The Hollywood Ten at 75 Film Series at The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

(Note: This is the edited text for the introduction to the April 13 screening of Tender Comrade and Sahara at the Academy Museum for this series commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist. The double feature included a discussion with screenwriter John Howard Lawson’s granddaughters Andrea Lawson and Nancy Lawson Carcione moderated by series co-presenter Ed Rampell.)

Friends, film fans, Angelenos – Comrades! Welcome, and thanks for joining us for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures’ film series, The Hollywood Ten at 75, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist. Tonight, we launch the series with an appropriate double feature written by the first two members of the Hollywood Ten to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Both Tender Comrade, written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Edward Dmytryk, and  Sahara, co-written by John Howard Lawson, were 1943 World War Two morale boosters. This is significant because leftwing filmmakers were drafted by Hollywood studios to make movies to raise audiences’ consciousness about the war effort because leftist talents were the most aware antifascists in Tinseltown. But shortly after World War Two ended and the Cold War started, this same political consciousness and conscience proved to be their undoing and resulted in these artists being persecuted by Washington and blacklisted by the movie studios.

Let’s review, especially for today’s younger moviegoers, what exactly the Hollywood Blacklist was? In a nutshell, here’s what happened: 75 years ago, a Congressional body called the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, subpoenaed members of the film community to testify at hearings investigating alleged subversion of the motion picture industry. In Washington in October 1947, the first group to give testimony collaborated with HUAC, naming names of talents who allegedly infiltrated movies with subversive messages. They were known as “cooperative” and “friendly” witnesses. 

HUAC then subpoenaed 19 reputed radicals to take the stand, but only 10 of them, plus German playwright Bertolt Brecht, actually testified before HUAC at the time. What came to be known as the Hollywood Ten refused to answer the Committee’s questions about whether they belonged to unions, such as what is now the Writers Guild, and the million-dollar question: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Because the Hollywood Ten considered these questions to violate their rights to freedom of association and free speech, they refused to answer “yes” or “no” and were called “uncooperative” and “unfriendly” witnesses.

The Hollywood Ten were also especially concerned that by answering questions about themselves and their affiliations, they would be opening themselves up to being forced to answer similar inquiries about others, including friends and colleagues. That is, they refused to become informers. They were charged with contempt of Congress, eventually fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned up to 1 year each – in the land of the free. The studio moguls issued the so-called “Waldorf Statement” refusing to employ artists purported to be Communists unless they recanted. In today’s parlance, the Blacklist and McCarthy era was when conservative cancel culture went wild, persecuting those who right-wingers considered to be “woke” in the 1940s and 1950s. (Note: Edward Dmytryk became the only member of the Hollywood Ten to subsequently recant and become an informer.)

On October 28, 1947 Dalton Trumbo was the second member of the Hollywood Ten to testify before HUAC and he is now widely recognized as a leading force in breaking the Blacklist. In 1970 when he received the Writers Guild’s Laurel Award, Trumbo said in his acceptance speech:

“…The Blacklist was a time of evil and no one who survived it came through untouched by evil… When you look back… on that dark time… it will do no good to search for villains or heroes or saints or devils because there were none; there were only victims.”

But as I once told Dalton’s son Chris, I disagree with his father. In doing so, I don’t mean to downplay the Blacklist’s persecution, especially of those who died due to it, including John Garfield, Canada Lee, Philip Loeb and Joe Bromberg. But I strongly feel that individuals like Dalton Trumbo and about 300 other brave Hollywood artists who refused to name names, recant and resisted the motion picture purge were indeed heroes.

During the “Inquisition in Eden”, as the Hollywood Ten’s Alvah Bessie called it, Communists and other independent leftists were accused of inserting “subversive” messages into movies. But did screenwriters, directors and actors others really try to express ideas and ideals onscreen? Some have argued that this were merely “Reds-under-the-beds” hysteria during the Cold War. But again, I disagree, and as a film historian, I’m convinced that the so-called “woke” artists of the 1930s and 1940s did indeed attempt to influence mass culture. And the fact is, the movies of the Depression and during the struggle against fascism were much better for their doing so.

For instance, John Howard Lawson’s screenplay for the second movie in our double bill tonight, Columbia Pictures’ Sahara, co-stars Rex Ingram in what is arguably the most dignified, non-stereotypical role played by a Black actor in a feature produced by a major Hollywood studio up to that point in film history.

Trumbo was Oscar-nominated for the screenplay of 1940’s Kitty Foyle and Ginger Rogers won her only Academy Award for playing this part – not for any of her Fred Astaire musicals. Oscar-gold aside, Ginger’s manager and mother, Lela Rogers – one of the first 10 women to join the U.S. Marines and a founder of the reactionary Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals – attacked the screenwriter who wrote the award-winning Kitty Foyle for her daughter when Lela testified before HUAC. Why?

Trumbo and Ginger reunited in 1943 at RKO for Tender Comrade, a World War Two, home front, Rosie the Riveter tearjerker. As one of HUAC’s friendliest witnesses, on October 24, 1947 Lela Rogers vilified Communists as “enemy agents, saboteurs or spies” who the Bill of Rights was not intended to protect and advocated outlawing the Communist Party. According to Thomas Doherty’s book Show Trial, in May, 1947, after testifying at earlier HUAC hearings in L.A., Lela told reporters: “that Ginger had balked at the subversive sentiment in a line” penned by Trumbo, claiming: “Ginger refused to speak the line and it was put into the mouth of Kim Hunter, and it appeared in the picture!” 

I believe it’s actually spoken twice. What exactly was the dialogue and theme of Tender Comrade that so infuriated Lela Rogers? We’ll discuss this and Sahara with the granddaughters of screenwriter John Howard Lawson in between the two movies on our double bill. Now, let’s watch this RKO picture written by Dalton Trumbo and directed by Edward Dmytryk of the Hollywood Ten and see just how deep the alleged “Communist infiltration of Hollywood” really was.

Schedule info for the remaining screenings of The Hollywood Ten at 75 film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures:

Objective, Burma! 2:00 p.m. Sunday, April 23, introduction by Ed Rampell.

John Garfield double feature Force of Evil and He Ran All the Way 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 27, introduction by K.J. Relth-Miller, Interim Director, Film Programs, Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Spartacus 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 29, introduction by Ed Rampell and Dalton Trumbo’s daughter-in-law, Nancy Escher.

Salt of the Earth 2:00 p.m. Sunday, April 30, introduction by Ed Rampell, followed by a panel discussion featuring Eve Bodenstedt, granddaughter of Salt’s star Rosaura Revueltas, who is flying up from Mexico for the event; co-star Will Geer’s daughter and granddaughter, Ellen Geer and Willow Geer; and Bill Jarrico, son of Salt’s producer Paul Jarrico.

For details see: