Re: Hollywood Ten as Villains - reply

From: David P. Hayes
Newsgroups: rec.arts.movies.past-films
Date: Tuesday, November 18, 1997 9:59 PM

This is part of a series of mine which in turn are my contribution to a thread which elicited numerous responses over the course of one month.  I began the thread when I supplied the link to a page of the Los Angeles Times website when that newspaper ran an op-ed titled "The Hollywood Ten Were Villains, Not Victims," by Michael S. Berliner, Ph.D.  That article can -- as of March 20, 1999 -- can be read online at  Please realize that this link supercedes those mentioned in the original posts.

MuseMalade <> wrote in article <>… beginning with a lengthy quote from my previous post (cut here for space):
> > Who is to blame for the bad name given the Hollywood Ten? Why not blame
> > the Ten? An analogy might help: … Hertz terminated [O.J Simpson's]
> >career in their commercials… they would not have continued to employ him previously if
> > they had known of his pleading no-contest to spousal abuse… .
> > Wouldn't you say (as I do) that O.J. was lucky that his terrible secret was
> > not generally known for the many years that he earned a fantastic salary as
> > a spokesman?
> >
> > The same applies to the Hollywood Ten. They earned fantastic sums as long
> > as the moviegoing public was unaware in the Ten's membership in an
> > organization which the public would not approve of membership in were the
> > membership known of and if the public knew the true nature of.
> That's a horrible analogy. You're equating "communism" with murder.

No, I was dealing with the role of reputation. And I wasn't dealing with O.J.'s murder but spousal abuse. (I mentioned the murder only to indicate the time and circumstances of the revelation. The analogy applies to the Hollywood Ten in that the late-1940s events of bomb-secret-leaks, congressional investigations, Alger Hiss, etc., led to a focus on Communists that in turn led to the publicizing of the Hollywood Ten's affiliations, just as the gruesome-ness of the Nicole Brown Simpson murder led to the publicizing of the spousal abuse which previously was generally unknown.)

> Now if they were all Stalinists with full knowledge of the atrocities
> commit[t]ed by Stalin at the time, then the analogy may be more apt.

The issue is still that the studios decided that the public would rather have films whose creators did not share the sympathies of the more-knowledegable Stalinists. It doesn't matter that the writers had inadequate knowledge, but that they could be viewed as having mindframes that would exclude the expression of values that the audiences would now want and which would lean toward values with at least passing resemblance to the now-to-be-avoided sentiments. It doesn't matter that full-fledged communism wasn't being preached in the scripts; if the studios were foreseeing audiences becoming keenly aware (or scared) of little liberal touches in films (exploitative or mean employers, greed, "have-nots" suffering while haves" don't, corrupt government officials in a free country, etc.), then the studios acted in self-preservation in firing the writers.

The firing of the writers wasn't necessarily a punishment (it's not jail), but just a statement that their services were no longer desirable.

> some historical perspective: A high number of intellectuals were
> communists in the Fifties, most of whom were merely intellectual
> Marxists and not terrorists working to sabatoge the government. In
> essence, they're a lot like Christian Coalition right-wingers today.

Sure, a lot of intellectuals were communists, just as a lot of people today get conned into believing that prayer can cure them of diabetes and that therefore they needn't take their insulin anymore. But those in the latter group pay for their mistake (in the most permanent and tragic form), and communists shouldn't be spared paying for their mistakes. I'm not talking about government persecution (except where a true crime was committed--a crime that would demand punishment regardless of the perpetrator's beliefs, e.g., murder, terrorism, destruction of buildings), as the holding of ideas should not be a crime; I'm talking about the consequences of having to accept that other people may no longer want to associate with them, a right that those other people also have the right to exercise.

And don't forget that those who were friendly witnesses, who renounced communism, and who could thus be considered non-communists in the eyes of the public, continued to work. It wasn't simply a matter of someone having merely been intellectual about communism in the past suffered for it for an indefinite period.

As for the Christian Coalition: should their philosophy ever become unpalatable to almost all Americans, writers of their persuasion and sympathies would also have to accept exoneration.

> Sure, their ideology has since been revealed as untenable, but there was
> no evidence that the Hollywood Ten actively sought to overthrow the
> government or commit violent acts.

Of course not, and that's why I've stressed that mere possession of ideology doesn't warrant jail sentences, whereas conspirators and terrorists do deserve such.

> They were merely making leftist
> films--many of which like SALT OF THE EARTH or FORCE OF EVIL were quite
> good. Remember, we also screen films from DeSica, Visconti and
> Eisenstein in those days, Marxist films which have not exactly posed a
> threat to the commonwealth. And no one is persecuting makers of THE
> FOUNTAINHEAD, or RAMBO, or RED DAWN, ultra-right-wing films that have
> same right to be made as radically leftist films.

I didn't question the right of either set of films to be made. If you look at my previous post, I said that the Ten were free (as far as their firings went) to produce their own films or to seek their own financing.

> The RED MENACE in the US has always been overstated. It's a symptom of
> the anti-intellectualism and anti-Semitism that was prevalent in that
> era. It's easy to persecute defenseless intellectuals who commit the
> crime of "bad thinking."

"Red Menace" IS wretchedly preachy and intellectually superficial; "Big Jim McLaine" falls into the same category, and "My Son John" and "Woman on Pier 13" aren't much better. The best of the anticommunism films that I've seen is "Guilty of Treason," and it was not made by a major studio (not even Republic).

> I don't have to agree with their views

You and I can agree on this, and are thus in the company of Thomas Jefferson

> To degrade them now by linking their ideology
> with murder is pretty sorry.

I didn't -- see above

> It betrays a complete lack of
> understanding in America's founding principles and the historical events
> in the Fifties.

Gratuitous, for the reasons given

--David Hayes


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