Conservatives and Liberals Face ‘a New McCarthyism’ in Hollywood

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, left (Photofest)
Sen. Joseph McCarthy, left (Photofest)

It’s been 70 years since President Truman ordered his loyalty tests. Now Hollywood has a loyalty test of its own.

by Stephen Galloway

Seventy years ago this week — on March 21, 1947, to be exact — President Truman issued an executive order that caught some of his most die-hard supporters by surprise.

The order, writes Robert Justin Goldstein in Prologue magazine, “required that all federal civil service employees be screened for ‘loyalty.’ [It] specified that one criterion…would be a finding of ‘membership in, affiliation with or sympathetic association’ with any organization determined by the attorney general to be ‘totalitarian, Fascist, Communist or subversive’ or advocating or approving the forceful denial of constitutional rights to other persons or seeking ‘to alter the form of Government of the United States by unconstitutional means.’ ”

Two and a half years before Sen. Joseph McCarthy raised his ugly head and alleged massive Communist infiltration of the government, the “red scare” was underway. It would have a devastating impact on Hollywood.

Months after Truman’s order, several dozen members of the film industry were summoned to appear as witnesses before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Nineteen of them, known as the “Unfriendly Nineteen” — a term coined by the red-baiting Hollywood Reporter — were left-wingers, hostile to the committee. Billy Wilder mordantly quipped that “only two of them have talent. The rest are just unfriendly.” But their summons sent waves of fear coursing through the industry, enough to paralyze even liberal supporters such as Humphrey Bogart, and certainly more conservative ones such as Gary Cooper.

By the end of the hearings, 10 of the witnesses had been cited for contempt of court, and soon some of the top movie executives issued what became known as the Waldorf Statement, a two-page press release vowing that “We will forthwith discharge or suspend without compensation those in our employ, and we will not re-employ any of the ten until such time as he is acquitted or has purged himself of contempt and declares under oath that he is not a Communist.”

The Hollywood Ten would serve time in prison and emerge to find themselves banished from the studios, forced to scrimp and scrape and use “fronts” just to survive. More than a decade would pass before they were able to work freely again.

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SOURCE: The Hollywood Reporter