This Day In History: The Senate Investigates Hollywood For ‘Reds’ (1947)

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On October the 20, 1947, the notorious ‘Red Scare’ grips Hollywood. The Cold War had just begun and the world was dividing between a capitalist west and a communist east.  The world was divided into two rival camps, one democratic and the other communist. The communists were widely seen as being on the march after the defeat of Hitler and many believed that they aimed at taking over the world. The Soviet were in the process of establishing a series of puppet states in Eastern Europe and communist parties around the world were very popular. Many American conservatives believed that there were many communists in America and they were plotting to undermine the democratic system. The ‘Red Scare’  as it was known was fuelled by the belief that communists were secretly insinuating themselves into positions of power and influence in order to subvert American and weaken it.

The conservatives who were wildly anti-communist in Congress set up many committees to investigate their alleged activies in the US. On this day a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in Hollywood.

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Gary Cooper who gave evidence about communists to the HUAC

In Washington, conservative believed that there were many alleged “Reds” in the famously liberal movie industry.  This they believe was part of a plot to promote communism in the US. In an investigation that began in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigated many people from Hollywood and they asked them under oath were they card-carrying members of the Communist Party. Many people were worried that if they did not cooperate with the HUAC that their careers would be ruined. Many famous actors and directors told the committee about people in Hollywood whom they believed were communists. Among those who informed on their colleagues were Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, and Walt Disney. They believed that they were doing their patriotic duty and defending Hollywood from communist infiltrators.

A small group of people resisted the HUAC and the denunciations of those who alleged to be communists. The group became known as the Hollywood 10 and they refused to cooperate with HUAC and they were all later convicted of obstructing justice.

Pressured by conservative conservatives, the Hollywood Studios started a blacklist. All those who appeared on the blacklist were banned from working in Hollywood again. Those backlisted included actors, directors, and writers, among those blacklisted, were the writer Dorothy Parker, the dramatist Arthur Miller (future husband of Marilyn Monroe) and Orson Welles, the director, and actor.

Many did work under assumed names especially writers. Some more had to emigrate for work, such as Orson Wells. Many, more were ruined by the HUAC. The Red Scare continued for many years, especially with the rise of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who was a rabid anti-communist and who was widely feared. If an actor or director was summoned to appear before McCarthy at the HUAC, their reputation and career were often ruined. McCarthy eventually fell from grace and people no longer feared a communist plot in America. From the late 1950s the hysteria surrounding ‘Reds’ in Hollywood subsided and the fear that had gripped it came to an end.

 

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