Friday, June 8, 2012

Remembering Another Time When Conservatives Controlled the Congress – Kirk Douglas and the Blacklist

Conservatives Loved Freedom So Much They Just Didn’t Want to Share it With Anyone Else

Kirk Douglas, one of the great movie actors of all time is better known today as the father of actor/producer Michael Douglas.  But Mr. Douglas was an integral part of American history, not the kind you find in the textbooks that glorify America, but the reality kind.  In this case the situation involved rabid Conservatives who controlled the Congress and who felt government’s role was to deny basic freedoms and liberties to those with whom they disagreed.  Here is the background.

Kirk Douglas: Click for 'Spartacus' photos
Krik Douglas at 95
An American Actor, An American Hero

Staring back into history from our time, when actors and filmmakers are free to express all sorts of spectacularly preposterous political viewpoints, it’s hard to imagine there was a time when your political beliefs could destroy your career. But that’s what happened in Hollywood in the late 1940s and early 1950s after the nation was swept up in an intense anti-communist fervor.

Looking for headlines, the House Committee on Un-American Activities called a host of showbiz talent to testify about their associations, real or otherwise, with the Communist Party. Trumbo, in fact, was a member of the Communist Party from 1943 to 1948. When a group of writers and directors who became known as the Hollywood 10 refused to cooperate, the men, who included Trumbo, were cited for contempt of Congress and eventually sent to prison.

The men who ran the movie studios displayed a level of political cowardice almost unprecedented in any society.

In November 1947, just days after the 10 were cited, the Motion Picture Assn. of America announced that everyone who’d refused to cooperate would lose their job — the studios feared that the public would shy away from cinemas if suspected or admitted communists were involved with the productions.

That was the beginning of the blacklist, which effectively ended the careers of a host of notable writers, actors and filmmakers. 

What Mr. Douglas did then sounds normal now, but when he broke the blacklist he was placing his career and livelihood on the line.  See even after the nation woke up to the ugly McCarthyism that had engulfed everyone, Hollywood continued it UnAmerican practices.  Writers like Dalton Trumbo had to hide their work.

Still, Hollywood studios continued to enforce the blacklist, even though many of the top blacklisted writers found a way to make a living by either using pseudonyms or hiring other writers as “fronts” who put their names on the original writers’ scripts.

Trumbo, for example, using the pseudonym Robert Rich, won a screenwriting Oscar in 1957 for his script for “The Brave One,” causing a stir when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences couldn’t locate the mysterious Mr. Rich to present him with the award.

But Mr. Douglas broke the blacklist by openly employing Mr. Trumbo to write Spartacus.  Well, sort of openly.

The top executives at Universal didn’t find out about Trumbo (who’d written the script under the pseudonym of Sam Jackson) until Douglas went public with the news. By then, it was too late to stop him, 

and at the end of the day sanity (and money) won out over right wing paranoia.

In the end, what really mattered was the bottom line. For all of Douglas’ courage, the real end of the blacklist came when, despite scattered protests, Variety reported in late December 1960 that “Spartacus” and “Exodus,” the two films that openly gave credit to a blacklisted screenwriter, were No. 1 and No. 2 at the box office that month.

After Hollywood saw that the public had no problem paying good money to see movies written by an ex-communist, it found its lost courage in a hurry. 

So this is a great story, but of course no one will find it in those sanitized history books Conservatives are demanding to be adopted in public schools.  After all for Conservatives history is for propagandizing, not for instructing. 

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