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Radical Innocence

Radical Innocence: A Critical Study of the Hollywood Ten

Bernard F. Dick
Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: 1
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Radical Innocence
    Book Description:

    On October 30, 1947, the House Committee on Un-American Activities concluded the first round of hearings on the allege Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. Hollywood was ordered to "clean its own house," and ten witnesses who had refused to answer questions about their membership in the Screen Writers Guild and the Communist party eventually received contempt citations. By 1950 the Hollywood Ten, as they quickly became known, were serving prison sentences ranging from six months to a year. Since that time the group, which included writers, directors, and a producer, have been either dismissed as industry hacks or eulogized as Cold War martyrs, but never have they been discussed in terms of their profession.

    Radical Innocenceis the first study to focus on the work of the Ten: their short stories, plays, novels, criticism, poems, memoirs, and, of course, their films. Drawing on myriad sources, including archival materials, unpublished manuscripts, black-market scripts, screenplay drafts, letters, and personal interviews, Bernard F. Dick describes the Ten's survival tactics during the blacklisting and analyzes the contribution of these ten individuals no only to film but also to the arts.Radical Innocencecaptures the personality of each of the Ten -- the arrogant Herbert J. Biberman, the witty Ring Lardner, Jr., the patriarchal Samuel Ornitz, the compassionate Adrian Scott, and the feisty Dalton Trumbo.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4771-0
    Subjects: Film Studies, History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On Monday 20 October 1947 at 10:30 A.M. in the packed Caucus Room of the Old House Office Building in Washington, D.C., amid the whirring of newsreel cameras and the popping of flashbulbs, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) formally began hearings about alleged Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. On Thursday 30 October at 3:00 P.M. the hearings ended, although it was clear from the concluding remarks of Chairman J. Parnell Thomas that the topic was far from exhausted: “The hearing today concludes the first phase of the committee’s investigation of communism in the motion-picture industry. While...

  5. 1 SAMUEL ORNITZ: Mazel Tov! to the World
    (pp. 12-28)

    John Howard Lawson may have been the ideologue of the Ten, Herbert Biberman the organizer, and Ring Lardner, Jr., the wit; but Samuel Badisch Ornitz was the patriarch. Although Ornitz would have preferred Lawson’s title, Dalton Trumbo’s description of him as “a man of immense dignity, sincerity and learning”¹ is more suited to a gifted storyteller, a champion of human rights, and one of the few residents of Los Angeles who could claim to read the dailyNew York Times.

    Like most of the Ten, Ornitz came from the middle class; although he was born on New York’s Hester Street,...

  6. 2 LESTER COLE: Hollywood Red
    (pp. 29-44)

    Lester Cole arrived in Hollywood about the same time as Samuel Ornitz, both receiving their first screenplay credits in 1932. Cole’s Hollywood years are better documented because they have been recounted in his autobigraphy. As Hollywood autobiographies go,Hollywood Red(1981) is one of the better examples of a genre that has always been suspect. Cole’s at least throws some light on his screenwriting, particularly on the script of which he is proudest:The Romance of Rosy Ridge(1947). However, the focus ofHollywood Redis, as it should be, on the subject’s transformation from a high school dropout to...

  7. 3 JOHN HOWARD LASWSON: Hollywood Commissar
    (pp. 45-69)

    John Howard Lawson came to Hollywood for the first time in 1928, shortly before Ornitz and Cole arrived. Unlike his comrades, however, Lawson had already built a reputation: five of his plays had been produced in New York.

    Lawson also differs from most of the Ten in having been the subject of doctoral dissertations, one of which has been published.¹ This is not surprising; although his plays have not been revived, they are historically important. Spanning a fourteen-year period from 1923 (Roger Bloomer) to 1937 (Marching Song), they illustrate the transition from the expressionism of the 1920s to the social...

  8. 4 HERBERT BIBERMAN: The Salt That Lost Its Savor
    (pp. 70-81)

    While John Howard Lawson’s plays are discussed in standard histories of the American drama, Herbert Biberman’s contribution to the theater merits a mere paragraph in one of them.¹ Yet Biberman might have become an important stage figure if he had not allowed politics to rule his life and had not alienated the Theatre Guild with his Marxist rhetoric.

    The stage was Biberman’s first love. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics, he realized he was more interested in the theater than in the vice-presidency of Biberman Brothers, the family’s clothing firm. And so, in 1925,...

  9. 5 ALBERT MALTZ: Asking of Writers
    (pp. 82-103)

    When Albert Maltz graduated from Columbia University in 1930 with a B.A. in philosophy, he had no intention of pursuing the intellectual life. His sights were set on the stage; accordingly, he enrolled in Yale’s School of Drama and, like Herbert Biberman, who preceded him by six years, studied under George Pierce Baker. There he formed a close friendship with another student, George Sklar, who became his collaborator on two plays.

    As a Depression playwright, Maltz has suffered the fate of most dramatists who come under that heading. While some plays of the 1930s are revived and studied as drama,...

  10. 6 ALVAH BESSIE: The Eternal Brigadier
    (pp. 104-120)

    Even the most militant supporters of the Ten would have to admit that Alvah Bessie’s contribution to the American film—one original screen story and four scripts, all written from 1943 to 1947—is minor. Thus he cannot be accused of parlaying notoriety into celebrity; moreover, his screenwriting career had virtually ended in 1945-two years before the HUAC investigation—when Jack Warner fired him, allegedly for supporting the Conference of Studio Unions (CSU) strike. Any subsequent offers came not from major studios but from independent producers; that his last screen credit,Smart Woman(1948), was such an assignment reveals the...

  11. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  12. 7 ADRIAN SCOTT: A Decent Man
    (pp. 121-134)

    Stage,the chic precursor ofTheatre Arts, was “The Magazine of After-Dark Entertainment,” as its cover proclaimed. Notables from the literary and performing arts such as Clifton Fadiman, Deems Taylor, Burgess Meredith, and Marcia Davenport graced its pages with their essays and reviews. It was something of a surprise, then, that the December 1936 issue included a satire on Dish Night (the practice of including a piece of dinnerware in the price of a movie ticket) written in gamy prose that was as much at variance with the magazine’s urbane image as the topic. The author was John Paxton, a...

  13. 8 EDWARD DMYTRYK: To Work, Perchance to Dream
    (pp. 135-165)

    “My life has been one long roller-coaster ride. I’ve had more ups and downs than a two-bit whore in a lumber camp. And I’ve learned one thing. Every time fate beckons with her middle finger, it’s a complete surprise. Misfortune doesn’t take off her coat, put up her dukes, and say, ’Come on, let’s fight.’ She creeps up on you when you’re not looking, clobbers you, then keeps hitting you while you’re down.”¹

    This quotation suggests a weary gumshoe in a dented fedora; one might be hearing the late afternoon ruminations of Philip Marlowe in his best screen incarnation,Murder,...

  14. 9 RING LARDNER, JR.: Radical Wit
    (pp. 166-182)

    The supreme moment inA Star Is Born(1937) occurs at the end of the film when Vicki Lester (Janet Gaynor) steps before a microphone and introduces herself by her married name: “Hello, everybody. This is Mrs. Norman Maine.” Budd Schulberg, Jr., and Ring Lardner, Jr., the creators of that scene, were never credited for it, although their fadeout line is now legendary.¹ The same year, Lardner, with the help of George Oppenheimer, devised the memorable finale ofNothing Sacred(1937), in which Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard) becomes a celebrity when she is erroneously believed to be dying of radium...

  15. 10 DALTON TRUMBO: The Bull That Broke the Blacklist
    (pp. 183-222)

    Although none of the Ten has ever become a household name, “Dalton Trumbo” at least comes close. When I was researching this book in Los Angeles in the summer of 1985, a waiter in a Westwood Hamburger Hamlet, sensing that I was not an Angeleno, asked what brought me to the environs of UCLA. When I mentioned the Hollywood Ten, he reacted automatically, as if he were on a quiz show: “Dalton Trumbo.” Trumbo has come to epitomize the Ten for two reasons: the wide readership of his novelJohnny Got His Gun(1939), and the prevalence of undergraduate film...

  16. Epilogue
    (pp. 223-229)

    It is a truism of American film history that the blacklist which followed the 1947 hearings contributed to the decline of the movie industry after World War II. There were other factors of course, the most significant being the Supreme Court’s “Paramount Decision,” which required the vertically integrated majors—Paramount, MGM, Fox, Warner Brothers, and RKO—to divest themselves of their theater chains. Nevertheless, any standard history of film not only substantiates the role of the blacklist in the waning of Hollywood but also holds it accountable for the pall that enshrouded the movie world in the late 1940s; says...

  17. Chronologies, Bibliographies, and Filmographies
    (pp. 230-247)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 248-256)
  19. Index
    (pp. 257-264)