Nov 5, 2007

Writers sounded the alarm about the radical right in the '30s and '40s

As the WGA digs in for who knows how long, a recent article by Ed Rampell at brings to light that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist and the House Unamerican Activities Committee's efforts to intimidate "left leaning La-La Land."

In the 1930s and'40s, it was the guild unions in Hollywood that initiated efforts to gain rights and protections for their members. In addition, writers, directors and actors were attempting through their work to sound the alarm about the growing fascist tendencies of the Republican Party and its politically motivated efforts to scare the American public into thinking a "red menace" actually existed and that the Communist Party was plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. Sound familiar?

Talking pictures also spurred the creation of Hollywood’s Left. Unlike silent films, the talkies needed dialogue writers, so studios recruited playwrights from Broadway, including radicals such as John Howard Lawson and Clifford Odets. They “brought to Hollywood the dissatisfaction of Dramatists Guild enlightenment and union tradition,” Nancy Lynn Schwartz wrote in “The Hollywood Writers Wars.” As a playwright, it troubled Lawson that screenwriters had fewer rights and didn’t receive appropriate credits.


The Hollywood Left brought the war for social and economic justice home to the movie colony. Lester Cole called writers “the niggers of the studio system,” grousing that “1 percent of what American movie-goers pay for their entertainment is allocated to ... screenplays.”


“We organized the guilds and unions—they have all these benefits we fought for—and went out on strike for the medical, pensions and what young people today take for granted,” noted Norma Barzman, who wrote “The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate.” The ex-Communist added, “During the Roosevelt years, the CP was responsible for Social Security, unemployment insurance legislation. ... We got the teenage Latinos off for the Sleepy Lagoon murder [in L.A.]. ... We fought racism against the Japanese [and other minorities]. ... "
Photo: Dalton Trumbo leaves the HUAC witness stand after refusing to answer questions, saying, "This is the beginning of an American concentration camp."