|FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover testifying before Congress about the "Communist Fifth Collumn."|
On June 9, 1949 J. Edgar Hoover did his part to fuel the growing anti-Communist hysteria sweeping post-World War II America when he released a “confidential” Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) report that named scores of influential Americans, most of them in the movie and entertainment business as members of the Communist Party.
Hoover had developed his list after Attorney General Tom Clark in 1946 had asked for the names of potentially “disloyal Americans” who might be detained in event of a “national emergency.” The names on the list were included a year later in 1950 after the Korean War broke out in a report to President Harry Truman with the names of more than 12,000 who should be rounded up and detained after the formal suspension of the right of habeas corpus. Truman had the good sense to thank his powerful FBI boss and promptly put the report and recommendation in the bottom drawer never to be acted upon.
But there were plenty, many of the in Congress and including some of the country’s most powerful media barons like the Chicago Tribune’s Col. Robert R. McCormack and Time’s Henry Luce were already clamoring for just such draconian measures.
Hollywood where the major studios were run by Jews and where many actors, writers, and creative people were politically active liberals and leftists; and where there was a powerful labor union movement with sometimes radical leadership, had already been singled out as a virtual Commie fifth column.
In 1946 and ’47 the powerful House Un-American Activities Committee had launched high profile hearings on Communist infiltration of the film industry and had subpoenaed hundreds to testify and name names. 19 of those refused to do so and were named as unfriendly witnesses. 11 of those were called before the committee and 10 refused to answer questions. Only German émigré Berthold Brecht relented and testified. The others including screen writers Dalton Trumbo, Howard Koch, and Ring Larder, Jr. were indicted for contempt of Congress and eventually sent to prison and blacklisted from the industry.
Some of Hollywood royalty including John Huston, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Garfield, Danny Kaye, and Billy Wilder attempted to rally support for the Hollywood Ten by organizing a Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights and traveling to Washington to protest. They came under intense attack by the Committee, the press, and by the terrified studio owners. Bogart, spearhead and principle spokesman for the group, was forced to back track and issue a statement that the trip had been ill advised. The group broke up acrimoniously between those who thought they should have toughed it out and those like Wilder who advised it was time “to fold our tents.”
Two years later Garfield and Kaye were among those named in the new FBI report, which was based on unnamed confidential informants and the Bureau’s own “analysis” which concluded that the Communists claimed “to have been successful in using well-known Hollywood personalities to further Communist Party aims.” Analysis was often based on no more than the recollection of an informant seeing an individual at a meeting years earlier, attendance at public functions, donations to certain charities, or signatures on some petitions. It included pre-war support for anti-Fascist causes and war time support of the Soviet Union—including activities undertaken at the request of the government.
Some people on the list were, or had been Party Members. Others were sympathetic. Some were non-Communist leftists—members of the Socialist Party or the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Many were unionists or sympathizers with the early Civil Rights Movement. And very many were simply liberals. It made no difference. To Hoover all were not just the “willing dupes” of the HUAC hearings, but active, card carrying Communists.
|Socialist Helen Keller may have been personal friends with Eleanore Roosevelt, but it was not enough to keep her off of Hoover's Commie list. Of course Hoover were have listed Mrs. Roosevelt herself if he thought he could get away with it.|
Among those listed were acknowledged Socialist and IWW member Helen Keller, even then widely regarded as a sort of secular saint. The report centered on the activities of Fredric March, a well-known liberal and an active Democrat who had recently won his second Academy Award for the brilliant film about the return of World War II GIs, The Best Years of Our Lives. March was no Communist, but he had organized a group concerned about atomic weapons and critical of America’s growing arsenal. Any one even tangentially connected to that effort, or to people connected to the effort were caught up in rippling waves of innuendo.
John Garfield, once the brightest new star at Warner Bros. came under especially severe scrutiny and his career immediately suffered. Already plagued with heart problems, the stress of the accusations was widely believed to be a direct contributing factor to his death of a heart attack in May of 1952.
Other prominent people named in the report, along with hundreds of non-celebrities included writer and wit Dorothy Parker, Paul Muni, and Edward G. Robinson. Like Garfield and Kaye they were all Jewish. In fact the reek of Anti-Semitism hung over the whole report.
|Fredric March, Paulette Goddard, Edward G. Robinson, and Audie Murphy, America's most decorated World War II soldier, stood up to Hoover.|
The effect on careers varied. Many of the more obscure found themselves on blacklists. Parker lost the radio panel show jobs that had provided most of her income. Muni’s film career was essentially finished. March and Kaye were able to keep working and had some of their best work ahead of them. Robinson’s career was hurt, but not over. And he was the most outspokenly defiant befitting his tough guy image.
These rantings, ravings, accusations, smearing, and character assassinations can only emanate from sick, diseased minds of people who rush to the press with indictments of good American citizens. I have played many parts in my life, but no part have I played better or been more proud of than that of being an American citizen.
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