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Hollywood Ten Lesson Plan Project

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Hollywood Ten Lesson Plan Project



Part II
Topic of lesson plan: From Chapter 7 which is titled movies: I will go into depth on the subject of the Hollywood Ten and the impact that communism had on the film industry.

    I. Video Presentation
        A. View a clip from the film Cradle Will Rock, directed and written by Tim Robbins.
            1. Setting the clip up:  The clip that will be shown in class is about the director of the Federal Theater Project, Hallie Flanagan (played by Cherry Jones), testifying and denying in front of Congress claims that she and the Federal Theater Project have ties to Communism.  While this clip is not specifically about Communism in the movie industry, it gives a good idea of how it affected theaters in the 1930s.  It also gives a good idea of the type of questioning that went on in the Congress trials against presumed Communists in the entertainment industry.  In between the clips of Hallie Flanagan testifying, there are other plots dealing with how Communism affected other sides of America.
                a. The cast and crew of Cradle Will Rock (played by Hank Azaria, Cary Elwes, Angus McFadyen, John Turturro, Emily Watson, etc.) along with an eccentric theater lover (played by the divine Vanessa Redgrave), are upset because the play has been shut down right before opening night.  The reason for the closing of the show is because the musical has Communist themes that the Federal Government does not want to be displayed to the public.
                b. Hazel Hoffmann (played by Joan Cusack) is ostracized at her job in the Federal Theater Project.  This is because she testified the previous night before Congress about many individuals that she felt were Communists in the Federal Theater Project.
                c. A wealthy entrepreneur (played by Philip Baker Hall) who is the owner of a large steel company makes plans to sell steel to Mussolini.
                d. Diego Riviera (played by Ruben Blades) is not allowed to finish his mural that he is painting on the wall of the Rockefeller Center.  This is because Nelson Rockefeller (played by John Cusack) was upset because of the Communist figure of Lenin that appeared in the mural.
            2. Stop the movie 15 minutes and 40 seconds from where the clip began.



II. Lecture
    A. Introduction
        1. First there were seventy-nine witnesses subpoenaed in 1947 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to testify about their beliefs, allegiances, associations, and activities.  Since all of the witnesses were not called to the stand, they became the Hollywood Ten.  The cause of this committee during the Cold War was to seek out those of prominent authority in the American Public who were a threat from the far left wing of politics.  The case of these ten Hollywood writers and directors caused a question of importance: How could the first amendment right of freedom of speech and expression be expelled to fit the needs of the suspicious and paranoid Federal Government of the 1940s and 1950s? Some of the ten had been members of the Communist Party, but all had one thing in common.  They all became blacklisted from their industry and all served time in prison for refusing to answer the committees question about American Communist Party membership.

    B. The “friendly” witnesses
        1. The threat of communism in the film industry was a fear of the right wing since the 1930s when the Screen Writers Guild was formed.  The right saw the joint of these writers as the first step to the left’s domination of the screen, suggesting that the guild was filled with Communists.  Therefore, in 1944 the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals was formed “to combat Communists and to some degree Fascists, and to preserve…the screen in its loyalty to the free America which gave it birth”(Dick 2).  The Motion Picture Alliance served another purpose: it provided HUAC with witnesses willing to testify about Communism.  In May of 1947, HUAC came to Los Angeles to hear testimony from these snitches in closed hearings.
            a. These closed hearings were in no way a secret.  As in the same way, no one person in Hollywood’s life was a secret.  Therefore, when HUAC interviewed 14 of Hollywood’s prominent figures on who was and wasn’t a Communist, HUAC came away with 79 names to investigate in Hollywood.  These 79 along with the 14, who testified in May, were to be subpoenaed for legal trials in October of the same year.
        2. When the group of witnesses were subpoenaed in September of that same year to appear in Washington D.C., they were put into two categories: “friendly” and “unfriendly”.  The group of “friendly” witnesses was comprised of well-known names in the industry such as Robert Taylor, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, Jack Warner, Walt Disney, Lela Rogers, and Ayn Rand(Dick 2-3).  There were 19 total in the “unfriendly” category and then the rest were lumped into the “friendly” category.  The “friendlies” went first, beginning on October 20, 1947.  These “friendlies” helped give testimony against the 19 that were to follow, helping HUAC to sign the death certificate for the Hollywood Ten.

    C. The “Unfriendly” witnesses
        1. On October 27, 1947, the first of the Hollywood Ten were called to testify in front of HUAC.  The trials lasted for four days.  By the end, only 11 of the 19 testified, the eleventh being allowed to go free.  It is still unknown as to how HUAC made the decision as to who should testify first.  Many believed that it was done by way of how many numbers of pages of evidence was collected about each of the victims.  Whatever the reason, John Howard Lawson was the first to give testimony.
            a. John Howard Lawson was a Hollywood writer who had began his career writing plays for Broadway.  Lawson wrote for Warner Brothers and did not find any reason to hide is communistic beliefs.  Of the ten, he was by far the most intellectual and his future seemed very bright in the film business.  Lawson could not conceal his contempt for the committee and became angry when the committee asked him if he was a part of the SWG.  He told them that it was none of their business and then retracted his testimony.  He went on to tell them that he was a member and had been the guilds first President.
             b. Dalton Trumbo, also a screenwriter, was called secondly on the next day of hearings.  Dalton Trumbo started off as a journalist for a struggling newspaper.  From there he proceeded to write the very popular novel Johnny Got his Gun in 1939 and then from there went on to write for Hollywood.  In his career he wrote for both RKO and MGM and wrote plays as well.  All though his work did not have central communistic themes, there were lines found in his scripts that were considered to be communistic and he was a member of the SWG.  He was asked the two questions that became typical of the hearings “Are you a member of the SWG?” and “Are you a Communist?”  He did not answer either of them.
            c. Albert Maltz, another screenwriter, testified immediately after Trumbo on October 28. Maltz was a graduate of Columbia University with a love for the stage.  His plays were filled with political ideas and he attempted to write the definitive union play.  He wrote novels about fascism and communism and wrote screenplays with heavy communistic undertones.  Maltz poked fun at and criticized Capitalism and worked under known Communists.  To the committee, Maltz was the ideal communist and when asked the famous two questions, he did not respond.
            d. Another screenwriter, Alvah Bessie, followed Maltz on the same day.  Bessie was by no means an important member of the entertainment industry.  He had only written four scripts and was even fired by Jack Warner in 1995, therefore, he had not written anything for the screen for two years before the hearings had started.  His real love was for literature, primarily short stories and only came to Hollywood to earn a living.  The only reason why HUAC had called him to testify was because he had openly spoken out against the Conference of Studio Unions and promoted the strike against the organization in 1945.  However, even though he did not openly show communistic beliefs, he still did not answer the two questions asked by the committee.
            e. On October 29, screenwriter Samuel Ornitz was the first to testify.  As many of the others, Ornitz began his career in New York writing for the theater.  However, Ornitz started off on the wrong foot immediately by moving in radical circles that included extreme left-wing theater companies.  He was so obsessed with the idea of fascism that he went abroad to Europe to learn more of the phenomenon.  He wrote many films for RKO, continuing his radical ideas in his screenplays.  He was known mostly as a novelist and children’s author, his books themes were always political.  Toward the end of his career, he toned down the far left comments in his writings, but his past could never disappear. He too did not answer the committee’s questions.
            f. The first director, Herbert Biberman, was the next to be called to testify.  Biberman was by far the most devout communist of the ten and was known as the one with the least amount of talent.  He began by writing plays after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania.  He went on to direct plays for the Broadway stage, plays such as Red Rust and Roar China that had clear political reasons behind them.  He only directed two films, but both were political as well.  In everything that Biberman did, his radical ideas of politics were brought out.  In the courtroom, Biberman frustrated HUAC so much that the committee became frustrated with him and ordered him to be taken away.  Even though he spoke very much at the hearings, he never answered the two important questions.
            g. The next two to testify were a director and a producer.  Director Edward Dmytryk and producer Adrian Scott were brought to testify because of a common movie they both worked on, Crossfire.  Both men were very prominent in Hollywood with many movies under their belt.  However, HUAC described the movie Crossfire as “an assault on anti-Semitism which was considered Communist, and that only Communists would make a movie where the anti-Semitic killer is a deranged ex-GI”(Dick 6).  However, while the director and producer of the movie were summoned, the writer was not.  The reason was that there was no other evidence that the writer, John Paxton, was a communist and Dore Schary, the head of production at RKO, had not singled him out as Dmytryk and Scott had been.  The two followed suit and did not answer the committee’s questions.
            h. On Thursday 30 October, the committee finally got to question screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr.  He had been called earlier to testify, but had chosen not to come to the courtroom before Thursday.  Lardner was known as the wittiest of the ten and the one with the best sense of humor.  To the question asked by the HUAC of “Are you know or have you ever been?” Lardner responded, “I could answer it, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning”(Dick 166).  Lardner began as a reporter and traveled to Hollywood shortly after to write for RKO.  His Broadway play Tomorrow the World, was about a German boy living in the United States and was the grounds for his label as a Communist.  Even though most of his works were not political, he was still brought to testify.  He too did not answer their questions.
            i. The final member of the Hollywood Ten to testify was screenwriter, Lester Cole.  Cole was perhaps the most famous screenwriters of the ten and did not hide his view of politics in the scripts that he wrote.  He started began his career as a Hollywood writer, and that is where his career ended.  For Universal he wrote Sinners in Paradise, which was directed by James Whale, and The House of Seven Gables.  Both of the movies had heavy Socialistic ideas in them and were basically Lester Cole’s downfall.  He was the last of the ten and the last to ignore the questions asked by HUAC.  However, he was not the last to testify.
            j. The eleventh witness to be called was playwright Bertoldt Brecht.  He had only written one screenplay, Hangmen Also Die and was not even in the SWG.  The only reason why he was subpoenaed to testify was because the man who had written the score for Hangmen Also Die, Hanns Eisler, was a known communist.  Therefore if Eisler was a Communist, so was Brecht.  Brecht denied that he had any ties to the Communist party and was let go, therefore, the Hollywood Ten only remained ten and not eleven.
        2. The composition of the “unfriendly” group were all unknown males, mostly screenwriters.  There were no women, even though the committee had enough information on Lillian Hellman and Karen Morley to call them as witnesses.  Besides the fact that no women were part of the group, there were no actors as well.  The only actor who was part of the “unfriendly” group was Larry Parks, and he was never called to testify.  The fact that they most were all screenwriters is easy to define: HUAC insisted that the script is “the principal medium through which Communists have sought to inject their propaganda”(Dick 6).  The reason for them all being unknown males in the entertainment industry was purely political.  HUAC did not want any sympathy for their victims.  If they were to compose their list of well-known actors, actresses, and directors, the public would be outraged.  The “unfriendly” group were an experiment to see if the public would support HUAC or condemn them.
        3.    The Hollywood Ten all had one thing in common, they all took the same stand when answering HUAC’s questions.  Thy all agreed to take their first Amendment right on grounds that the investigation was a violation of their freedom of expression.  Their other option was to have invoked their fifth Amendment right, but that would have suggested that the desire to avoid self-incrimination stemmed from having done something wrong; that they were all Communists.  Had they chosen the fifth, they more than likely would have been able to avoid jail.  But taking the First as a group had labeled them all as one-single cell and not as the individuals that they were.  They all went to jail.








    D.       Conclusion
        1. The blacklist that followed the 1947 hearings contributed to the decline of the movie industry after World War II.  “As Damaging to the American cinema as the loss of individual talent was the pervasive mood of fear, distrust, and self-loathing that settled over Hollywood in the wake of the hearings”(Dick 223).  The blacklist did not end with the Hollywood Ten, according to Adrian Scott it included, “106 writers, 36 actors, 3 dancers, 11 directors, 4 producers, 6 musicians, 4 cartoonists, and 44 craftsmen and other professionals.  They became unemployable by failing in one or another by not ‘cooperating’ with the House Committee on Un-American Activities”(Dick 223).  The only one of the Hollywood Ten to have a career past the blacklist was Dalton Trumbo.  But it was a long time before he could use his actual name and not a pseudonym for his published works.  So what became of the rest of the Hollywood Ten and Hollywood itself?  The rest of the Hollywood Ten vanished into oblivion.  While most still attempted to work, they never succeeded in writing again for the cinema.  And Hollywood bounced back in the 1960s and has been going strong ever since.  Presently, the Screen Actors Guild and the Screen Writers Guild have hit Hollywood with a threat for a strike.  But there will always be more struggling actors waiting for a break and talented writers with new scripts.  Hollywood will never die.

III.     Discussion
        1. The following are a list of questions that should fuel a discussion.  Give and go with it, if there are some other questions you feel would be worthy to ask, go for it!  Discuss for the rest of the time that is remaining.
            a. What parts of the movie clip did you think best portrayed the suspicion and chaos that was a part of the era before World War II?
            b. Do you think that the suspicion and chaos before World War II was similar to the suspicion and chaos that appeared during the Cold War era of the 1940s and 1950s?
            c. Therefore, do you feel that the movie was a good representation of what occurred in the 1947 hearings of the Hollywood Ten? Why or why not?
            d. Give some examples of how HUAC mistreated its witnesses.  How might have HUAC gone about creating a fair trial for the Hollywood Ten?
            e. What might be some other reasons why the “unfriendly” group was only made up unknown male screenwriters?
            f.  What could have the politics been behind the Federal Court system ignoring the Hollywood Ten’s first Amendment rights?
            g. Is the threat of Communism still such a big deal today in our American Society? Why or why not?
 
 




     Works Cited

Dick, Bernard.  Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood TenLexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989.
 








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