1947, October 20, Congress Investigates ‘Communists’ in Hollywood


“On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicked into high gear in Washington, as a congressional committee began investigating communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood.

After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up between the world’s two superpowers—the United States and the communist-controlled Soviet Union. In Washington, conservative watchdogs worked to ‘out’ communists in government before setting their sights on alleged “Reds” in the famously liberal movie industry.

In an investigation that began in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) grilled a number of prominent witnesses, asking bluntly, “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Whether out of patriotism or fear, some witnesses—including director Elia Kazan, actors Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, Robert Taylor, and studio honchos Walt Disney and Jack Warner—gave the committee names of colleagues they suspected of being communists.

A small group known as the “Hollywood Ten” resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights. They were all convicted of obstructing the investigation and served jail terms.

[By the way, Walt Disney openly admitted that some of the people he named as “communists” were those who said they didn’t like his work. So, to all my screenwriter and actor friends, take that as a warning: be a sycophant. Praise everything,  or what you get might be worse than jail. They might relegate you to doing toothpaste commercials.]

Pressured by Congress, the Hollywood establishment started a blacklist policy, banning the work of about 325 screenwriters, actors and directors who had not been cleared by the committee. Those blacklisted included composer Aaron Copland, writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, playwright Arthur Miller, Dalton Trumbo, Bertoldt Brecht, and actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.

Bertoldt Brecht left the USA, but some of the blacklisted writers used pseudonyms to continue working, while others wrote scripts that were credited to other writer friends. Starting in the early 1960s, after the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most public face of anti-communism, the ban began to lift slowly. In 1997, the Writers’ Guild of America unanimously voted to change the writing credits of twenty-three films made during the blacklist period, reversing—but not erasing—some of the damage done during the Red Scare.”


The information above is culled from History.com and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Today, in 2019, the word “communist” has been replaced by the term “liberal elite.” Other trigger words are “Christian,” “Muslim,” “terrorist,” “conservative,” “capitalism,” “socialism.” We each have our own knee-jerk response to all those labels, labels which have been tattooed with scary, concise and narrow meaning, to not all of us all of the time, but many of us most of the time. The fear that follows as a result of those definitions? We don’t question it. We don’t question what we’re told by our individual tribe leaders and peers about what they tell us those labels mean. We don’t question whether those labels fit each individual who claims them.When my friend Lindsey says she’s Christian she doesn’t mean the same thing at all as when Ann Coulter says she’s ‘Christian’.

Every high school kid wants to be a leader, but at the same time, they want to be part of a tribe, or a clique. It’s a contradiction in terms, but when I was growing up, the worst thing you could be called was a follower or a hanger-on.

We are all followers now, of some ideology that becomes more rigidly defined the longer we follow it. The parameters become narrower, and we distrust and are frightened of anyone within our group who questions that narrowness. And those of us who need our tribe more than we need free will and free thought, actively resist any information coming from the outside that contradicts what our tribe is telling us. We resent the source of that information, be it a media outlet or another human being who might be trying to help us rather than harm us.

But some of us have questioned all our lives. First our nuclear families, then our teachers, then our government. And we’ve been ostracized as a result. Some of us become gravely depressed as a result. Others grow up to be lonely, but brave thinkers. Lonely because we really ‘belong’ nowhere, brave because we’d rather be alone and ostracized that be what we see around us—human beings who have become one step above the creatures that came out of the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

The only choices those who stay within strictly-defined groups have left is whether they will have the chicken or the fish. All we have to do is look at who each human being travels with to know who they’re going to vote for, what side of every issue they’re on, what they read and to whom they listen, and who they are certain is the enemy of our state. Even more terrifying than that predictability is this: We are all so certain we’re the “woke” ones, and it’s everyone else who, as the cliché repeats on Twitter, “swallowed the Kool-Aid.”

Today, books are still being banned, and libraries close for lack of funding. It’s not because we don’t have the money. It’s because a vehicle such as a book or a film can inspire independent thought. Independent thought makes human beings less frightened, less insular, less willing to travel in packs and follow the directions of the pack leader. Independent thought inspires others to free their brains and spirits, to question what their leaders are telling them.

And the leaders sure don’t want that.

[Photo: Actor Ronald Reagan naming names to a congressional committee, 1947]


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