Seventy years ago today, October 27, 1947, ten courageous screenwriters and directors, known as the “Hollywood Ten,” refused to answer illegal questions about their political associations posed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC.)
All ten were cited for contempt, served up to a year in prison, fined $1,000, and were “blacklisted,” which essentially meant they couldn’t work, and many had to flee the country and for some suicide was their only escape.
Among the darkest periods in U.S. history, the era was known as the “Red Scare,” while the tactic of character assassinations was known as “McCarthyism,” named after Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI.)
Fanning anti-communist fervor, McCarthy’s reign of televised intimidation in the 1950s became synonymous with demagoguery, and fear-mongering. But in 1954, after seven years of ruining innocent lives, karma finally caught up with Joe.
In March, McCarthy was exposed on national TV, See it Now, anchored by the esteemed Edward R. Murrow. And in April the televised Army Hearings revealed his ugly bullying.
Perhaps the tipping point came when Joseph Welch, the Army’s lawyer, pleaded, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” (A phrase repeated today about Donald Trump.)
For “debasing the Senate,” McCarthy was censured by his own Republican party, 67-22. Disgraced, Joe proceeded to drink himself to death at 48.
The 70-year anniversary of the resistance is being commemorated at the Writer’s Guild theater at 135 Doheny at 6 P.M. The event will include Hollywood Ten offspring and stars Susan Sarandon, Mike Farrell and, via video, Ed Asner and Lee Grant.
They will re-enact courageous testimonies before HUAC, as a direct response to Donald Trump’s attacks on civil liberties.
Little known is the link between McCarthyism and Trumpism. Joe’s top watchdog was the red-baiting lawyer Roy Cohn (the Steve Bannon of the day.) Cohn was as ruthless and ambitious as his boss and went on to mentor … Donald Trump!
For thirteen years, Cohn taught his “deny everything, win-at-all-costs” style to Trump. Cohn’s philosophy shaped Trump’s worldview and the belligerent public persona so dominant in these historically unpopular first nine months.
The blacklist at least served as fodder for Groucho Marx. It was at a Writer’s Guild awards show when Groucho quipped, “The Ten Commandments,’ original story by Moses.
However, the producers were forced to keep Moses’ name off the credits because they found out he had once crossed the Red Sea.”
For a friend of Groucho’s, the late producer, George Pepper and his wife Jeannette, the blacklist would become a personal and professional nightmare.
This because, on April 25, 1951, director Edward Dmytryk, one of the original Hollywood 10, appeared before HUAC, now as a “friendly witness.” Among the names he gave up was Pepper.
Pepper’s daughter Margot, an author and bilingual educator, notes, “My father had already bought a one-way ticket to Mexico. My mother packed their car and joined him at the Mexican border.
My parents remained exiled for twenty years, along with dozens of other persecuted U.S. labor leaders, artists and activists.
” (Born and raised in Mexico until she was 7 when her father passed after which Margo lived an influential year of her life with famed blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo and his wife Cleo in W. Hollywood.)
About Pepper, he was a prodigy in the violin and at age 4 garnering headlines soloing in symphony orchestras. But by 24, he developed “repetitive strain injury,” which ended his violin career.
He turned to politics and, under his leadership as Executive Secretary of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, the organization became the major outpost of progressivism west of the Hudson River.
While in Mexico, Pepper produced four movies, two directed by Spanish director Luis Buñuel, including The Young One, regarded as Buñuel’s “most remarkable. And yet, Pepper’s name does not appear on a single film in the U.S.
Pepper introduced screenwriter Hugo Butler to Buñuel and in 1954 produced The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe but to skirt the blacklist, used the pen-name “George P. Werker.”
“Werker’s” film credits also include Torero (1956) and The Little Giants (Los Pequeños Gigantes, 1958.)
In 1997, blacklisted screenwriters and director credits were all restored when the WGA and three other talent guilds publicly apologized for their role in the blacklist.
However, Margot Pepper, confirms her attempts to restore her father’s name have been ignored by the Motion Picture Association of America, the Producers Guild, IMDb, and Wikipedia.
There is some progress, however. As part of this year’s Oscar festivities, the Academy has restored The Little Giants for a showing on November 18. This marks the first Hollywood entity to acknowledge the existence of producer George Pepper.
It’s said those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Trump recently tweeted about journalists, “It’s disgusting how they write what they want” and threatened to revoke NBC’s license.
Regarding government leaks, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he “couldn’t rule out” jailing journalists.
To that I say, where’s Groucho when you need him?
For tickets go to: http://www.getvamos.com/events/70th-anniversary-commemoration-of-the-hollywood-blacklist/14879509/ For the showing of The Little Giants go to: http://pstlala.oscars.org/event/los-pequenos-gigantes-little-giants-1960/. Margot Pepper, who will be one of the commeration speakers, is at http://www.margotpepper.com/. Jack is at email@example.com.