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The Marxist and the Movies

The Marxist and the Movies: A Biography of Paul Jarrico

Series: Screen Classics
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    The Marxist and the Movies
    Book Description:

    As part of its effort to expose Communist infiltration in the United States and eliminate Communist influence on movies, from 1947--1953 the House Committee on Un-American Activities subpoenaed hundreds of movie industry employees suspected of membership in the Communist Party. Most of them, including screenwriter Paul Jarrico (1915--1997), invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions about their political associations. They were all blacklisted.

    In The Marxist and the Movies, Larry Ceplair narrates the life, movie career, and political activities of Jarrico, the recipient of an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Tom, Dick and Harry (1941) and the producer of Salt of the Earth (1954), one of the most politically besieged films in the history of the United States. Though Jarrico did not reach the upper eschelon of screenwriting, he worked steadily in Hollywood until his blacklisting. He was one of the movie industry's most engaged Communists, working on behalf of dozens of social and political causes. Song of Russia (1944) was one of the few assignments that allowed him to express his political beliefs through his screenwriting craft. Though MGM planned the film as a conventional means of boosting domestic support for the USSR, a wartime ally of the United States, it came under attack by a host of anti-Communists.

    Jarrico fought the blacklist in many ways, and his greatest battle involved the making of Salt of the Earth. Jarrico, other blacklisted individuals, and the families of the miners who were the subject of the film created a landmark film in motion picture history. As did others on the blacklist, Jarrico decided that Europe offered a freer atmosphere than that of the cold war United States. Although he continued to support political causes while living abroad, he found it difficult to find remunerative black market screenwriting assignments. On the scripts he did complete, he had to use a pseudonym or allow the producers to give screen credit to others. Upon returning to the United States in 1977, he led the fight to restore screen credits to the blacklisted writers who, like himself, had been denied screen credit from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s.

    Despite all the obstacles he encountered, Jarrico never lost his faith in the progressive potential of movies and the possibility of a socialist future. The Marxist and the Movies details the relationship between a screenwriter's work and his Communist beliefs. From Jarrico's immense archive, interviews with him and those who knew him best, and a host of other sources, Ceplair has crafted an insider's view of Paul Jarrico's life and work, placing both in the context of U.S. cultural history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7300-9
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Film Studies

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part 1. Screenwriting

    • 1 The Early Years, 1915–36
      (pp. 3-24)

      The cultural and political basis of the style and work of Paul Jarrico rested on Russian Jewish socialism as mediated by his father, Aaron, and his uncle Chaim. Their father, Israel Gildenberg, was the younger of two sons. To save him from being drafted into the Russian army, his parents sent him to a family named Shapiro, and he took its name.¹ Israel Shapiro became a well-to-do merchant in Kremenchug, a city on the Kremenchug River in Ukraine. His first wife bore three daughters and died giving birth to the third. His second wife, Pesia, gave birth to four children:...

    • 2 Screenwriting and Communism, 1936–39
      (pp. 25-44)

      The newly married couple lived in a studio apartment on $100 a month provided by their mothers. Sylvia was taking psychology courses in preparation for her admission to the graduate program at UCLA. Jarrico was looking for a job. Fate intervened in the forms of Edwin Knopf, head of the MGM writers’ department (and brother of publisher Alfred A. Knopf); Rufus Von Kleinsmid, president of USC; and Frank Baxter, Jarrico’s favorite English professor. Knopf had asked Von Kleinsmid to send to him the names of graduating seniors with literary potential. Von Kleinsmid turned the assignment over to Baxter, and Baxter...

    • 3 World War II, 1939–45
      (pp. 45-80)

      The Popular Front groups had effectively united liberals, Socialists, a few conservatives, and all Communists in a series of organizations to elect progressive candidates, organize unions, and fight against fascism and Nazism. But the fronts had been constructed on an unstable foundation: non–Communist adherents treated it as a permanent bloc; Soviet Communist leaders treated it as a tactical arrangement. At the height of its success, in late summer 1939, a seismic jolt radiating from a Soviet foreign policy decision razed the edifice.

      Front groups had already come under attack from two newly formed liberal antifascist groups: the Committee for...

  6. Part 2. Blacklist

    • 4 The Cold War in Hollywood, 1945–47
      (pp. 83-100)

      Well before World War II ended and the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union commenced, anti-Communist organizations and government agencies began to position themselves for a full-scale offensive against communism and Communists in Hollywood, their liberal allies, and their front organizations.

      J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, led the attack. In September 1942, he sent to the bureau’s Los Angeles office a memorandum and a copy of a pamphlet titledRadical Artists—Writers—Actors—Musicians Demand a Second Front, which had been provided to the bureau by an “unknown outside source.”¹...

    • 5 The Interregnum, 1948–50
      (pp. 101-116)

      As the Hollywood Ten began their three-year effort to stay out of prison, the nation descended further into the polar regions of the cold war. Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States steadily worsened, a nuclear arms race began, and, in two instances (the Berlin blockade of 1948 and the Korean War), the war turned hot. At home, the domestic version of the cold war also increased in intensity. The major event was the presidential campaign of Henry Wallace, who had been fired as secretary of commerce because of his public opposition to Truman’s increasingly hard-line foreign policy....

    • 6 The Blacklist Expands, 1951–52
      (pp. 117-136)

      The political situation in Hollywood did not seem too dire to Jarrico in September 1950. He wrote to Abe Polonsky, who was in France, “The only sound is the shuffling of feet, the foolish, embarrassed, legalistic waltz of the nouveaux conquerors. No whooping swooping raids by night, just whittle whittle here, whittle whittle there. No defiant counterattack, just a slow falling back, pretending you don’t care.” But the slow falling back was on the verge of becoming a massive retreat. In April 1950,Counterattackhad exposed actor Edward G. Robinson as a member of ASP, and three months later,Red...

    • 7 Salt of the Earth, 1952–54
      (pp. 137-158)

      In late August 1950, just before Adrian Scott went to prison, he, Jarrico, and Charles Katz formed a partnership to produce independent films. They had two projects in mind. One was an adaptation of Haywood Patterson’s memoirScottsboro Boy(cowritten by Earl Conrad);¹ the other was an adaptation of a novel about the Iranian crisis of 1946 (The Diplomatby James Aldridge). Jarrico had contracted with Mason Roberson to begin adaptingScottsboro Boy, but Scott, on his trip to Washington for sentencing, became interested in another project concerning blacks in the South:Deep Are the Roots, a play by Arnaud...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 8 The Black Market and Khrushchev’s Speech, 1954–58
      (pp. 159-174)

      The year 1954 was the height of the domestic cold war. Public opinion polls registered overwhelmingly anti-Communist sentiments,¹ and Congress enacted the Communist Control Act, which effectively stripped the party of most of its due process rights.² Though the Senate condemned Senator Joseph McCarthy in early December, one month later, it unanimously approved a resolution stating, “The Communist Party of the United States is recognized to be a part of the international Communist conspiracy against the United States and all the democratic forms of government. It is the sense of the Senate that its appropriate committees should continue diligently and...

  7. Part 3. Emigration

    • 9 Europe, 1958–75
      (pp. 177-200)

      Within five days of Jarrico’s arrival in Paris, he and Michael Wilson met with Dino De Laurentiis to make a deal to adapt Ugo Pirro’s novelJovanka e le altre(Jovanka and the Others), a story about World War II Yugoslavian partisans. De Laurentiis agreed to pay them $45,000. Two weeks later, Jarrico and Sylvia moved into a five-room apartment in the first arrondissement, at 226 Rue de Rivoli. It was situated on the Right Bank, halfway between the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre, overlooking the Jardin des Tuileries. It was rented to them at a very low...

    • 10 Political Battles, 1958–75
      (pp. 201-218)

      As an exile, Jarrico could not become involved in French politics without risking the loss of his residency permit.¹ But he did not cease to be political. He remained involved in the organized fight against the blacklist and the IPC litigation. In addition, he kept himself well informed about, and occasionally participated in, a variety of international and American issues, including those pertaining to the Soviet Union and world communism. And he continued to reassess his ideological outlook.

      Though Jarrico’s move to Europe separated him from the daily struggles against the blacklist, he remained in close touch with those who...

  8. Part 4. Home Again

    • 11 Back in the USA, 1975–97
      (pp. 221-236)

      By early 1975, Jarrico and Yvette had reached an impasse. When they were together, they quarreled constantly. When they were apart, they wrote letters to each other that revealed near-murderous loathing for the other’s personality tics. She began leaving their apartment for long periods without telling him where she was going, and he flew to the United States in June and stayed three months.

      The atmosphere in the United States regarding the blacklist had completely changed. The new generation of writers and film-oriented people admired the blacklistees and wanted to tell their story sympathetically. On this trip, Jarrico met Deborah...

    (pp. 237-242)

    Some of the blacklisted writers, notably Albert Maltz and Paul Jarrico, were preternaturally watchful of the historical record regarding the blacklist. Their files are filled with drafts of letters to newspaper editors and letters to friends (and former friends) setting the record straight. They were the keepers of the blacklist historical flame. Their example has deeply influenced my own research and writing on this subject. I wrote in 1991,

    The blacklist period was born and it thrived in the darkest, meanest shadows of American politics. The historian, confronted with the specters of government agents sneaking around Hollywood, hate groups secretly...

    (pp. 243-254)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 255-310)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 311-328)