Susan Sontag states ‘Literature might be described as the history of human responsiveness to what is alive and what is moribund as cultures evolve and interact with one another’ (Sontag 143). In The Crucible, Arthur Miller treats the history of Senator McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee as they do the events of seventeenth-century Salem. In fact, the play’s success owes little to the political and social context in which it was written (Bigsby 159).
Shortly after the end of World War I, a “Red Scare” took hold of the nation. Named after the red flag of the U.S.S.R. (now Russia), the “Reds” were seen as a thread to the democracy of the United States. Fear, paranoia, and hysteria gripped the nation, and many innocent people were questioned and then jailed for expressing any view which was seen as anti-Democratic or anti-American. So it is impossible not to remember George Bernard Shaw’s statement ‘There is only one universal passion: fear’ (Shaw 183). The events such as witch-hunt in Salem, un-American hunt and Muslim-terrorist fear after 11 September justify his claim. So we can say history repeats itself. The faults in human nature transcend generations. Whether we’re talking the witch trials of Salem or McCarthy’s own communist-inspired witch-hunt, people have a habit of falling prey to panic during unsure times (Burnett 27).
In June of 1940, Congress passed the Alien Registration Act, which required anyone who was not a legal resident of the United States to file a statement of their occupational and personal status, which included a record of their political beliefs. The House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which was established in 1938, had the job of investigating those who were suspected of overthrowing or threatening the democracy of the U.S. To criticize U.S policies or expose its faults was considered “un-American” and civil rights workers, among others, were placed under FBI surveillance. Further restrictions were added with the Internal Security Act (McCarran Act) of 1950, designed to identify and monitor communists in the United States, based on the rationale that “The agents of communism have devised clever and ruthless espionage and sabotage tactics which are carried out in many instances in form or manner successfully evasive of existing law.” The peak of the scare, perhaps, came three years later when Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed, having been tried and convicted of passing atomic secrets to the USSR. Many Americans who opposed communism also opposed the mentality and tactics of McCarthyism, and the Senate finally censured McCarthy in 1954 following a series of televised hearings held to investigate communism in the U.S Army. In all, thousands of people lost their jobs or were otherwise affected by the Red Scare (Eaklor 86).
In this process, HUAC saw some ‘red stains on white screen’. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and/or refusal to assist investigations into Communist Party activities; some were blacklisted merely because their names came up at the wrong place and time. The Communist witch-hunt ruined the careers of hundreds, and ruined the reputation of hundreds more.
Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, the late 1940s through the late 1950s, the blacklist was rarely made explicit and verifiable, but it caused direct damage to the careers of scores of American artists, often made betrayal of friendship the price for a livelihood, and promoted ideological censorship across the entire industry. In February of 1950, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy claimed to have a list of over 200 card-carrying members of the Communist Party. By 1951, a new flourish of accusations began and believed to be Communist sympathizers. Later, the terms McCarthy Trials and McCarthyism were coined, which described the anti-Communist movement and trials of the 1950s (Bowers 18).
Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953, the activities of the Committee began to be linked in Miller’s mind with witchcraft trials which had taken place in the American town of Salem two centuries before. For example, the Committee often had in its possession lists of people at various meetings, and yet it still wanted the witnesses to names. Miller saw these public confessions as parallels with the naming of names at Salem in 1692:
The political question, therefore, of whether witches and communists could be equated was no longer to the point. What was manifestly parallel was the guilt, two centuries apart, of holding illicit, suppressed feelings of alienation and hostility toward standard, daylight society as defined by its most orthodox proponents (Blakesley ix).
TENS OF BOYS WITH BEARDS, ZOOM LENSES AND RED INKS
The Hollywood Ten case stands as a landmark in the history of the abuse of civil liberties. As respected author E.B. White commented, ‘Ten men have been convicted, not of wrong-doing but of wrong thinking; that is news in this country and if I have not misread my history, it is bad news’ (Kahn 198). By setting the stage for the establishment of the blacklist, the case created a precedent for making political belief a test of employability. In refusing to accept the claims of the Ten that the First Amendment entitled them to remain silent, the House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities caused future witnesses to plead the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid answering further questioning. Several hundred of those who were fired or banned from working were screenwriters, actors, directors, and others in film, TV, and theatre. The idea was not new, since Communist beliefs were being spread via mass media. At this time, movies were becoming more liberal, and therefore, were believed to be threat; many felt that Hollywood was attempting to propagandize Communist beliefs (Bowers 18). Movies and new medium of TV were (rightly) considered powerful tools of influence and so those who worked in them at all levels were subject to scrutiny. If Hollywood was “conquered” by communists would the citizenry be far behind? (Eaklor 87) Mississippi congressman John E. Rankin, a member of HUAC, held a press conference to declare that ‘one of the most dangerous plots ever instigated for the overthrow of this Government has its headquarters in Hollywood… the greatest hotbed of subversive activities in the United States.” So there was a red alarm for ‘alien minded Russian Jews in Hollywood’ (Murphy 17).
In September of 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed nineteen witnesses (most of whom were actors, directors, and writers) who had previously refused comment, claiming their Fifth Amendment rights. In those times, Hollywood divided into two camps: friendly and unfriendly one. Eleven of 19 were called to testify; only one actually spoke on the stand-remaining ten refused to speak and were labelled the “Hollywood Ten.” Unlike the ‘friendly’ witnesses such as studio heads Walt Disney and Jack Warner, actors Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, and Robert Taylor, and director Elia Kazan who asserted that communism had become rampant in Hollywood during the war, the Ten were ‘unfriendly’ witnesses before HUAC who objected to the methods of the Red Scare and refused to name their friends as possible communists. Actor Adolphe Menjou stated proudly, ‘I am a witch hunter if the witches are Communists. I am a Red-baiter. I would like to see them all back in Russia.’ Reagan, president of the Screen head Jack L. Warner, in a secret executive session, accused Miller and Kazan of subversion (Scott 338).
The nineteen were a curious mix of screenwriters (Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Howard Koch, Ring Lardner Jr, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Waldo Salt, and Dalton Trumbo); directors (Herbert Biberman and Robert Rossen); a writer-producer (Adrian Scott); a playwright (Bertolt Brecht), and an actor (Larry Parks). The first witness, screenwriter John Howard Lawson, proposed to read a statement, as each of the “friendly” witnesses had been permitted to do and as called for in the usual procedure of congressional committees. Chairman Thomas looked at the first line of the statement—‘For a week, this Committee has conducted an illegal and indecent trial of American citizens, whom the Committee has selected to be publicly pilloried and smeared’—and denied Lawson permission to read it. The chairman then demanded an answer to the question, ‘Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?’ ‘The question of Communism is in no way related to the inquiry, which is an attempt,’ Lawson replied, ‘to get control of the screen and to invade the basic rights of American citizens in all fields.’ The chairman responded by having a nine-page single-spaced memo on Lawson’s career, prepared by the committee’s investigators, read into the record. Lawson was given no opportunity to respond to it (Knappman 437). Repeatedly, as the questions and responses became a shouting match, Lawson was asked about Communist membership. Finally, the chairman, pounding his gavel for quiet, ordered the witness removed and cited him for contempt of Congress. In succession, writers Dalton Trumbo, Albert Maltz, Alvah Bessie, Samuel Ornitz, Herbert Biberman, producer Adrian Scott, director Edward Dmytryk, and writers Lester Cole and Ring Lardner, Jr.—all destined to be known, along with Lawson, as ‘The Hollywood Ten’—were treated to the same questions and the same denial of permission to read their statements. All were cited for contempt of Congress. Lardner, asked repeatedly if he were a Communist, replied at last, ‘I could answer, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.’ The 11th witness was Bertolt Brecht. A successful German play-wright, he had been in Hollywood for six years, had taken out first citizenship papers and announced his plan to remain permanently. To date, he had but one screen credit. “I was not a member, or am not a member,” he told Chairman Thomas, “of any Communist Party.” Immediately, Brecht took a plane for Europe and settled in East Germany (Knappman 126). After these infamous ten refused to speak, Writers like Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, and Adrian Scott were silenced by HUAC’s tactics of intimidation and manipulation. In protest, John Huston, Gene Kelly, and Humprey Bogart organized rallies, produced radio program, and collected a thousand signatures supporting Hollywood Ten. The reaction of studios, however, proved more critical. Louis Mayer told Katharine Hepburn that he would not allow her to perform unless she cleared her name. Five of the Hollywood Ten, the writers and directors who remained hostile to the committee, lost their jobs as their studios released them from long-term contracts when the hearings ended. In April 1948, Trumbo and Lawson were tried and convicted for contempt of Congress. Two years later, in 1950, the Supreme Court, with William O. Douglas in dissent, upheld the convictions of the Hollywood Ten, who served their sentences at a Danbury, Connecticut, prison. Following his release a year later, one of the Hollywood Ten, director Edward Dmytryk, agreed to testify as a friendly witness. Dmytryk went back to work immediately. The rest would wait for more than a decade to have their names used on the credits of the films they had been required to make pseudonymously (Scott 338).
Hence, the firing of the Ten was only a prologue with a cast not of ten but of hundreds. If only ten had had been affected, the industry could easily have managed. The number was considerably higher; according to Adrian Scott’s count:
The blacklist includes some 214 motion picture craftsmen and professionals who are now barred from employment in the motion picture industry. Among them are: 106 writers, 36 actors, 3 dancers, 11 directors, 4 producers, 6 musicians, 4 cartoonists, 44 other craftsmen and professionals. They became unemployable by failing in one or more of the following ways to “cooperate” with the House Committee on Un-American Activities: (a) by invoking the First Amendment to the Constitution, protecting a witness from being required to testify against himself; (c) by not appearing before the Communist, by an informer.
The “greylist” includes hundreds of studio craftsmen and professionals who are partially unemployable; that is, whose employment in the studios is limited in varying degrees. They become “greylisted” by failing to repudiate activities such as following:
(a) support for New Deal or Independent political organizations such as the Hollywood Democratic Committee and Progressive Citizens of America; (b) support for anti-Fascist organizations such as the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Committee to Aid Spanish Refugees; (c) support for organizations responsible for civilian war work in World War II, such as the Hollywood Writers Mobilization and the Actors Lab; (d) attending or teaching schools such as the League of American Writers School and the People’s Educational Center; (e) subscribing to left-wing publications such as the National Guardian and the People’s World, or being mentioned favorably in such publications; (f) opposing the Un-American Activities Committee by such actions as signing the Amicus Curiae brief in behalf of the Hollywood 10 and supporting the Committee for the First Amendment; (g) union activity, such as signing a nominating petition for a blacklisted person and contributing to a strike welfare fund; (h) expressing disapproval of informers, through word or deed (Dick 223).
The view that ‘the talent swept out the door by the witch hunt was unimportant’ is dangerously naive as well as historically false. If Hollywood was ‘drained of creative vitality’ and experiencing ‘intellectual stagnation and moral paralysis,’ the reason was that the source of much of its vitality and creativity had been shut off.
Two conclusions can be reached about the Ten –conclusions that some may find difficult to accept because they require an appreciation of the ironic as well as an ability to distinguish between a discriminatory action that prevented qualified personnel from working in their profession, and the unexpected revelation of talent that resulted from that action.
The witch-hunters failed to perceive that even without them, the ranks of the Hollywood radicals would have been diminished by events over which no one, much less HUAC, had control. History, as T.S. Eliot observed in ‘Gerontion,’ has ‘many cunning passages, contrived corridors.’ Even if the blacklist had not occured, the events that intensified American anti-Communism (the fall of China to the Communists, the Korean War, atomic espionage cases) would have; even if blacklist had not occurred, the same factors that changed the face of Hollywood over the next two decades would have.
A phrase in All’s Well That Ends Well (IV.iii) aptly describes the Ten: ‘a mingled yarn.’ Since strands can vary in length and texture, and range in colour from neutral to vermillion, the yarn must be disentangled and the strands separated. This method at least acknowledges individuality, although it does not resolve the insoluble art politics dilemma. These ten individuals acquired a political conscience and were then persecuted because that conscience was formed by the wrong politics, as determined by a committee whose chairman was convicted of embezzlement a year after the first session concluded and was sent to the same prison –Danbury Federal Correctional Institution- where two of Ten were serving their sentences. Whatever art the Ten were still capable of producing was hindered, curtailed, and in some instances terminated in 1947 by a committee’s attempt to investigate an area over which it had no jurisdiction. No one -not even Tacitus, who professed to write history without wrath and partisanship (sine ira ac studio)- can be dispassionate about a subject that continues to arouse the strongest of passions. Interest in the Ten will end when interest in injustice ends (Dick 10).
HOLLYWOOD TEN BLACKLIST: WRITTEN WITH BLACK THOUGHTS AGAINST ‘REDS’
Alvah Bessie, screenwriter
Herbert Biberman, screenwriter and director
Lester Cole, screenwriter
Edward Dmytryk, director
Ring Lardner Jr., screenwriter
John Howard Lawson, screenwriter
Albert Maltz, screenwriter
Samuel Ornitz, screenwriter
Adrian Scott, producer and screenwriter
Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter
Essay and Photo by Cansu BAYRAM