John Howard Lawson was not pleased.

Here he was in the fall of 1947 not recumbent in his comfortable Southern California home but instead in a forbidding congressional hearing room on Capitol Hill. This year was to prove to be the “driest… in the history of Los Angeles”; meanwhile, a steady rain had descended on Washington. Lawson’s trip east likewise had been a voyage from blue and sunny skies to what was to become dreary weather. the celebrated playwright and screenwriter who had penned tomes on the magic behind creating dramatic tension now found himself as the unlikely leading character in a bit of political theater not of his making.

He had been summoned to Washington ostensibly because of concern over the ability of Communist screenwriters—like himself—to insinuate their ideologically verbal wizardry into the mouths of stars on the silver screen, thereby providing the newly minted foe in Moscow with an incalculable advantage. Actually, what was driving this well-attended hearing was the specter of militant labor led by Reds like Lawson, who had organized writers a few years previously and had marched with studio carpenters, painters, and other workers when they had conducted a fierce strike two years earlier.

It was no secret that affluent Reds like Lawson subsidized the Communist Party and its initiatives, as they provided living proof that being a revolutionary did not entail grim sacrifice. Putting Hollywood at center stage—in the person of the rumpled, tousled, hawk-nosed Lawson, he of the foghorn voice—was designed to dramatize the simple fact that a new day was at hand, a day in which Reds would receive no quarter, labor would be shellacked—and the progressive redoubt that Hollywood, notably the Screen Writers Guild (SWG), had become would be radically altered.

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