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The Hollywood Ten and The Blacklist

6.01.2011

Not everyone folded up their opposition to HUAC, however. In addition to the Hollywood Ten—ten writers, directors, and producers who protested the HUAC hearings—there were also hundreds of other actors, writers, directors, and producers who would be swept up in a frenzied wave of denunciations that would eventually cost them their jobs, their livelihoods, and in some cases their lives. In 1947, the Hollywood Ten—directors Herbert Biberman and Edward Dmytryk; screenwriters Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, John Howard Lawson, Dalton Trumbo, Ring Lardner Jr., Albert Maltz, and Samuel Ornitz; and producer Adrian Scott—were charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with HUAC and eventually served jail time as a result.


On 24 November 1947, the chief executives of the major studios, fearful of government pressure, met at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and issued a statement agreeing to fire or suspend without pay all the members of the Hollywood Ten and also to “eliminate any subversives in the industry.” The blacklist had begun.


In 1949, the pro-blacklist Motion Picture Industries Council was created by director Cecil B. DeMille, producer Dore Schary, SAG president Ronald Reagan, and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) chief Roy Brewer, giving the blacklist an official imprimatur to control the industry’s destiny. The IATSE endorsement was particularly crucial to the formation of the new watchdog organization, as the IATSE was the key labor union of the motion picture business, representing everyone from cameramen to art directors, grips to gaffers (lighting assistants), set designers to screen cartoonists. Coupled with SAG’s participation under Reagan, the blacklist now directly affected literally everyone who worked within the industry in any capacity, creating a climate of hysteria and persecution in which friends denounced friends, and enemies used the contentious atmosphere to advance their own careers at the expense of others. Actors Melvyn Douglas, John Garfield, Fredric March, Edward G. Robinson, Sylvia Sidney, and Paul Muni were named Communists or Communist sympathizers (“fellow travelers”) by an FBI informant.


By late 1949, the California State Senate Committee on Un-American Activities identified such diverse personalities as Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, Frank Sinatra, Orson Welles, Katharine Hepburn, and Charles Chaplin as Communist sympathizers. As the blacklist deepened, the HUAC began a second group of hearings into Communist infiltration within the film industry, this time convening in Hollywood. Now in full force, the blacklist, in both its 1947 and 1951 incarnations, dominated the entertainment industry for more than fifteen years, denying work to hundreds of talented writers, actors, and directors. Edward G. Robinson, who had been a fixture at USO bond rallies during World War II, was forced to attach his name to a ghostwritten article asserting that he had been “duped” by the Reds.


Frank Sinatra, a vociferous supporter of the World War II effort, was suddenly unemployable and had to return to singing engagements to make a living. He was finally able to break back into acting in 1953 in Fred Zinne-mann’s epic war drama From Here to Eternity, in part by agreeing to work for a pittance. Gregory Peck and John Garfield also found it nearly impossible to get work, perhaps because of their involvement in films like Gentleman’s Agreement, which was now denounced in some quarters as an attack on postwar American society. The harassment and stress endured by Garfield— who had also starred in Robert Rossen’s Body and Soul (1947), another problem film that would soon cast doubts on his patriotism—contributed to his death from a heart attack in 1952 at the age of thirty-nine. His last film was the crime thriller He Ran All the Way (1951), directed by John Berry, whose own career came crashing to a halt when he was named a Communist. He had produced and directed a documentary, The Hollywood Ten (1950), denouncing the blacklist, and as a result was soon forced into exile.


Charles Chaplin likewise fled the country, as did director Joseph Losey and numerous others. Losey, in particular, was a significant loss to the industry in the United States; he would direct some of the most brilliant British films of the 1960s.


As the blacklist continued, various members of the entertainment community appeared before the committee and “named names,” including screenwriter Martin Berkeley, who on 19 September 1951 named more than one hundred members of the motion picture industry as Communists, Communist sympathizers, or “dupes.” Numerous other “friendly witnesses,” including Lloyd Bridges, Sterling Hayden, Roy Huggins, Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan, Larry Parks, Jerome Robbins, Frank Tuttle, and Robert Rossen (at first refusing to answer, then later recanting his earlier testimony and implicating more than fifty colleagues), all came before HUAC at various times to denounce their co-workers.


Edward Dmytryk had first appeared before the committee in 1947 and refused to answer questions, along with the rest of the Hollywood Ten, and he began serving a jail term for contempt in 1948 as a result. But prison life wore Dmytryk down, and in 1951 he appeared again before the committee, this time as a friendly witness, and named names. Dmytryk was immediately rewarded with a contract to direct The Sniper (1952), one of the most vicious films of his career, centering on a sociopathic serial killer (played by Arthur Franz) who targets young women as his victims. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the major star of the film was Adolphe Menjou, who had been one of the committee’s staunchest supporters. It was a time of complete uncertainty and paranoia, when even a whispered innuendo could ruin a career.


Elia Kazan alienated many of his colleagues when he, too, testified as a friendly witness before the committee in 1952 and then published a newspaper display advertisement shortly thereafter to defend his decision. Kazan thus continued working through the 1950s and went on to make the now-classic film On the Waterfront (1954), which despite its directorial brilliance and Marlon Brando’s magnetic performance in the leading role of dock-worker Terry Malloy, is essentially a film that attacks labor unions as Communist fronts.


A Soviet atom bomb vaporizes Manhattan in Alfred E. Green’s “Red Scare” film, Inva-


(1952).            Such themes in movies were not new. In the wake of


the first HUAC hearings on Hollywood, studios pumped out a host of “Red Scare” films, including the unsubtle I Married a Communist (a k a The Woman on Pier 13, 1949), directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by RKO Radio Pictures, controlled at the time by the eccentric Howard Hughes. Hughes forced all his employees to sign loyalty oaths and had the entire studio bugged to keep tabs on everyone. An odd series of anti-Communist thrillers followed, such as William Cameron Menzies’s The Whip Hand (1951), which depicts ex-Nazi scientists working in the pay of the Kremlin to poison America’s water supply; Alfred E. Green’s Invasion USA (1952), which prophesizes a full-scale invasion of the United States by the Soviet Union, starting in Alaska; and perhaps most bizarre, Harry Horner’s Red Planet Mars (1952), which posits that God is alive and well and living on Mars, sending out religious messages to all mankind that eventually lead to the downfall of the Soviet Union.


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