Sunday, 28 August 2011

City of Angels: The Studios - The Studio Era, Part 8

John Garfield

The very disappointing stance of the studio heads led to a ten year unofficial blacklist, which was implemented in the most insidious way, as free lance writers stopped receiving assignments from the studios and actors were told that they “were too good for the part”. Blacklisted actresses Anne Revere and Kim Hunter were out of work for years. John Garfield, one of Hollywood’s most outstanding actors, couldn’t get a job because of his steadfast refusal to co-operate with HUAC and to name names. He died under mysterious circumstances in May 1952. Director Abraham Polonsky, whose film, Force of Evil (1948) is now considered a classic, was a victim, and so were Joseph Losey and Charlie Chaplin, who were both forced to leave the Unites States and subsequently settled in Europe. Over 200 film workers were inspected and lost their jobs as a result of the blacklist for their alleged connections to the Communist Party.

Elia Kazan

HUAC’s second wave of investigation in Hollywood took place between 1951 and 1953, this time headed by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy. Over a hundred film workers were subpoenaed, Orson Welles, Lucille Ball, Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett, among them. Fifty eight of them gave in to McCarthy’s demands to name names, such as directors Elia Kazan, Robert Rossen, and Edward Dmytryk and even acclaimed writer Budd Schulberg, who would later write On The Waterfront(1954), which, directed by Elia Kazan, was their joint vindication for their decision to fink on their colleagues.

Clifford Odets

Clifford Odets, who had known Kazan during their time at New York’s Group Theatre in the 1930s, also resorted to take the easy way out, naming names and firmly denying his former affiliations with the Communist Party, claiming that he was merely harbouring sympathetic feelings towards the working class. Thus, Odets avoided being blacklisted, and went on working unhindered in Hollywood, unlike many of his colleagues. Although naming names enabled people to continue working, Kazan stated in his autobiography that his decision to rat on his colleagues wasn’t based as much on that, as it was over his aversion towards the Communist Party, of which he had been a member during the 1930s, when he was part of New York’s Group Theatre.

As Katherine Hepburn, a life-long liberal, once said, “I can’t blame anyone for saying things so that he can keep working. But when somebody says things to keep other people from working, he has crossed a line”. The truth was, that some of the blacklisted screen-writers did in fact continue to write. But in order to so they had to work under an assumed name, for their real ones were not supposed to appear on screen. Oscar winning screen writer Howard Koch, for instance, who was blacklisted after writing The Thirteenth Letter (1951), which was a thinly veiled attack on the blacklist, wrote under the pseudonym Peter Howard. This privilege, however, logically, didn’t extend to other professions, least of all acting, as changing their names would have done little to hide their true identity, as their faces would still have been visible on screen.

Dalton Trumbo

Otto Preminger, who was the first one to break free from the shackles of the Production Code, was also a trailblazer when it came to openly hiring blacklisted writers, when he asked Dalton Trumbo in 1959 to write the screenplay for his film Exodus (1960). Preminger, whatever his merits as a film maker may be, was a trailblazer in other ways, too, as he also broke new ground by being one of the first directors to work with an entire black cast for his musical Porgy and Bess (1959), and later, in 1962, being the first Hollywood director to tackle the subject of homosexuality in his film Advise and Consent (1962).

The Communist witch hunt, which befell America in the years after the Second World War, was a dark chapter not only in the history of Hollywood but in the history of the country as a whole, and one that changed the film community forever. The saddest part being, that it brought out the worst - and in a few cases – the best in people, and all over a cause that in a country set out to be the world’s arbiter of democracy should never have been an issue in the first place, for the primary principles of any democracy are freedom of speech and freedom of opinion. Sadder, still, is the fact, that by succumbing to HUAC’s demands and playing by HUAC’s rules, the studio chiefs headed straight for the disaster, which they so desperately wanted to avoid.

>>> check back in next week to learn more about Hollywood and the demise of the studio era!