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The Film Colony’s Long Romance With The Left


By Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh


In Red Star Over Hollywood, the authors posit several questions: "How and why did so many in the film community become enchanted not only with the Left, but with its totalitarian expression, the American Communist Party?" and "What were their aims and objectives, and how did they set about achieving them?" To answer these questions, the Radoshes present a detailed mosaic of Communism in Hollywood before, during and after World War II.

Some of the mosaic’s pieces we have seen before: Moscow’s creation of the revolution-exporting Comintern in 1919; the sucker-making 1935-1939 "common front"; 1939’s gear-shifting Hitler-Stalin Pact; the death-struggle "cold war"—all of which the authors have meticulously researched and related directly to their study of the Hollywood Communists and their fellow-travelers.

Other of the mosaic’s pieces are unfamiliar. Many come from original research mined by the authors (their book contains 552 footnotes and extensive bibliographical support): the pipeline from New York’s radical theater milieu to Hollywood’s movie studios; the psychologies of the principal Hollywood Communist players; the infighting to prevent the Reds’ from co-opting the movie studio unions; the inside story of the Hollywood Communists’ major filmic accomplishment, Mission To Moscow.

The reader learns about Communists purging Communists; party discipline observed and breached; subversion of non- (and even anti-) Communist groups; liberals turned Communists, turning back into liberals. Familiar names abound: Reagan, Cagney, Kazan, Schulberg, Bogart, Bacall, Zanuck, Wayne, Garfield, Gable, DeHavilland—all players in a real life drama pitting the Communists’ totalitarian ideology against America’s fundamental freedoms.

Old or new, each piece the Radoshes provide contributes to their finished mosaic. It depicts a relatively small coterie of largely ineffectual writers, actors, and directors mindlessly following the Comintern’s orders to imbue Hollywood films with Communist propaganda, blindly defending every twist in the party line, raising and contributing money for Communist-backed causes, and seeking to control the movie unions. These hard core Reds were usually joined by fellow travelers and often by liberal (albeit anti-Communist) Hollywoodites.

Given this Hollywood landscape, it is no wonder that the House Committee on Un-American Activities found fertile ground to plow with its subpoenas, hearings and witnesses. The Radoshes, justifiably, find much fault with HUAC’s procedures and goals. While there has been, and doubtless forever will be, much difference of opinion about HUAC’s means and ends, one thing is clear: the Committee’s conduct was ideal counterpoint for the Communists own agenda: martyrdom for the so-called Hollywood Ten—unfriendly witnesses who, urged on by the Party and radical lawyers, decided to turn their appearances into a political circus. This perverse symbiosis, identified and explored by the Radoshes, was perfect: the committee needed fall guys to "expose," and the Hollywood Ten, in turn, used their subpoenaed appearances to convert themselves from reviled Communists into heroic victims of a right-wing witch hunt.

Just as Hollywood’s infiltration by real and fair-weather Communists led to HUAC and its hearings, the studio executives firing of the Hollywood Ten and others led to the blacklist

It is the blacklist’s myth—that the Hollywood Ten and other blacklistees were victims of a red-baiting witch hunt conducted by political zealots for their own aggrandizement—that the Radoshes also tackle in Red Star Over Hollywood. They accurately call the myth a "fable of innocence destroyed by malice [that] has acquired an almost irresistible sanctity during half a century of telling and retelling." Exposing that myth is a goal of their book, and they achieve it admirably.

But exposing it is one thing. Perpetuating the blacklist’s myth is another. This occurs because many people, including the authors, believe that "it is right to condemn the blacklist. It was wrong to deprive artists of their livelihood because of their political views." (See the first two sentences of Red Star’s final paragraph.)

That view was addressed by friendly HUAC witness Ayn Rand who, in 1947, wrote this in her journal: "Should the Hollywood Ten suffer unpopularity or loss of jobs as a result of being Communists? They most certainly should—so long as the rest of us who give them jobs or box-office support, do not wish to be Communists or accessories to the spread of Communism." As a letter-to-the-editor of the Los Angeles Times recently asked rhetorically: "Would the Radoshes condemn anyone for refusing to hire intellectuals who subscribed to Nazi, neo-Nazi, racist, anti-Semitic or Islamic Fundamentalist movements?"

It is important that all Americans not condemn a "blacklist"—which, after all, is merely an exercise of free moral choice. We are morally obliged to withhold our sanction of, and support for, those (like earlier-day Communists, and today’s terrorists and their followers) who wish our destruction. Indeed, it is the perpetuation of the blacklist myth that, in part, has allowed today’s Hollywood Leftists to rationalize their virulent anti-Americanism.

From now on, however, that’s going to be more difficult for the Streisands, Moores, Sarandons, Penns, and the rest of their cohort because of the irrefutable case the Radoshes make that the Hollywood Ten were militant Communists. That they wrapped themselves in the American flag when it suited them, and in the Soviet flag when they were ordered to. That far from being heroes or victims they were merely pawns used by a totalitarian system they warmly embraced—one that in the end chewed them up and spit them out.

Which was no less than they deserved.