Magazine article The American Conservative

How Red Was My Hollywood

Magazine article The American Conservative

How Red Was My Hollywood

Article excerpt

Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters--Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, Allan H. Ryskind, Regnery, 538 pages

Hollywood Traitors reads like a Who's Who of American Communists. For 500 pages Allan Ryskind lists the names, occupations, and crimes of almost every man or woman ever tainted with support for the USSR in the movie industry. The book is a labor of love. And an exhausting read. It felt like I'd spent several hours flicking through the telephone directory.

Of course, the harder the work then the greater the rewards. This is a book that conservatives will love and which answers a lot of questions. Unfortunately, it also lacks objectivity. This dents its power.

Ryskind's writing has the obsessive quality of a man out to "correct the record," and the American right has waited a long time for this. For decades, they say, a line has been spun that McCarthyism was a hysterical rage against nothing at all--that there were few-to-no Communists active in the United States in the 1930s and 1940s and that the "witch hunt" against the radical left was nothing less than American-style fascism. At the center of that popular liberal narrative is the fate of the Hollywood Ten. In 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) called witnesses on the subject of Red subversion in the movie industry. Ten writers and directors appeared before the committee but refused to answer its questions, citing their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly. They had all at some time or other been members of the Communist Party. The Ten were charged with contempt of Congress, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. They were blacklisted from working in Hollywood, along with many other entertainment professionals who were considered fellow travelers.

Ryskind--the son of screenwriter and socialist-turned-anticommunist Morrie Ryskind, who did cooperate with HUAC--regards everything that happened to these people as just desserts. What troubles his conscience is the fact that the Hollywood Ten were eventually forgiven by their industry and their crimes forgotten.

"Hollywood cannot get enough," he asserts, "of celebrating the 'victims' of those 1947 hearings in movies, plays, books, documentaries, skits, oral histories, and public events." These words are found in Chapter 1, and they are the first warning sign that Ryskind's book goes too far. For proof of Hollywood's obsessive liberal forgiveness for Communist crimes he mentions one sympathetic gala at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1997, one movie featuring Woody Allen, and one movie starring Jim Carrey. Is that all that there is? I don't dispute that Ryskind is right that there are many literate Hollywood liberals who do regard the 1940s as a period of "cultural holocaust" for their industry, in the words of movie writer Patrick McGilligan. George Clooney and the cast of "Good Night, and Good Luck" spring to mind. But the idea that Hollywood as a community "cannot get enough" of celebrating the Hollywood Ten is a stretch. I've lived in Hollywood. What they can't get enough of over there is flattery and cocaine. For them history begins at "Jaws."

Nevertheless, Ryskind 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. …

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