More Hollywood Commies

Lester Cole

Today, three more members of the Hollywood Ten.

Lester Cole, born Cohn, was the son of a Marxist garment-union organizer in New York. After gaining some success as a Broadway playwright, he was summoned to Hollywood in 1932. Throughout the 1930s and 40s, he churned out dozens of scripts, including Charlie Chan mysteries and B-movie thrillers, first for Paramount and later for MGM.

When he wasn’t writing motion pictures, he was playing a major role in Hollywood politics.With John Howard Lawson and Samuel Ornitz, both of whom would also be members of the Hollywood Ten (and whom we looked at yesterday), he co-founded the first Tinseltown union, the Screen Writers Guild. Over the years, he would expend a lot of energy seeking to heighten the Guild’s political profile, urging its members, as Allan Ryskind puts it in Hollywood Traitors, “to back Soviet foreign policy, support domestic Red causes, promote Communist penetration of unions, hire radical lawyers, subsidize left-wing groups, and engage in massive protests to stir up strife rather than to resolve labor problems.”

In 1934, Cole joined the Communist Party, which he would never leave. He was also a leader of the Civil Rights Congress and a member of the executive board of the League of American Writers – both of them Soviet front groups. In 1945, when the CSU – a Soviet-backed Hollywood workers union that was engaged in a struggle with the IA, an anti-Communist union – went on strike against the Warner Brothers studio, a range of Soviet front groups supported the CSU, as did the Communist Party newspaper, the Daily Worker. Cole, for his part, met with the board of the Screen Writers Guild, urging that it condemn Warners and that it warn that striking workers would not return to work at the studio until a satisfactory settlement had been reached. Then came the Blacklist, after which Cole spent some years in the cold; eventually he wrote the successful 1966 film Born Free, and later taught film writing in San Francisco.

Edward Dmytryk

On to Edward Dmytryk, the Canadian-born son of working-class Ukrainian immigrants who moved to Los Angeles when he was young. He began his Hollywood career in his teens, as a studio messenger boy; by age 31 he was a full-fledged film director. He went on to make some of the great films noirs of the Forties. In 1944, the same year that RKO released Murder, My Sweet, a thriller based on a Raymond Chandler novel, Dmytryk joined the Communist Party. Yet he was never as much of a fanatic as some of the other Hollywood Ten. For instance, he removed pro-Communist agitprop from his 1945 movie Cornered, arguing that the screenwriter, John Wexley, had written “long speeches, propaganda” that “went to extremes in following the party line on the nose.” Dmytryk knew that such dialogue simply didn’t work on any level – it ruined the effectiveness of the drama and it didn’t convince anybody of anything – but as a result of his action he was subjected to vicious criticism at several Communist meetings. Leading the charge against him was Lawson, who would soon be a fellow member of the Hollywood Ten; siding with Dmytryk was Albert Maltz, who, as we’ve seen, had had his own run-ins with Party purists.

Robert Adrian Scott

As a result of the conflict over the script of Cornered, Dmytryk began (as he put it) to “drift away” from Communism. Then came the House Un-American Activities Committee, and jail. While behind bars, he came to feel that he’d been used by his Party comrades, and in 1950 officially broke with Communism – the only member of the Hollywood Ten ever to do so. The next year he again appeared before HUAC, this time providing the names of no fewer than 26 fellow Party members. His career restored to him, Dmytryk went on to write and direct a number of major films, including The Caine Mutiny (1954) and The Carpetbaggers (1964).

Robert Adrian Scott (1911–1972), perhaps the least-known of the Hollywood Ten, can be mentioned here as a sort of footnote to Dmytryk: a middle-class kid from New Jersey, his main accomplishment in Hollywood was producing several films (including Murder My Sweet and Crossfire) directed by Dmytryk, who told HUAC that Scott had pressured him to put Communist propaganda in his movies. After the Blacklist, he worked in TV, dying in 1973.  

Three rich boys turned Hollywood Stalinists

Ring Lardner, Jr.

Some of the Hollywood Ten were from humble backgrounds. Not Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000), who, himself the son of a famous writer, went to Andover and Princeton. He was also an earlier convert to socialism than several of his fellow traitors. At Princeton he was active in both the Socialist Club and the Anglo-American Institute of the University of Moscow, a Kremlin propaganda organization based both in the U.S. and the U.K. By 1937, he had become a writer in Hollywood and a member of Communist Party. Soon he was also active in various Soviet front groups, among them the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Hollywood Writers Mobilization Against the War. In 1943 he won an Oscar for co-writing the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn hit Woman of the Year. Four years later, 20th Century Fox made him one of Hollywood’s best-paid writers – and HUAC called him to testify. A prison term ensued. His long post-Blacklist rehabilitation climaxed with a 1970 Oscar for writing the film M*A*S*H.

John Howard Lawson

John Howard Lawson (1894–1977), too, came from New York money. After Williams College, he drove an ambulance in Italy during World War I. Later he simultaneous wrote agitprop Broadway plays and Hollywood scripts. Although not as important a screenwriter as some of the other Hollywood Ten members (his major efforts included the Charles Boyer vehicle Algiers, a Bogart drama called Sahara, and a Susan Hayward weepie, Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman), he was the central figure in the group, co-founding the Screen Writers Guild, serving as its first president, and acting, according to one source, as “the Communist Party’s de facto cultural commissar in Hollywood, particularly as it affected writers.” Among his duties was the enforcement of Party ideology and discipline among his sometimes recalcitrant fellow scribes. After his appearance before HUAC, he decamped to Mexico, wrote scripts under pseudonyms, and ended up as a university lecturer.  

Samuel Ornitz

Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957) was also the scion of a wealthy New York family. He was an active socialist by age 12, giving speeches on street corners. Working briefly as a social worker, he soon became a successful Manhattan playwright and novelist. He went to Hollywood in 1928, where he spent the next two decades writing mediocre pictures for RKO and Republic (perhaps the most prominent item on his CV is a shared four-way writing credit on a John Wayne flick, Three Faces West) and telling everyone who would listen just how wonderful Stalin was. The Hollywood Reporter claims that he was “one of the most outspoken political figures in Hollywood”; another source says that his “doctrinaire, party-line communism alienated many of his liberal colleagues and friends, such as his dogged insistence that there was no anti-Semitism in Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union.” After his encounter with the House Un-American Activities Committee, he quit scriptwriting and resumed writing novels, including a now-forgotten 1951 bestseller, Bride of the Sabbath. 

So there we have it: three men, born with silver spoons in their mouths, who enjoyed their richesse even as they embraced an ideology dedicated to the coldblooded murder of people with bank accounts just like theirs. 

We’ll finish up with this crew tomorrow.

Hating free speech: Howard Biberman

Herbert Biberman

We’ve been looking at the Hollywood Ten, those unwavering devotees of totalitarianism, blind servants of Stalin, and out-and-out traitors who, after being held in contempt by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, spent a few years on the so-called Blacklist and later, in the 1970s, were gloriously rehabilitated, applauded by the media and by a new generation of Hollywood luminaries as heroes of the individual conscience, the life of the independent artist, and the First Amendment. Today’s subject: Herbert Biberman (1900-71), who after working in the New York theater in the early 1930s went to Hollywood, wrote several minor films, and married Oscar-winning actress (and fellow Blacklist member) Gale Sondergaard.

An APM button from the group’s “pro-peace” phase

In Hollywood, Biberman was a busy Communist bee. Among much else, he played a major role in a Soviet front group whose history of ideological shifts illuminates the way in which these groups perfectly mirrored the Kremlin’s own changing policies. Originally founded in 1933 as the American League against War and Fascism and conceived of as a means of preparing the Depression-struck U.S. for imminent Communist revolution, it encouraged workers to oppose FDR, whom it presented as oppressing workers and as being engaged in preparation for war. Two years later, however, having decided the U.S. was not on the verge of revolution after all, the Kremlin had the group’s name changed to the American League for Peace and Democracy and ordered it to support FDR and to boycott and propagandize against the USSR’s more immediate enemies, Germany and Japan.

Molotov (left) and Ribbentrop at the signing of the pact

Two years after that, when the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, forging an alliance between Stalin and Hitler, the American League for Peace and Democracy was renamed American Peace Mobilization (APM) and told to be pro-peace, pro-Nazi, and, once again, anti-American. After Hitler invaded Russia, however, the APM, under Kremlin orders, underwent another ideological make-over: now it supported the Soviet war against Hitler and equated Nazi Germany with the U.S. and Britain, representing Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill as equally imperialist and equally intolerable.

Some of the Hollywood Ten and their lawyers, December 1947

How does Biberman fit into all this? He was on the APM’s “National Council.” As Allan Ryskind writes in Hollywood Traitors, Biberman told an APM meeting that the U.S. had become “a colony of the British Empire” and that Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were “making a deal for the money markets of the world” and sacrificing “the lives of millions of men” in the process. At an APM rally in Los Angeles, he received a standing ovation after savaging FDR and Churchill. The readiness of Biberman (and several other members of the Hollywood Ten who were also on the APM “National Council” or otherwise involved in the group) to instantly change their ideological tune, not once but several times, in accordance with Kremlin directives only goes to show that none of this had anything to do with individual conscience or personal philosophy – it was all about being robotic, lockstep soldiers who were prepared to believe anything that Josef Stalin told them to.

Biberman before HUAC

Later, after America had entered the war on the side of the USSR, Biberman was active in other Soviet front groups, among them the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) and the Hollywood Writers Mobilization (HWM). These supposedly independent groups, which represented themselves as having been founded spontaneously by free-thinking individuals who, among other things, simply wanted to serve the war effort. In fact they were all branches of the same tree, following the same orders from the same masters in Moscow.

Albert Maltz

In 1946, like Alvah Bessie, Biberman stood up at a Communist gathering to condemn their fellow Hollywood Ten member Albert Maltz for the high crime of having suggested that the works of Communist artists should not be straitjacketed by Kremlin ideology but should rather be allowed to deviate from that ideology in minor specifics as long as it served, on the whole, the general aims and principles of Communism. For Bessie and Biberman, Maltz’s suggestion amounted to heresy; after Bessie denounced Maltz, Biberman took his turn, “spout[ing] elaborate mouthfuls of nothing, his every accent dripping with hatred.” In short, despite the Hollywood Ten image that would take form decades later, he was very far from being a champion of free expression.

Alvin Bessie, Stalinist soldier

Dalton Trumbo and wife

We’re talking this week about the Hollywood Ten – a group of Hollywood scriptwriters who enjoyed ample rewards for their talents in capitalist America even as they espoused a political system under which the very jobs they thrived at didn’t exist and in which their own stubborn contrarianism would likely have landed them in front of a firing squad. We’ve already devoted a good deal of attention to the most famous of the Ten – Dalton Trumbo, the colorful hero of a 2015 movie starring Bryan Cranston. But the other members of the group, all of whom refused either to answer questions about their political history or, in the phrase of the day, to “name names,” are no less interesting in their own right.

Alvah Bessie

Take Alvah Bessie (1904-85). The son of a successful New York businessman, he attended Columbia University, spent four years as a member of Eugene O’Neill’s acting troupe, the Provincetown Players, then, in 1928, went to Paris to become an expatriate writer like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Returning to the U.S. the next year, he contributed stories and essays to most of the best American magazines of the day.

He did something else, too. He began moving in Communist circles, and in 1936 joined the Party. Two years later, like many other American Communists, he went off to Spain to fight against Franco and for the Republic. At the time, much of the left-wing media in the U.S. and elsewhere presented the struggle as a straightforward clash between fascism and freedom, but as George Orwell famously recorded in his classic Homage to Catalonia, the Republican side was strongly under Kremlin influence and was subjected to a great deal of pressure to toe the Stalinist line and to crush any hint of non-Communist dissent. In Orwell’s view, indeed, the Soviets in Spain oversaw a “reign of terror.”

George Orwell

Like Orwell, Bessie wrote his own account of the Spanish Civil War. His book, entitled Men in Battle, was published in 1939. In it, as the title suggests, he recounts everyday life at the front, in the heat of warfare. Unlike Orwell, however, he doesn’t complain about the Soviets. He was, as they say, a “good soldier.” He belonged to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which was one of the International Brigades that, as Allan H. Ryskind records in his 2015 history Hollywood Traitors, were “a Stalinist creation.” Just to make sure there’s no doubt about the matter, Ryskind spells it out: Bessie “was fighting for the Stalinist wing in the civil war.”

It was during World War II – specifically, in 1943 – that Bessie began writing movies for Warner Brothers, notably Objective, Burma! , for which he received an Oscar nomination. As a big Hollywood name he had access to people at the top of the American Communist Party, including its president, Earl Browder. Ryskind reports a conversation that suggests that Bessie was even a more hard-line Communist than the head of the Party himself. Browder’s – and the Party’s – official position was that the U.S. should undergo a peaceful transition from capitalism to Communism. Bessie rejected this notion: he believed in nothing less than a violent overthrow of the U.S. system.

Albert Maltz

If Bessie was more of a Communist than Browder, he was also more of a Communist than at least one of his fellow Hollywood Ten members, Albert Maltz (1908-85). In 1946, Maltz, a veteran of  the New York theater, a Communist since 1935, and an Oscar nominee for Pride of the Marines (1945), published an article in the Party’s weekly New Masses complaining that the Party was too strict in policing writers, expecting them to cleave strictly to the party line and produce crude propaganda. Among those who savaged Maltz for his dissent was Bessie, who at a Party meeting, according to one witness, “denounced” his fellow screenwriter “with bitter vituperation and venom.” After HUAC and prison, Maltz moved to Mexico, where he resumed writing films, including the Cinemascope spectacle The Robe (1953).

As for Bessie, he didn’t last long at Warners. Two years after going to work for the studio, he was fired. The anodyne account of his career in the Hollywood Reporter says that he was dismissed for supporting striking studio workers – which, of course, makes Bessie sound virtuous and the studio bosses pretty rotten. In fact, there was a struggle underway at the time between two unions, one Kremlin-controlled and one anti-Communist, that sought to represent Hollywood workers, and Bessie was squarely on the side of the Stalinists. Called before HUAC in 1950 and subsequently imprisoned and blacklisted, he quit the Party in the 1950s and wrote about his Blacklist experience in a 1957 novel, The Un-Americans, and a 1965 memoir, Inquisition in Eden.

Tinseltown’s traitors

Dalton Trumbo

We’ve devoted a good deal of attention on this website to Dalton Trumbo (1905-76), the blacklisted Communist screenwriter who was celebrated in a 2015 movie, Trumbo, in which he was played by Bryan Cranston. But it occurs to us that some of the other leading figures on the Blacklist – the members of the Hollywood Ten, as they were known – deserve equal time. Or at least a mention.

Let’s begin with the cardinal issue: they were all Communists. They were all unswerving admirers of Josef Stalin – and this at a time when his record as a bloodthirsty dictator and mass murderer of his own people had already been well established. And yet in later years – from the 1970s onward – they were hailed as heroes of free speech and the individual conscience (two things that Stalin himself was determined to crush). And, as illustrated by Trumbo, the idealization of these champions of totalitarianism continues into our own time. Witness a November 2015 article in the Hollywood Reporter entitled “The Hollywood Ten: The Men Who Refused to Name Names.”

Josef Stalin

Written by David L. Dunbar, the article bore the subhead: “When the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed filmmakers to testify about communism in the industry, a few held their ground – and for a time, lost their livelihood.” Of course, if they’d been stubborn supporters of democratic capitalism living in Stalin’s Russia, they’d have lost not only their livelihoods but their lives – but that’s a detail that the fans of the Hollywood Ten prefer not to think about.

As Dunbar observed, the committee, known as HUAC, subpoenaed 41 screenwriters, directors, and producers to testify at a 1947 hearing to probe “subversive activities in the entertainment industry.” Most of those summoned proved to be “friendly” witnesses – meaning that they agreed to say whether or not they were or ever had been members of the Communist Party. Those who answered yes were invited to name fellow Communists – and, if they did, were sent back to work with their reputations intact.

Nine of the Hollywood Ten

But then there were the Ten. They refused to answer the committee’s questions. In return, the committee held them in contempt, fined them $1000 apiece, and ordered them sent to prison for up to a year. Back in Hollywood, their studios fired them.

The logic behind HUAC’s decisions, of course, was that these were unrepentant servants of a foreign power that, while having been a wartime ally, was quickly metamorphosing into an enemy. Under the Constitution, to be sure, they had a right to their opinions, a right to express them, and a right to gather freely and discuss them. Then again, they didn’t have the right to be traitors. Whether they crossed the line into treason is a question that has been discussed ever since.

As for their being fired – well, that’s another issue. The studios were private employers. They had a right to hire or fire whomever they wished. No one has a right to a lucrative job writing movies. Whether it was morally defensible to fire them for their Communist sympathies, is again, a matter for discussion and debate.

One point, however, is crystal clear: these men who publicly took the moral high ground, condemning a system in which they were punished for their political views, themselves were ardent believers in a system that routinely executed dissident artists such as themselves.

Who were these men? We’ll start in on them tomorrow.

Doublethink: Trumbo and the critics

Back in November, we took a good long look at the new movie Trumbo, which makes a hero and martyr out of blacklisted Stalinist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. During the last couple of days we’ve been examining reviews of the picture by critics who’ve somehow failed to grasp that, while the Hollywood blacklist may well have been a bad thing, that doesn’t mean that Stalinism was anything other than evil. 

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Bryan Cranston in Trumbo

We’re not done, because (as it turns out) there are plenty more clueless critiques of this film to ponder. Take this bemusing sentence by Steven Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Set in the years after World War II, when fear of the ‘Red Menace’ – of creeping communism – spread across America, Trumbo details how fear and suspicion wormed their way into the movie biz, with actors and filmmakers branded as Stalinist sympathizers.”

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A protest to free the Hollywood Ten, with Trumbo third from left

But of course it wasn’t just “fear and suspicion” that “wormed their way into the movie biz”; Communism itself wormed its way into the film capital, as part of a highly calculated plan hatched within the walls of the Kremlin itself. And saying that Trumbo and his cohorts were “branded as Stalinist sympathizers” is like saying that Harry Truman was branded as a Democrat. Or a male. Or a Missourian. These guys were Stalinist sympathizers. They were Stalinist tools, Stalinist operatives – conscious and willing enemy soldiers in the war of ideas between the free world and the Soviet bloc. They were, quite simply, Stalinists  – full stop. Rea writes as if all this was invented by paranoid right-wingers, as if the “Red Menace” and “creeping communism” were nothing but feverish fantasies, as if Americans’ “fear and suspicion” of Communism were as unfounded as a fear of ghosts or vampires or werewolves.

trumbotub
Trumbo wrote in the bathtub

One of the signal attributes of the totalitarian society depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984 was something he called “Doublethink” – the “power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” That’s what going on in many of these reviews: even while the critic accepts the fact that Dalton Trumbo was a Communist (how could he not?), he ridicules the “Communist witch hunt” as a paranoid, hysterical effort to unearth enemies of freedom where none at all existed.

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Cranston as Trumbo, writing in the tub

Then there’s Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir, who knows very well what Stalinism was (and is), and who doesn’t try to disguise his fondness for it. “I cannot pretend to any objectivity when it comes to this subject,” he admits. “My mother and her first husband (who many years later was also her third husband) were both members of the Communist Party. My stepdad knew Dalton Trumbo, and worked on the defense committees for both the Hollywood 10 (a group of movie people, including Trumbo, who went to federal prison for refusing to answer questions before Congress) and for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, American Communists who were executed as Soviet spies.”

Julius_and_Ethel_Rosenberg_NYWTS
The Rosenbergs

These are, it must be said, rather curious formulations: of course, the Hollywood Ten weren’t just “a group of movie people” but a group of dedicated members of the Communist Party, all of whom were dedicated to the overthrow of democracy in the United States; and the Rosenbergs weren’t just “executed as Soviet spies,” they were Soviet spies, who passed the atom-bomb secrets on to the Kremlin. (Ethel Rosenberg even lied to her two sons, assuring them in a goodbye letter that she and their father were innocent – a claim proven false many years later by declassified KGB documents.)

Yes, there have been a couple of intelligent, well-informed reviews of Trumbo. We’ll get to them tomorrow.  

 

 

Reviewing Trumbo

trumbo
Bryan Cranston as Dalton Trumbo

Directed by Jay Roach and written by John McNamara, the movie Trumbo came out last November to widespread acclaim – especially for Bryan Cranston‘s performance as blacklisted Hollwood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.  Cranston is nominated for an Oscar; both he and Helen Mirren, who plays gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, were nominated for Golden Globes.

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The real Dalton Trumbo

When Trumbo first came out, we spent a few days on this site pondering, and questioning, the way it presents its protagonist. As we noted at the time, Trumbo and other members of the so-called Hollywood Ten were all Communists. Trumbo, like virtually every other Hollywood movie ever made about the blacklist, tries to pretend that being a Communist was (or is) pretty much the same as being a Democrat or a liberal. Not really. Trumbo and his friends were devotees and disciples of an extremely illiberal fella named Joseph Stalin. They were his devotees and disciples in precisely the same way that Nazis were devotees and disciples of another fella named Adolf Hitler. Stalin, like Hitler, was a totalitarian dictator. The only substantial difference between them was that Stalin reigned much longer and killed a lot more people.

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Joe Neumaier

It’s utterly ridiculous to have to make these obvious points. Any middle-school student should know all this stuff, and feel insulted at any suggestion that they don’t. But as the reviews of Trumbo make clear, many people in positions of influence are totally clueless about the reality of Communism. One movie reviewer after another has hailed Trumbo as (to quote Joe Neumaier in Time) a “vital lesson in democracy,” and its Communist protagonist as nothing less than a hero of democracy. Indeed, many of the reviewers who haven’t praised Trumbo have still praised Trumbo. Or, more specifically, praised his “ideals.”

Here, for example, is Joanna Connors in the Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Besides being a gifted writer he was an outspoken champion of workers’ rights and socialist ideals.” This about a man who defended the Gulag, the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Moscow show trials – in short, every monstrous crime against humanity Stalin ever committed.

In the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Mike Scott laments that Communist is “still a dirty word today.” And in the Toronto Star, Peter Howell actually calls Trumbo “a principled member of the Communist Party.” (Yes, he was devoted to the “principles” of the Communist Party in the same way that Hitler was devoted to the “principles” of Nazism.) Howell also refers to “the rebellious Hollywood Ten,” as if they were a bunch of admirably iconoclastic individuals rather than a group of lockstep ideological fanatics taking orders from a mass-murdering foreign government.

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Cranston, with Helen Mirren as Hedda Hopper

One baffling feature of many of the reviews of Trumbo is that even as they acknowledge that Dalton Trumbo and his fellow Communist screenwriters were Communists, they use the term “Red Scare,” which implies that Trumbo & co.’s Communism existed only in the heated imaginations of Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, and others – whose principled anti-Communism the movie treats with nothing but vicious mockery, even as it treats D.T.’s Communism with respect and admiration. 

“Trumbo,” writes Ty Burr in the Boston Globe, “brings what Lillian Hellman dubbed ‘scoundrel time’ into sharp relief.” Burr’s reference to Hellman and to Scoundrel Time, one of that horrible old Stalinist’s notoriously mendacious “memoirs,” leads us to wonder whether Burr knows anything whatsoever about Hellman, one of the great moral scoundrels in American literary history, or, more broadly, about American Stalinism. Burr refers to the writers and directors who came to be demonized as the Hollywood Ten.” No, they weren’t “demonized”: they were identified as Communists – as men who had sworn to help bring down American democracy in the service of murderous totalitarianism – and that was precisely what they were. Yet Burr buys the film’s attempt to sell them as heroes, and buys its presentation of John Wayne and other anti-Communists as “ogre[s].”

More to come.

Trumpeting Trumbo

truth3Just a few weeks ago, we discussed the new movie Truth, which turned the truth about the 2004 Rathergate scandal on its head. In real life, CBS anchorman Dan Rather and news producer Mary Mapes were so eager to damage George W. Bush’s re-election prospects with a damaging story about his National Guard service that they were prepared to use obviously fake documents to try to support their otherwise unsupported case; in the film, Rather (Robert Redford) and Mapes (Cate Blanchett) are presented as heroic truth-tellers brought down by craven CBS executives fearful of antagonizing the Bush White House.

trumboNow Tinseltown has brought us yet another mammoth distortion of history. Directed by Jay Roach from a script by John McNamara, and starring Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston in the title role, Trumbo purports to tell the story of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (1905-76), who in 1947 was named one of the “Hollywood Ten” – a group of directors and screenwriters who were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to tell the House Un-American Activities Committee whether or not they were Communists. The Hollywood Ten were blacklisted – i.e., denied work in the film industry – as were dozens of their colleagues.

In recent decades, Hollywood has churned out innumerable films about the blacklist. The premise is always the same: the men and women of the blacklist were free-speech martyrs and victims of tyranny. There are several things that are rarely if ever mentioned in these films. For example, all of the Hollywood Ten were members of the American Communist Party. That party, in turn, was a willing, devoted instrument of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union. The man at the top of that Party was Josef Stalin, a totalitarian dictator who was responsible for even more deaths than Hitler.

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The real-life Dalton Trumbo

It shouldn’t be necessary to remind anyone who Stalin was and what he did. But the fact is that Dalton Trumbo and his fellow members of the Hollywood Ten were Stalin’s devoted acolytes. No matter what he did, they refused to criticize him. Whatever shifts in policy he made, they went along with him blindly. This hasn’t kept them from being lionized as champions of liberty.

Take Trumbo. The new Jay Roach movie is far from the first work to celebrate him. Trumbo’s son Christopher wrote a play, Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted, which was staged with such actors as Paul Newman, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin. Christopher Trumbo also directed a 2008 documentary, Trumbo, in which Michael Douglas, Kirk Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, and other Hollywood luminaries agreed that Trumbo was both a victim and a hero.

htThe facts tell otherwise. In an illuminating new book, Hollywood Traitors, Allan H. Ryskind spells them out. Far from being the fun, quirky “independent spirit” depicted by his apologists – and, we gather, by Roach’s movie – Trumbo was a slavish disciple of the tyrant in the Kremlin.

“[F]ew of the Hollywood writers served Stalin so faithfully,” says Ryskind, who, in addition to studying FBI and HUAC documents, has pored over Trumbo’s private papers. They reveal an unwavering pattern of absolute loyalty to Stalin and to Communism, and an utter indifference to the fate of his own country or of human freedom.

Details tomorrow.