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'Blacklist' Focuses On Families

October 18, 1987|NANCY MILLS

"The public knows very little about the Hollywood blacklist," Judy Chaikin discovered when she began putting together her documentary on the subject, "Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist" (Tuesday on KCET Channel 28).

"Some young people said, 'Oh yeah, that was the thing Cliff Robertson was involved in,' " Chaikin said. She had to explain that, no, the blacklist wasn't the David Begelman check-forging scandal of 1978.

Using old newsreel footage, home movies and interviews with the wives and children of some of those blacklisted, Chaikin's film, narrated by Burt Lancaster, examines the lingering effects of Hollywood's Red Scare.

"The one cry that must come from the heart," 95-year-old Sadie Ornitz says at the close of the film, "please never let this happen again."

Ornitz, the widow of Hollywood 10 member and screenwriter Sam Ornitz, was one of five wives of blacklisted men who agreed to be interviewed on-camera. At a recent fund raiser and preview screening of the documentary, she described "Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist" as "very honest, very faithful to the facts."

"I accepted the offer to be in it right away," said Zelma Wilson, widow of blacklisted screenwriter Michael Wilson ("Friendly Persuasion," "Bridge on the River Kwai"). "I thought it was something that had to be said. This situation could easily recur if the American people are not vigilant."

Joan Scott, whose late husband, writer-producer Adrian Scott, was also one of the Hollywood 10, said, "The timing of the film is fortunate. It's so incredible to go from those hearings in the 1950s to the Iran- contra hearings of the 1980s. There is such a different climate today."

Chaikin focused her documentary on the wives because, she said, "It would add a perspective that is missing from history. We always get the facts, but we don't always get the human side. . . . I wanted to show how it affected the course of their lives."

Also interviewed was actress Jane Wyatt, who was blacklisted because of her support of the Hollywood 10.

Wyatt, who attended the preview screening, said she participated because "It's a moment in history we certainly don't want to have happen again. I think it could. Look at how all those people were falling in love with Oliver North. What he did was not very admirable--not if you believe in democracy."

Chaikin started working on "Legend of the Hollywood Blacklist" five years ago. A former actress and a graduate of the American Film Institute's Directing Workshop for Women, Chaikin started filming in 1983 with a $2,500 AFI grant. She raised additional funds from 147 contributors and the Public Broadcasting Service.

Seventy-five thousand dollars later, Chaikin estimates that she needs $25,000 to pay off debts, and, "to get a good distributor, another $50,000." Educational workbooks for schools, she said, will cost another $25,000.

"For me, the most important aftermath is understanding the position Hollywood finds itself in," Chaikin said. "We practice a form of self-censorship. Films like 'Platoon' were initiated outside the studio system. The studios shy away from controversial, political subjects. Hollywood settled for the easy path, the path of least resistance."

The List Goes On . . .

Besides "Legacy," other projects about the blacklist include:

Harvey Perr's play "Hollywood on Trial," opening at the Itchey Foot next Sunday at 1 p.m. and continuing for five Sundays through Nov. 22.

A film by director/screenwriter Richard Brooks that has been put on hold at Columbia after studio chairman David Puttnam resigned. Permission is needed from families of individuals who will be depicted in the film.

Irwin Winkler will produce a film tentatively called "Season of Fear," being written by former blacklisted writer Abraham Polonsky.

Joan Scott, wife of the Hollywood Ten writer Adrian Scott, is working on her autobiography, tentatively titled, "Adrian's Wife."

Former blacklisted writer Frank Tarloff has recently begun writing "The Lighter Side of the Hollywood Blacklist."

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