VIDEO: 'Scandalize My Name' Documentary Highlights Civil Rights and American Communist Party
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Made up of a set of distinguished directors, producers, and screenwriters, it’s been well chronicled about the Hollywood Ten efforts to publicly denounce the intimidating schemes used by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947.
The individuals, including Samuel Ornitz, Albert Maltz and Dalton Trumbo, refused to cooperate with an investigation by HUAC, a committee of the U.S. House of Representatives led by U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy, that sought to root out alleged communist influence in Hollywood’s film business.
The declaration by the Hollywood Ten to discredit the probe and HUAC led to the group place in history. The 10 individuals received jail sentences and were banned from employment for major motion-picture studios in Hollywood. A few in the pack did manage to write scripts discretely to receive a check.
What was known as the “Red Scare” or “McCarthyism” — groups or a government promoting a fear of communism — individuals who were suspected to have communist ties or perceived to know a person associated with such subversive activities, could be added to the Hollywood blacklist.
More than 40 people with connections to the film industry obtained subpoenas to appear at hearings conducted by the HUAC for alleged communist involvement. The Hollywood 10 stood up to the allegations and condemned the investigation as a violation to their First Amendment rights.
The committee’s tactics were considered forceful and intimidating. Many cooperated with the committee by “naming names” while others cited Fifth Amendment protection to avoid self-incrimination. A glimpse of how McCarthyism affected people’s lives in Hollywood was fictionalized in the 1991 film “Guilty by Suspicion” starring Robert De Niro and Annette Bening. Robert Scorsese directed the flick.
The Hollywood blacklist was terminated in the 1960s, but it is noteworthy to clarify that McCarthyism was not strictly a West Coast topic. A few Black Americans in the entertainment world were subjected to the HUAC’s harsh strategies, which wrecked known and unknown entertainers’ careers.
The 1998 documentary, “Scandalize My Name: Stories from the Blacklist,” examines how the Red Scare impacted post-war activism by Black Americans in quest of better roles in all mediums such as radio, television, and stage. The documentary is written and directed by Alexandra Isles. Academy-Award winner Morgan Freeman is the narrator.
Hollywood Ten in 1947.
The documentary features the Harlem Renaissance, Paul Robeson’s fight with the HUAC, how the Red Scare was implemented to slow the Civil Rights Movement, and actor Canada Lee’s fall from grace under paranoia brought forth by the Red Scare.
The splendid documentary is also a homage to Lee, who refused to clear his name, upon request of the Federal Bureau of Investigations, if he publicly called Robeson a communist.
Ossie Davis, Hazel Scott, Dick Campbell, Jackie Robinson, Rosetta LeNoire, Rose McLendon, Harry Belafonte, and Frederick O’Neal of the American Negro Theatre are featured in the documentary.
The literature Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, was an anti-communist thesis commissioned by the the conservative journal Counterattack on June 22, 1950.
The publication disingenuously outed 151 actors, writers, musicians, broadcast journalists, and others of using communism as a tool manipulate the entertainment industry.
Notables such as artists Dashiell Hammett, Langston Hughes, Burl Ives, Lena Horne, Orson Welles, Harry Belafonte, Charlie Chaplin, Will Greer, Burgess Meredith, Zero Mostel, Ruth Gordon, Judy Holliday, Gypsy Rose Lee, Hazel Scott, Eddie Albert, Canada Lee, and John Garfield were on the list.
They were included in the pool because of their alleged political beliefs, history, or association with suspected subversives. Many of the individuals on the list were denied work.
On Sept. 19, 1952, while Chaplin was still at sea, on his way to London, England to promote his film “Limelight,” the U.S. Attorney-General announced plans to launch an inquiry into whether he would be re-admitted to the US. In the end it would be 20 years before he would return.
Chaplin arrived in Southampton on Sept. 23 and delivered press conference in London where he decried that he was not a communist and declared that he was someone “who wants nothing more for humanity than a roof over every man’s head (Source: The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2012). ”
THE HOLLYWOOD TEN
The Hollywood Ten were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz,Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo.
The group originally included the German writer Bertolt Brecht, but Brecht fled the country on the day following his inquest, and the remaining 10 were voted in contempt of Congress on Nov. 24, 1947 (Source: Encyclopedia Britannica).
— By T. Ray Harvey, PA Public Information Officer