From Richard Schwartz, Cold War Culture (New York: Facts on File, 2000)


House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC)  a Congressional committee that held hearings on the film and entertainment industries in 1938, 1947, 1951-52, 1953-55, and 1957-58.  Constitutionally, Congress has two recognized reasons for holding hearings and subpoenaing witnesses: to obtain information useful for crafting legislation and to oversee the executive branch of government.  Since no significant legislation grew out of these hearings and no executive oversight was involved, widespread claims that the entertainment-industry investigations were politically motivated and self-serving possess considerable credence.  In particular, critics of HUAC have charged that its actual objective was to destroy the Communist Party and enable the Committee members to benefit from the national publicity accompanying the testimony of celebrities.  Furthermore, the hearings routinely punished liberals and leftists refusing to inform on former associates who had been accused of no illegal activity, but whose careers would be ruined if they were identified as present or former members of the Communist Party.  Liberals who cooperated with the Committee were often forced to publicly apologize for their political past and to participate in a distasteful process of informing on others in order to preserve their own livelihoods.  Thus another effect of the HUAC hearings was the public humiliation of prominent liberals before a Committee comprised largely of right-wing conservatives.

            In 1938, under the chairmanship of Martin Dies, HUAC investigated the New Deal Work Progress Administration's Federal Theater Project, which it found to be dominated by Communists.  The 1947 HUAC hearings were ostensibly held to investigate alleged Communist influences on the content of Hollywood films, though credible evidence exists to substantiate claims that HUAC's deeper purpose was to break the left, as well as to establish parameters for acceptable film content in terms of political values, attitudes towards capital and labor and other sentiments that could potentially render a film "Un-American."  In her analysis of film content, "Communism and the Movies: A Study of Film Content,"  Dorothy Jones found little evidence of Communist propaganda in the films written by Communist Party members and others under suspicion.  Among the committee members were chairman J. Parnell Thomas and Congressman Richard M. Nixon.

            The 1947 committee called twenty-four "friendly" and eleven "unfriendly" witnesses.  Eight other scheduled unfriendly witnesses were never called to testify.  THE MOTION PICTURE ALLIANCE FOR THE PRESERVATION OF AMERICAN IDEALS, an anti-Communist, pro-free enterprise political group, furnished most of the friendly witnesses who identified instances of alleged Communist activity in Hollywood.  In addition to commenting on perceived Communist influences in the film content, they also identified alleged Communists and Communist sympathizers at the hearings.  The friendly witnesses included Jack Warner of the Warner Brothers film company, Louis B. Mayer of MGM, FILM ACTORS Gary Cooper, George Murphy, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Taylor, and Robert Montgomery, SCREENWRITER and NOVELIST AYN RAND, screenwriter Robert Hughes, animator and studio-owner WALT DISNEY, FILM DIRECTOR Leo McCarey and union leader ROY BREWER.  Lela Rogers, the mother of actress Ginger Rogers and a supposed expert on detecting Communist themes latent within films also testified.  Chairman Thomas permitted the friendly witnesses to read introductory statements prior to their testimony because he deemed them pertinent to the inquiry.  In addition to identifying individuals they believed to be Communists, friendly witnesses were commonly asked if they believed Hollywood should make anti-Communist films to reveal "the dangers and intrigue of the Communist Party here in the United States" and if they believed that the US should outlaw the Communist Party.  The friendly testimony included such problematic assertions as Lela Roger's claim that Trumbo's Tender Comrade included the Communist sentiment, "Share and share alike, that's democracy."  Jack Warner identified as Communist several non-Communists, including Howard Koch who had provoked Warner's ire by participating in the 1945 strike against Warner's studio.  And Robert Taylor identified Howard Da Silva as a possible Communist because "He always seems to have something to say at the wrong time."

            On the other hand, Thomas ruled that introductory statements from most of the unfriendly witnesses were inadmissible because they were not pertinent to the inquiry.  These attacked the committee and its right to conduct hearings into the political beliefs of individual citizens and their personal, private and public relationships.  The unfriendly witnesses, who came to be known as the HOLLYWOOD TEN, refused to answer committee questions about their alleged membership in the Communist Party, citing protection under the guarantees of the First Amendment.  Eventually, they were convicted of contempt of Congress and imprisoned for periods ranging from six months to a year.  Upon their release from prison all were blacklisted.  BERTOLT BRECHT, the eleventh unfriendly witness, testified before the Committee, denied he had ever been a Communist and fled the country immediately after his appearance.

            Though they established a blacklist, promoted the production of anti-Communist films (which were typically unprofitable) and created a climate of political fear in Hollywood, the 1947 HUAC hearings revealed very little Communist influence in the content of Hollywood movies--the announced purpose of the investigation.  Thus the 1951-52 HUAC hearings, under the chairmanship of John Wood, changed the focus to the prestige, position and money that the Communist Party acquired in Hollywood. (This change in strategy came at the suggestion of HUAC's research director Raphael Nixon.)  In these mass hearings (HUAC called 90 witnesses in 1951, almost all of them well known figures) people who had past Communist affiliations were compelled not only to testify about their own activities but also to "name names" of others who had also participated.  For example, SCREENWRITER Martin Berkeley, identified 162 people as past members of the Communist Party.  Many witnesses were willing to discuss their own activities but refused to name names.  However, after the Supreme Court ruled that individuals could not invoke the Fifth Amendment if they had already testified about themselves, witnesses had to choose between explaining their own past actions and being compelled to implicate other people.  Thus a witness's price for using a committee hearing as a forum for defending his or her views was either to inform on friends and colleagues or face a jail sentence.  Otherwise witnesses had to invoke the Fifth Amendment from the outset and thereby lose the opportunity to make their case for themselves.  "Fifth Amendment Communists," as Senator Joseph McCarthy labelled them, were routinely denied employment within the entertainment industry.  Among those who refused to name names were PLAYWRIGHT and screenwriter Lillian Hellman, writer-producer CARL FOREMAN, director ROBERT ROSSEN, actor Jose Ferrer and PLAYWRIGHT ARTHUR MILLER who, because he did not invoke a constitutional right, was cited for contempt of Congress, fined five hundred dollars, and given a thirty-day suspended jail sentence.  Like Hollywood Ten member EDWARD DMYTRYK, Rossen and Cobb later reversed their position and named names before the Committee.  Among those cooperating with the Committee were actor LARRY PARKS, director ELIA KAZAN and screenwriters RICHARD COLLINS and BUDD SCHULBERG.  Blacklisted actor JOHN GARFIELD also attempted to cooperate with the Committee, but since he had not been a member of the Party he had no names to name, and was therefore unable to clear himself through a ritual act of contrition.  He died from a heart attack believed to have been brought on from the experience.

            HUAC's 1952 and 1953 annual reports released 212 names of individuals in the movie industry named by cooperative "friendly" witnesses as having been Communists.  Evidence suggests that in having witnesses name their associates in Communist-supported activities HUAC was intentionally trying to create a blacklist by introducing the names into the public record. (See Report on Blacklisting, vol. 1, re: testimony of Larry Parks.)  Whether or not this was the case, the HUAC listings functioned like a blacklist, as all 212 lost their livelihood in Hollywood by having their contracts either canceled, bought up or not renewed.  Once without a contract, they were unable to get new work in the Hollywood studios under their own names for several years unless they publicly repented and gained "clearance."

            HUAC's suppressed Appendix IX was also employed in the creation of blacklists.  In 1944 J.B. Matthews and Benjamin Mandel prepared Appendix IX for the Costello subcommittee of HUAC.  It was a seven-volume compilation of some two thousand pages listing names of thousands of people who participated in alleged Communist-front organizations between 1930 and 1944.  The first six volumes identify and document some 245 organizations; the last volume contains 22,000 names of individuals.  According to Mandel the inclusion of a name in Appendix IX did not necessarily indicate the person was subversive; however, the document itself contains no disclaimer to that effect, or any other introduction or explanation of its purpose or proper use.  When the full committee learned of the report, it ordered Appendix IX be restricted and that all existing copies be destroyed.  Consequently, no copies resided during the RED SCARE in the Library of Congress or such public repositories as the New York Public Library.  However, prior to the committee's order, several of the seven thousand printed copies had been distributed to private people or organizations, including the editors of RED CHANNELS, as well as to such government agencies as the FBI, the State Department and Army and Navy Intelligence.  Thus, in most instances people cited for inclusion in Appendix IX did not have had access to it in order even to verify that they were, in fact, listed in the document or to review the source behind the accusation.

            Between 1953 and 1955, under the chairmanship first of Harold H. Velde and then of Francis Walter, HUAC conducted hearings into other aspects of the entertainment industry, and it investigated the Report on Blacklisting made by John Cogley for the Fund for the Republic.  Chairman Walter attacked Cogley's well-documented and generally even-handed report as a "partisan, biased attack on all persons and organizations who are sincerely and patriotically concerned in ridding the movie industry and radio and television of Communists and Communist sympathizers."  Among who testified during this round of hearings, bandleader Artie Shaw, Rossen, Cobb and choreographer Jerome Robbins appeared as friendly witnesses.  Unfriendly witnesses included actor Lionel Stander, television and theater director Mortimer Offner and songwriter Jay Gorney.  LUCILLE BALL testified that she had briefly been a member of the Communist party in 1936 to please her grandfather, but that she fully repudiated it, and JEAN MUIR testified about being blacklisted from television.

            In 1958, still under the chairmanship of Francis Walter, HUAC held its last hearings on the entertainment industry.  Prominent witnesses included Arthur Miller and PAUL ROBESON, whose passports had been denied.  Robeson was belligerent and took the Fifth Amendment.  Miller testified, answering questions about THE CRUCIBLE, A View from the Bridge, and You're Next, a play attacking HUAC.  He did not inform on anyone else however.

            Notable among the personal accounts of their experiences with HUAC are Hellman's SCOUNDREL TIME, Elia Kazan, A Life and several works by members of the HOLLYWOOD TEN.  These include Alva Bessie's Inquisition in Eden and his autobiographical novel, The Un-Americans,  Lester Cole's Hollywood Red, and the relevant sections of Dmytryk's It's a Hell of a Life But Not a Bad Living.  Cole also wrote HOLLYWOOD ON TRIAL, a 1976 FILM DOCUMENTARY about Hollywood's response to the HUAC hearings.  Eric Bentley's 1972 play ARE YOU NOW OR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN dramatizes the HUAC hearings using portions of the committee transcripts for the dialogue.  In 1960 HUAC produced its own documentary film OPERATION ABOLITION which attempts to prove that anti-HUAC demonstrators at a San Francisco hearing were sponsored by Communists and traitors.  Included within Operation Abolition is footage unrelated to that demonstration.  HUAC answered criticism of the film in an article entitled "The Truth about Operation Abolition" which appears in Film and Propaganda in America (Vol. 5).  In addition to defending the film, the article also identifies other works of anti-Communist propaganda which were distributed throughout the US. 

            A few studies of the HUAC investigations of the entertainment industry appeared during the Cold War.  John Cogley's 1956 Report on Blacklisting extensively documents the nature and practice of blacklisting in the television and film industries.  HUAC subsequently interrogated Cogley and condemned the report.  Eric Bentley presents edited and annotated transcripts from HUAC hearings dating from 1938 to 1968 in THIRTY YEARS OF TREASON (1971); actor ROBERT VAUGHN published his doctoral study of the HUAC investigations of the entertainment industry, Only Victims (1972); and in 1980 Victor Navasky, editor of the liberal magazine The Nation, published Naming Names, a study of members of the film industry who informed on their colleagues before HUAC.  See also BLACKLISTING.  For additional reading see The Committee: The Extraordinary Career of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, Report on Blacklisting, vol. 1,  Dorothy Jones, "Communism and the Movies: A Study of Film Content" in Report on Blacklisting, Only Victims, Naming Names, Film and Propaganda in America and WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY JR.'S The Committee and Its Critics.