Tags: Allan Ryskind | Hollywood | blacklist

Ryskind Book Reveals Background of Hollywood 'Blacklist'

By    |   Thursday, 22 January 2015 04:12 PM

The motion picture is often not only a lively art, but a political art, whether in the controversies surrounding "American Sniper" and "Selma" or stretching back to an 1898 recreation of the sinking of the battleship Maine — with prominent stops in between including, but hardly limited to, "The Birth of a Nation," "Gabriel Over the White House," Dr. Strangelove, "All The President’s Men," and "Frost/Nixon."

The most defined and most spectacular incident regarding the film industry politics, however, involved Hollywood’s New-Deal-era infiltration by the Communist Party USA, a subsequent House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) probe, and the  industry-wide blacklist of unrepentant Stalinists that followed.

Conveying that story to modern readers is Human Events Editor-at Large Allan H. Ryskind’s Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters – Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler (Regnery History, $29.99), a powerful indictment of such Communist Party loyalists as the "Hollywood Ten," individuals that popular history (and such films as Woody Allen's "The Front," Jim Carrey's "The Majestic," and the documentary "Trumbo") now paint as heroes.

In Billy Wilder’s classic "Sunset Boulevard," William Holden’s character Joe Gillis remarks, "Audiences don't know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along."

Of course, they don’t. It's the screenwriters who fashion the lines and the ideas behind the lines, and 1930s and 1940s Hollywood featured literally dozens of actual Communist Party members who put the words into actors’ mouths, most spectacularly in such stunningly pro-Soviet films as "Mission to Moscow," "Song of Russia," "Blockade," and "Action in the North Atlantic."

Of 1943’s "Mission to Moscow," Ryskind notes, “No more pro-Soviet film has ever been produced or promoted by a major Hollywood studio—or possibly even by a Soviet studio.”

Ryskind, son of former Hollywood screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, might be on to something.

The film features not only a defense of the indefensible Moscow Show Trials of the late 1930s, but also such deathless dialog as this from FDR’s Soviet Ambassador Joseph E. Davies (portrayed by Walter Huston): "I am amazed at the boldness and imagination behind such a vast industrial development. I can think of no other period in history where so much has been done in so short a time."

To Stalin, Davies/Huston even gushes, "I’ve been deeply impressed by what I’ve seen, your
industrial plants, the development of your natural resources, and the work being done to improve living conditions everywhere in your country. I believe history will record you as a great builder for the benefit of mankind."

The going was truly good for Hollywood's Communist Party screenwriters. They had helped create the influential Screen Writers Guild. Party members Dalton Trumbo and Gordon Kahn controlled the SWG's house publication "The Screen Writer." Aspiring writers leveraged their party membership "very strongly for their professional ends," admitted Communist Maurice Rapf, "There's no doubt about that—people hired Party people; they read each other's scripts and were helpful."

All of which crashed spectacularly to earth in October 1947 when HUAC subpoenaed the so-called "Hollywood Ten" regarding their suspected Communist Party membership. The Ten might have fessed up. They might have pled the Fifth Amendment. They did neither. Instead, each staged arrogant, petulant displays of non-cooperation that soon earned them contempt of Congress citations and federal jail time.

Worse, perhaps, their tantrums eviscerated their support from mainstream liberal Hollywood. In advance of their "testimony," a planeload of Hollywood stars (headlined by Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Gene Kelly, and Danny Kaye) flew out to Washington to lend their support.

Once, however, Dalton Trumbo and his fellow Communists (including "The Maltese Falcon's" Dashiell Hammett, "Woman of the Year's" Ring Lardner Jr., and "The Caine Mutiny's" Edward Dmytryk) comported themselves so artlessly, Bogart et al — as well as Hollywood's powerful studio executives — turned their backs on them. The Blacklist was born.

Some contend that HUAC possessed no right to grill these witnesses regarding their political beliefs. Ryskind points out their Communist Party "beliefs" transcended normal political belief in two significant ways. First, that CP membership translated into becoming agents of a dictatorial, totalitarian foreign power, a fact powerfully illustrated by the American Communist Party's whiplash switch from militant "anti-fascism" to strident pacifism and pro-German neutrality upon the negotiation of 1939's Hitler-Stalin Pact (hence the swastika on the director's chair on this book's cover) and then once again to anti-Hitlerism when Germany sucker-punched Stalin's Soviets in 1941.

"To put it [bluntly]," concludes Ryskind, "the defenders of those on the Hollywood blacklist believe HUAC had no right to pry into the activities of agents of a foreign power bent on America's destruction."

Secondly, the Party's "democratic centralism" (think "political correctness" with a Stalin mustache) strangled individual free thought and expression. Most illustrative of this is the case of "Hollywood Ten" screenwriter Albert Maltz. In 1946, Maltz penned a timid plea for less heavy-handed propaganda and more actual art. His so-called "friends" descended upon him like a load of bricks, excoriating and humiliating him and forcing a cringing public apology.

There is more within Ryskind's "Traitors" — strong characters ranging from Ronald Reagan to Lilian Hellman, from Arthur Miller to "On The Waterfront's" Elia Kazan; as well as bloody internecine union battles, the rehabilitation of repentant communists (including Dmytryk), and the Blacklist's ultimate demise, enabling Trumbo to pen "Exodus" and "Spartacus," Lardner Jr. to author "M*A*S*H," and Waldo Salt to author "Midnight Cowboy" and "Serpico."

Allan Ryskind provides a wealth of reminders of a controversial time—and whets the appetite for more.

David Pietrusza is the author of several books on twentieth century presidential elections, including 1920, 1948, 1960, and the forthcoming 1932.

© 2019 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

1Like our page
The motion picture is often not only a lively art, but a political art, whether in the controversies surrounding "American Sniper" or stretching back to an 1898 recreation of the sinking of the battleship Maine.
Allan Ryskind, Hollywood, blacklist
Thursday, 22 January 2015 04:12 PM
Newsmax Media, Inc.

Newsmax, Moneynews, Newsmax Health, and Independent. American. are registered trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc. Newsmax TV, and Newsmax World are trademarks of Newsmax Media, Inc.

America's News Page
© Newsmax Media, Inc.
All Rights Reserved