You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘Trumbo’ and Five Facts You Didn’t Know About the Hollywood Blacklist

Some people in the 21st century think “Hollywood blacklist” refers to hot-but-unproduced screenplays. Others have vague notions that the “Unfriendly 10” screenwriters were denied work because they were Communists.

Many misperceptions or forgotten facts are clarified in Bleecker Street’s film “Trumbo,” which screens Saturday at the Toronto Film Festival and opens nationwide Nov. 6. Adding to those details are five other points worth remembering.

1. It didn’t start in the 1940s.

The House Committee on Un-American Activities (later known as HUAC), was formed in 1938 under Martin Dies Jr., who said Hollywood was filled with Communists. Two years later, the mainstream press printed 42 names under investigation, including Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney and Katharine Hepburn. On Feb. 16, 1940, Daily Variety editor Al Unger mocked the senator, saying Dies was just seeking publicity and had no facts, just suspicions. In a short time, Dies concluded that he had met with the 42 and they were fine, with the possible exception of actor Lionel Stander.

2. A lot of big names were involved.

World War II silenced HUAC but in 1946, a Hollywood trade paper fueled the country’s anti-Communist feelings with a series of editorials, and the HUAC hearings began Oct. 20, 1947. The first week included testimony by Walt Disney, SAG president Ronald Reagan and Ayn Rand (who answered questions but didn’t name names), plus Jack Warner and Louis B. Mayer. Sam Wood, who directed “A Night at the Opera” and “Goodbye Mr Chips,” among many others, did name names. Asked what group must be watched more carefully than the rest, Wood replied: “Writers.”

3. Some people did speak up against it.

Fearing bad publicity, studio heads vowed to hire no Communists and pressured employees to remain silent. But on Oct. 29, 1947, a week into the hearings, Variety ran an ad signed by 116 individuals who said they were “disgusted and outraged” by the attempts to smear the industry. Headlined “Who’s Un-American?” the ad included the names Leonard Bernstein, Henry Fonda, Katharine Hepburn, John Huston, George S. Kaufman, Arthur Miller, Gregory Peck, S.J. Perelman, Otto Preminger, William Wyler — and writer  Budd Schulberg and director Elia Kazan, who both later testified before the committee. Four years later, on Sept. 18, 1951, Paramount head Y. Frank Freeman spoke to the Los Angeles Press Club blasting HUAC for its fifth set of hearings into Hollywood. “We would like to know why other fields, other industries don’t get the same treatment? Is it because the ‘names’ in Hollywood will provide headlines?” He also criticized Hollywood for cooperating. But these protests were the exceptions.

4.  Joseph McCarthy wasn’t involved.

His name is synonymous with blacklist hearings, but he wasn’t involved in Hollywood. In 1950, more than two years after the HUAC hearings began, he claimed the U.S. government and military had been infested with people who were Communists and/or homosexuals. Finally, at a televised hearing on June 9, 1954, an outraged Joseph Welch demanded of McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” The confrontation signaled an end to all the hearings.

5. It took a long time to make reparations.

Hundreds of people were blacklisted, just for being suspicious. During the blacklist, some screenplays were attributed to “fronts,” and those credits remained in place for decades. In the late 1960s, the Writers Guild of America created a Blacklist Credits Committee to investigate the true authorship of many scripts. The committee became particularly active in the 1990s. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences changed its records based on WGA findings. Between 1975 and 1992, the Acad corrected the Oscar records for “The Brave One,” “Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Roman Holiday.” In 1999, Daily Variety’s Army Archerd talked with Budd Schulberg, who scripted “On the Waterfront,” about the honorary Oscar being given to Elia Kazan. Schulberg predicted (correctly) that Kazan would not apologize for naming names. When Archerd reminded him of the lives and careers destroyed, Schulberg admitted that many innocent people suffered, “along with the real ones.”

More Film

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

    Oscars, After Repeated Tumbles, Take the Stage in Hollywood

    At least the weather will be sunny for Sunday afternoon’s Oscars ceremony following one of the stormiest —  and strangest — awards seasons in memory. Expectations have been turned upside down in key categories amid a historic lack of consensus among guild and critics groups. The 91st Academy Awards will be the first in three [...]

  • Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) and his Night

    Box Office: 'How to Train Your Dragon 3' Speeding to Series-Best Debut With $58 Million

    Universal’s “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World” is far and away the box office champ for Academy Awards weekend with an estimated debut of $58 million from 4,259 North American locations. Three holdovers and an expansion will make up the other top four spots, with the sophomore frame of sci-fier “Alita: Battle Angel” [...]

  • Stanley Donen

    Stanley Donen, Director of Iconic Movie Musicals, Dies at 94

    Stanley Donen, the director of such stylish and exuberant films as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Funny Face” and “Two for the Road” and the last surviving helmer of note from Hollywood’s golden age, has died at 94. The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips tweeted that one of his sons had confirmed the news to him. Confirmed [...]

  • '2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live

    Film Review: ‘2019 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action’

    The Academy skewed dark in its choice of live-action shorts this year, selecting four films to slit your wrists by — each one featuring child endangerment in a different form — and a fifth, about a diabetic on her death bed, that finds a glimmer of uplift at the other end of life. If that [...]

  • How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes

    How the 'Rich Eisen Show' Mixes Sports and Showbiz in an Entertaining Mix

    Walking through the El Segundo studio where veteran sportscaster Rich Eisen tapes his daily “Rich Eisen Show,” the sheer density of sports memorabilia is overwhelming — everything from game balls to jerseys, gear, autographs and uncountable photos are crammed onto every inch of wall and desk space. But step into Eisen’s dressing room, and the [...]

  • Yorgos Lanthimos

    Film News Roundup: 'The Favourite' Director Yorgos Lanthimos Boards Crime Drama

    In today’s film news roundup, Yorgos Lanthimos has set up a crime drama, “Here Lies Daniel Tate” is being adapted, and Donna Langley becomes a member of the USC film school board. DIRECTOR HIRED “The Favourite” producer-director Yorgos Lanthimos has signed on to write and direct crime drama “Pop. 1280,” an adaptation of Jim Thompson’s [...]

  • Brody Stevens Dead

    Comedian Brody Stevens Dies at 48

    Prominent Los Angeles comedian Brody Stevens died Friday in Los Angeles, Variety has confirmed. He was 48. “Brody was an inspiring voice who was a friend to many in the comedy community,” Stevens’ reps said in a statement. “He pushed creative boundaries and his passion for his work and his love of baseball were contagious. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content