On this day: the Hollywood Ten are blacklisted

November 25 1947: a dark period in showbiz

By Jennifer Lipman, November 25, 2010

It can be hard to believe that in a country where freedoms and rights are at the heart of politics, vast proportions of the population were for years persecuted for their political views.

For many involved in the United States entertainment industry, the late 1940s and early 1950s were a time when answering the question “Are you now, or have you ever been, a communist?” could destroy a career.

Orchestrated by the fervent anti-communism of Senator Joe McCarthy, the Red Scare saw men and women called before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

On December 25, the witch-hunt began, as Hollywood’s studio executives agreed to blacklist the ten suspected communists, who had been cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with investigators.

Of the Hollywood Ten, six - John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz and Samuel Ornitz — were Jews.

In the 12 years that followed many more writers, presenters, actors and directors would also be caught up in the paranoid attempt to root-out America’s socialist sympathisers.

What Michael Freedland said in the JC: For “communist”, read “Jew”. The hearings that took place in Los Angeles and in Washington between 1947 and the mid-’50s were as much (some would say more) antisemitic as anti-Communist. Hollywood was chosen for the attack because of the great publicity value the movie capital offered. It was also a great opportunity to get at the Jews of Hollywood. One after the other, the people called to give evidence to HUAC (in effect, put on trial by the committee) were Jews — not exclusively so, but enough to make the case.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 9:11am, November 25 2010