In the 1940s, waves of anti-Communist hysteria swept through America's corridors of power. Just as current-day politicians attempt to curry political favor with the Right by attacking the morality of popular music and films, in the Cold War era Washington called... [more]
In the 1940s, waves of anti-Communist hysteria swept through America's corridors of power. Just as current-day politicians attempt to curry political favor with the Right by attacking the morality of popular music and films, in the Cold War era Washington called artists on the carpet to justify their politics. In the midst of union strikes at home and spreading Communism abroad, members of Congress felt an urgent need to reassure their conservative constituents. Their strategy was predicated on the simple -- and ultimately unsubstantiated -- theory that Communists had infiltrated Hollywood and were using films to spread their radical beliefs throughout the United States. Certainly there were some writers and producers who had Communist sympathies or just leaned leftward politically. But considering that the studio industry had always believed the way to Joe Public's pocketbook was through mainstream entertainment, not subversive political proselytizing, the presence of Communist propaganda on the big screen seemed contrary to Hollywood's business sense.
But when Congress put together the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), nobody laughed it off. Congress called Hollywood 'the greatest hotbed of subversive activity in the U.S.,' and as a result of government pressure, many studio heads and film producers began giving up the names of the known or suspected Communists in their ranks. Aided and abetted by helpful suggestions from the American Legion, the gossip pages, and professional "Red-baiters" (people who made it their mission to expose Communists in every cupboard), the Committee summoned writers, directors, and actors into the glare of public attention to explain their work and their personal beliefs.
During this dark period, anyone accused of having Communist ties was put on a blacklist, which essentially banned those named from the movie business. The burden of proof was often put on the accused -- in fact, no real evidence was necessary to get someone blacklisted; some folks gladly turned in their competition. Thousands of careers were stunted or ended purely on the basis of reckless and paranoid speculation. Of the many people blacklisted from Hollywood, many never made it back into the fold. It was only when the blacklist ended in 1960 that a backlash ensued, resulting in the dismantling of state and local censorship boards and finally reinstating artistic freedom in the film industry.