Naveen Gupta

Still from Guilty by Suspicion


The current brouhaha that has engulfed Bollywood over an out of proportion language issue has its origins elsewhere, intolerance is always at the core of a feud that goes over the rooftops and explodes in your face. Each episode of Govind Nihlani’s tele-series ‘Tamas’ opened with a quotation,” Those who forget history, are condemned to repeat it!” As no credits for who quoted the immortal paradox were given on the screen at that time it took me some time in my library to find out that it was actually George Santayana, philosopher, poet, essayist and novelist. In 1947, Republican US Senate and House clamped its stranglehold on Hollywood under the infamous ‘Red Scare’ and appointed “House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), which had declared its intention to investigate whether Communist agents or sympathizers had been surreptitiously planting propaganda in U.S. films. It spared no one- stars, screenwriters, producers, directors, studio executives e.t.c. The inquisition under the chairman J. Parnell Thomas sentenced the leading lights of Hollywood as if they were thugs and hoodlums. If you have not seen the film, ‘Guilty by Suspicion’(1991) then not only you have missed one of the finest films of De Niro, but the kind of witch-hunting that prevailed in Hollywood in that era. It destroyed families, individuals and above all artists. This piece is about the  screenwriters, producer and director labelled as “The Hollywood Ten,” who were summoned by HUAC to name names! They ended up denouncing McCarthyism and Hollywood Blacklisting, and paid the price.

American novelist and journalist Alvah Bessie was a scenario at Warner Brothers and other studios during the mid and late '40s.He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Story for the patriotic Warner's film ‘Objective Burma’ (1945). Bessie had fought in the Spanish Civil War in 1938. Upon his return, he wrote a book about his experiences, ‘Men in Battle.’ His career came to a halt in 1947, when he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He refused to deny or confirm involvement in the Communist Party, and in 1950 he became one of the Hollywood Ten when he was imprisoned and blacklisted. In 1965, Bessie wrote a book about his experience with the HUAC, ‘Inquisition in Eden’. In his next book, ‘Spain Again,’ (1975) chronicled his experiences as a co-writer and actor in a Spanish movie of the same name. In 2001, ‘Spanish Civil War Notebooks,’ a diary of his activities while in Spain in 1938, was published. But the blacklisting ruined his screenwriting career, and he never returned to Hollywood. He died in California, aged 81 in 1985.

The socially conscious films of American director, screenwriter and producer Herbert Biberman are perhaps best known in Europe. Biberman was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale and went to Europe. He then worked for a number of years in his family's textile business and later in 1928 he joined the Theater Guild as an assistant stage manager, quickly establishing himself as one of the company's best directors. He entered films as a director and screenwriter of "B" movies in 1935.HUAC charged Biberman in 1947, cited for contempt of Congress when he refused to answer questions about his Communist Party USA affiliation.and in 1950 was sentenced to 6 months in prison and banished from Hollywood. In 1954, Biberman independently made ‘Salt of the Earth,’ a provocative, moving chronicle of the terrible working conditions faced by miners in New Mexico. The film was backed by the miner's union and employed real workers and their families, other unions refused to show the film because Biberman was still blacklisted. In 1965, the film was finally released in the U.S. Four years later, Biberman made his last film, ‘Slaves’ (1969), not critically well-received in the U.S., it was highly regarded in France. Herbert Biberman died from bone cancer in 1971 in New York City. ‘One of the Hollywood Ten,’( 2000) chronicling his and his actress wife Gale   Sondergaard’s life noted in its closing credits that Biberman had never been removed from the old blacklist formally, and that Sondergaard never again found work in Hollywood until after her husband's death. Standing by her man had cost Sondergaard almost a quarter century of work.

Screenwriter Lester Cole, the son of Polish immigrants, began writing and directing plays at age 16 after he dropped out of high school. During the 1920s and '30s he worked as an actor on stage and screen before embarking on his screenwriting career. While in Hollywood, he was a union activist and became a co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild in 1933. He was later hauled for challenging the committee's right to interrogate him about his political beliefs. He then served 1 year in prison, leaving behind an unfinished script that was later finished by John Steinbeck for Kazan's ‘Viva Zapata ‘(1952). Following his release from prison, Cole worked a series of odd jobs. In 1961 he went to London, but eventually returned to USA where he began collaborating on screenplays under an assumed name. His best-known work was the highly successful film ‘Born Free’ (1966).Lester Cole died of a heart attack in San Francisco, California in 1985. He also taught screenwriting at the University of California, Berkeley.

A messenger boy at Paramount in the mid 1920s, Edward Dmytryk became an editor in the 1930s and began directing in 1935. By the mid '40s he had such impressive credits like ‘Crossfire(1947), one of the first Hollywood films to confront anti-Semitism, and for which he snagged a Best Director Oscar nomination. In 1948 Dmytryk became one of the "Hollywood Ten" when he was accused of having ties to the communist party and was sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of Congress. After he directed three films in England, but returned to the States in 1951. Upon his return he went before the HUAC again, this time as a "friendly" witness, and his name was dropped from the blacklist. He then resumed his American career and directed four films for producer Stanley Kramer, most notably ‘The Sniper’ (1952) and ‘The Caine Mutiny’ (1954). Dmytryk went on to make several notable films in the 1950s, including the westerns ‘Broken Lance ‘(1954) with Spencer Tracy, and ‘Warlock’ (1959) with Henry Fonda, and the World War II drama ‘The Young Lions’ (1958), starring Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift. His subsequent work was well-made but unremarkable. After his film career tapered off in the 1970s, he entered academia and taught at the University of Texas at Austin, and at the USC. He died in 1999, aged 90.

The son of a famed humorist, screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr started out as a reporter for the New York Daily Mirror. He eventually became a publicist for David Selznick in Hollywood and after that worked uncredited as a script doctor before becoming a full-fledged screenwriter working alone or in collaboration. Lardner shared an Oscar in 1942 for ‘Woman of the Year’, in 1947 became one of the highest paid scriptwriters in Hollywood when he signed a contract with 20th Century Fox at $2,000 a week until he refused to cooperate with the witch-hunts of the HUAC and became one of the Hollywood Ten. For his refusal, Lardner spent a year in prison and then was blacklisted until the mid '60s. Though officially banned from Hollywood, Lardner continued working under pseudonyms and also worked uncredited. Lardner made a big comeback when he wrote the script for ‘M*A*S*H’ (1970) for which he won the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. Ring Lardner, Jr. died in Manhattan, New York in 2000. He was the last surviving member of the “Hollywood Ten.” 

John Howard Lawson had an exciting life before becoming a screenwriter and a playwright. As a young man during WW I, he was a volunteer ambulance driver for the Red Cross; there his peers were Ernest Hemingway, Dos Passos, and e.e. Cummings. Following the war, he began editing a newspaper in Rome and working as a publicity director for the American Red Cross. During the '20s and '30s, he began writing numerous plays, most of them promoting Marxism. He sold his first movie screenplay in 1920 to Paramount, and eight years later moved to Hollywood to become a contract writer who created screenplays, original stories, and scripts for several films. Lawson became a co-founder of the Screen Writers Guild in 1933; that year he also served as its first president. Many of Lawson's films were political and embraced socialistic concepts, such as ‘Counter-Attack,’ (1945). In 1948, Lawson became one of the notorious Hollywood Ten when he refused to co-operate with the HUAC investigators. He was sentenced to one year in prison and was subsequently blacklisted in Hollywood. Lawson then exiled himself to Mexico where he began writing books on drama and filmmaking such as ‘Film in the Battle of Ideas’ (1953) where he asserted that "the rulers of the United States take the film very seriously as an instrument of propaganda, and will do their utmost to prevent its use for any democratic purpose." Lawson also argued that Hollywood promoted degrading images of women in the first half of the 20th century. In his next book ‘ Film: The Creative Process ‘ (1964) Lawson also argued that the influence of Hollywood movies is utilized in a classist way that attempts to poison the minds of U.S. working-class people and that inaccurately describes the reality of U.S. working-class life.. John Howard Lawson died in San Francisco on August 14, 1977, aged 82.

Distinguished author, short-story writer, playwright and screenwriter Albert Maltz was educated at Columbia University and the Yale School of Drama, Maltz worked as a playwright for the left-leaning Theatre Union. He also published his novels and stories. He moved to Hollywood to write screenplays in 1941 and primarily worked alone and in collaboration for Warner Brothers and Paramount. During WW II, he penned patriotic scripts for such films as ‘Destination Tokyo’ (1944). In 1942, he wrote the script for the Oscar-winning documentary ‘Moscow Strikes Back.’ Another documentary he wrote, ‘The House I Live In,’ won a special Academy Award in 1945. For the film ‘Pride of the Marines,’ (1945) Maltz was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. After refusing to cooperate with Congress in 1947, Maltz was sentenced to nearly a year in jail and was blacklisted. Though he continued to anonymously contribute to scripts, Maltz received no credit until his final film ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’(1970). Albert Maltz died in Los Angeles, California in 1985.

The son of a prosperous New York dry-goods merchant, Samuel Ornitz could have followed the lead of his two older brothers by entering the business world. Instead, Ornitz turned his back on the capitalist system, making his first "progressive" public speech at the age of 12. He achieved success with his 1923 novel ‘ Haunch Paunch and Jowl,’ a witty memoir of Jewish immigrant life. In Hollywood from 1929, Ornitz's screen credits were generally confined  to RKO and Republic. His chief claim to fame was as an early organizer and board member of the Screen Actors Guild. He was also one of the most outspoken of Hollywood's left-wing community, Ornitz hadn't had a screen credit in two years when, in 1947, he was ordered to testify before the HUAC. Refusing to answer the HUAC's questions about his involvement in the Communist Party, Ornitz ended up as one of the famed "Hollywood Ten," he served a year in prison for contempt of Congress, during which time he published his last truly important novel, ‘ Bride of the Sabbath’. Upon his release, Samuel Ornitz was finished in Hollywood, but continued writing novels until his death at age 66.

Screenwriter/producer Adrian Scott was among the first ten Hollywood people to be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1947. Adrian Scott was the producer of the film noirsMurder, My Sweet’ (1944), ‘Cornered‘(1945), and ‘Crossfire ‘(1947), all of which were directed by Edward Dmytryk. ‘Crossfire was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. His name was provided to the committee by director/producer Edward Dmytryk, with whom Scott had worked for many years. After refusing to testify, Scott was sentenced to a year in prison. Following his release, Scott was blacklisted and never worked in films again.

Dalton Trumbo began his professional life as a newspaper reporter and editor and, like a lot of people in those professions, was drawn into the movie business in the mid '30s. His most important scripts being ‘Five Came Back’ (1939) and ‘Kitty Foyle’ (1940). With the outbreak of World War II, he wrote such classics as the fantasy ‘A Guy Named Joe’ (1943) and the fact-based ‘Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo’ (1944), Trumbo, who was suspect for his 1943 script for ‘Tender Comrade’ (which was about communal living in wartime, not covert Communist propaganda), was cited for contempt of Congress and served a 10-month jail term. Unable to find employment in Hollywood, he moved to Mexico where he continued to write ( for fees far smaller than the $75,000 a year he'd been making from MGM before the contempt citation) under assumed names, or fronts. His script for ‘The Brave One’ (1956, under the name Robert Rich) earned an Academy Award. And overt support from Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger, helped weaken the blacklist, and Trumbo later worked openly on Exodus and Spartacus, two high-profile blockbuster productions released in 1960, as well as the  cult classic western drama’ Lonely Are the Brave’ (1962). By the end of the '60s, with a new generation in control of Hollywood, Trumbo was welcomed back like a war-hero, and was permitted to direct a film adaptation of his 1939 antiwar novel ‘Johnny Got His Gun’ (1971). Trumbo also contributed late in life to the political thriller ‘Executive Action’ (1973), which dealt with an alleged conspiracy to murder President Kennedy, and the adventure drama ‘Papillon’ (1973).

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