RON CAPSHAW: Flipping The Hollywood Blacklist Narrative.
Once on a British talk show in the early 1970s, anticommunist actor John Wayne startled the host by acknowledging that there was indeed a Hollywood blacklist. Wayne’s follow-up, however, made the host’s jaw drop even farther; the blacklist, he stated, wasn’t wielded by industry anticommunists against Communist Party members, but by the reverse. It was for this reason, Wayne stated, that he enlisted in the anticommunist fight in order to defend conservative screenwriters and get them back on the payroll.
Wayne, regarded by the Old and New Left, as a fascist, was in actuality more of a rebel against the establishment than they ever would be. The “establishment” in this case was Left Coast Hollywood, already entrenched by the early 70s, who, taking a leaf from the Hollywood communist narrative, asserted that the blacklisted were liberals battling fascism in the form of industry anticommunists. Upholders of free speech rather than the Stalinists they were, they paid the consequences for their New Deal liberalism by going to jail and being denied employment in the industry for two decades. Their eventual triumph wasn’t just in overturning the blacklist, but in getting modern day Hollywood, academia and liberals to accept their narrative. Hence, anticommunist movie stars like Robert Taylor have had their names removed from buildings, while blacklisted screenwriters such as Dalton Trumbo have free speech fountains at colleges dedicated to them.
This spin is nourished by the memoirs of the children of the blacklisted, who give the narrative more poignancy by showing how the blacklist warped their childhoods. These recollections all follow the same theme: assertions by the children that their parents were not knee jerk Stalinists; followed by a strong, loving family unit (no affairs or alcoholism are allowed into this narrative); then the unit is warped while at the same time being brought closer together as the blacklist hits; then a decade of near-poverty, school yard bullying, and a redemptive move toward leftist politics.
More than honoring the memory of their parents is involved here. As with Left Coast Hollywood, they have followed the narrative by continuing how they were used by their parents in protests against their jail terms—displayed with placards bearing how their parents were going to jail while their parents stood piously by.
By contrast, the children of their anticommunist foes have stayed silent. But Allen Ryskind, the son of the blacklisted’s bete noir, Academy-awarding screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, does not engage in self-pity or strumming the violin in Hollywood Traitors. While he notes that his father was the victim of the blacklist Wayne spoke of, he doesn’t play on it. Nor does he use the example of his father—a Jew and member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Screenwriters’ Guild as well as a two-time voter for FDR—to refute the Left’s charge that their opponents were anti-Semites, anti-labor and anti-New Deal.
Only one of those three things is dishonorable. Here’s a related piece from Tim Cavanaugh, and here’s more on the subject of Hollywood’s “missing movies.”
Meanwhile, the book is Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters — Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler.