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THE BLACKLIST LEGACY : A New Generation in Hollywood Takes Political Sides Again, but Remembers the Red Witchhunt

October 18, 1987|JUDITH MICHAELSON

Charlie Stratton, formerly on the soap "Santa Barbara," believes the group at City Restaurant is unusual. "Most groups of actors care about how you look and who you know. This group is very concerned--and very rare."

Oct. 4: Outside Sydney Pollack's house, a cocktail party is being held for the ad campaign. This is the first time the Hollywood Women's Political Committee has conducted a fund-raiser for People for the American Way.

On his way in, producer Bud Yorkin grins broadly. "This may be the icing on the cake (of Bork's defeat)," he says of the money about to be raised.

"There seems to be a broad cross-section of folks in the entertainment industry that are committed to seeing this nomination not go through," says Jeff Berg, president of International Creative Management.

Asked to comment on the White House's criticism of Gregory Peck for anti-Bork commercials that he made for People for the American Way, Walter Matthau said he thought Reagan should be "interested in more important things.

"I hope people aren't intimidated," he added. "That's why our ancestors ran away from the other continent. We're supposed to be able to speak our minds. I think (the legacy) is in every molecule, every facet, every atom that we have. . . . I think people learn from it. They learned it's a constant struggle, a constant fight for freedom."

In March, 1951, the HUAC hearings on Hollywood started up again and a mood of intimidation--of mutual suspicions within the entertainment community--prevailed. The Korean War was in full fury.

The experience of the late actor Larry Parks ("The Jolson Story") set the pace. Unlike the Ten, he was willing to say that he joined the Communist Party in 1941 when he was 25 and left in 1945. But Parks did not want to point fingers at others in order to purge himself in the eyes of the committee. "Don't present me with the choice of being either in contempt of this committee, and going to jail, or forcing me to really crawl through the mud to be an informer."

Parks believed that that was un-American, that it was "not the American way." But the committee had its way. They met in executive session, then leaked that Parks had provided names. Parks didn't want to go to prison; his wife, actress Betty Garrett, had just had her second son.

To this day, Garrett, putting a finer cast on it, insists: "They handed him a list and said, 'Do you think they are (members),' and he said, 'You know more than I do. . . .' " So the choice was jail or the blacklist or naming.

SAG's board had just sent a letter to actress Gale Sondergaard (wife of Herbert Biberman, one of the Ten) stating that "if any actor by his own actions outside of union activity has so offended American public opinion that he has made himself unsaleable at the box office, the Guild cannot and would not want to force any employer to hire him."

So everyone was on his or her own. Some named, some didn't.

"The names I named were echoed before," said Dmytryk, who in September, 1950, told the world that he had left the Party in 1945. "I'm glad the committee is dead. That was a lot of crap about propaganda (in the movies). They never found a single thing in there."

The Nameless Writers

The blacklisted were not only without jobs, they were without names.

Becca Wilson, now a news producer at KCET and daughter of blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson, was in France during the '50s. Her father, who had shared an Oscar for writing "A Place in the Sun," (1951), also co-wrote "The Bridge on the River Kwai" with another blacklisted writer, Carl Foreman. Wilson also wrote "Friendly Persuasion" (1956) and co-wrote "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962); he got credit later on.

In the "Legacy" documentary, Becca Wilson recalled watching "Kwai" in a movie house in France, "my sister and the whole family sitting there watching it." Then the credits came up and the movie simply said it was based on the novel by Pierre Boulle--with no credit for screenwriter. She remembered "looking over at my father and seeing tears streaming down his face."

Writer Bob Lees, who was blacklisted--his credits include a series of Abbott and Costello movies--said recently: "We were all young. We came out of the Depression and had all kinds of things in common. If you were in Hollywood and not on the Left, you didn't have humanity at all. . . . I don't really feel bitter except my children had to see psychiatrists and we had to move to Tucson. When we lived on Schumacher Drive, a swastika was burned on my lawn."

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