The Hollywood Blacklist – The Witch Hunt On Hollywood in the 1940’s and 1950’s

The Hollywood blacklist, also known as the entertainment black list, was directed towards a multitude of Hollywood producers, directors, screenwriters, actors, musicians, and other entertainment professionals. These individuals were denied employment in the motion picture industry based on their real or suspected political associations or beliefs.

Those who were considered sympathetic towards the American Communist Party, or were in any way involved in any liberal humanitarian efforts that were considered associated with communism were to be blacklisted.

The HUAC (The House Committee on Un-American Activities) was created in 1938 to investigate and carry out the elimination of Communist sympathizers in America. The committee established its first Hollywood blacklist in November of 1947 immediately after ten writers and directors refused to give testimony to the HUAC and were cited for being in contempt of congress. History would refer to these writers and directors as the “Hollywood Ten.”

Senator Joseph McCarthy conducted a “witch hunt” on all those suspected of being associated with, or having sympathy for the Communist Party. The over zealous, and almost paranoid, actions of the Senator came to be known as “McCarthyism.” The term originated as a criticism of the Senator, but later took on a much broader meaning and is still used today to describe unsubstantiated and reckless accusations.

The HUAC hearings began their sessions with a number of individuals in the film industry being accused of being members of, or aligning themselves with The Communist Party, and allegedly implementing sympathetic material into their films. Particularly affected were screen writers, including legendary screen writer Arthur Miller, but many actors and directors were also cited.

The Senate committee felt strongly that the liberal ideas being portrayed in many Hollywood films constituted a great threat to traditional American society.

As a result of their industry being singled out for this persecution, actors Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Danny Kaye, along with Director John Houston, created The Committee for the First Amendment in protest against the accusations that were being brought against the motion picture industry.

As a result of these hearings, and in spite of the protest movements, Hollywood was severely damaged. The consequences dictated the dismissing of many of its most talented stars, screen writers, directors and other creative forces that were cited as being communist sympathizers.

Many of these film professionals would never be able to resume their careers, and many found that friends and family would also turn their backs on them. They were now perceived as being guilty of having leftist viewpoints, and had not only found their careers destroyed, but were also labeled as “traitors” by the American public who, as a result of political propaganda, strongly believed Communism to be the biggest threat to American society..

Many who were blacklisted faced almost constant harassment from the FBI, experienced great defamation of character, and were now considered as “outcasts” by their own society. The black listing practices by the Senate would continue through the 1950’s and threaten the entertainment industry for over a decade.

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