In October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed 41 screenwriters, directors and producers in an effort to investigate “subversive” elements in the entertainment industry. The House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, asked these people: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” And if the answer was “yes,” HUAC wanted to know who else was a member, too.
However, 10 of the people subpoenaed refused to testify on the grounds that the First Amendment granted them freedom of speech and freedom of association. All 10 received prison sentences for their refusal to cooperate, with most serving between six and 12 months beginning in 1950.
In the media, the 10 entertainment workers who refused to testify before HUAC became known as the “Hollywood 10” (originally there was going to be one more, but the 11th person, writer Bertolt Brecht, fled the country). The entertainment industry blacklisted most of these workers after they left prison, and those who found work usually did so by going uncredited or receiving credit under a pseudonym.
Alvah Bessie (1904–1985)
During the 1930s, writer Alvah Bessie became concerned with the rise of fascism in Europe. In 1938, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish Civil War against General Francisco Franco, a fascist ruler who characterized his opponents as communists. After the civil war, Bessie wrote screenplays for several movies, including the World War II drama Hotel Berlin (1945).
In Bessie’s refusal to testify before HUAC, he said: “I will never aid or abet such a committee in its patent attempt to foster the sort of intimidation and terror that is the inevitable precursor of a fascist regime.”
Herbert J. Biberman (1900–1971)
Herbert J. Biberman wrote the screenplays for several movies in the 1930s and ’40s, including the anti-Nazi film The Master Race (1944), which he also directed. Biberman refused to testify before HUAC in 1947; and in 1951, his wife, actress Gale Sondergaard, also refused to cooperate with HUAC, pleading the Fifth Amendment.
Both Biberman and Sondergaard were blacklisted in Hollywood after their appearances before HUAC. Biberman tried to make a comeback by directing the 1954 film Salt of the Earth, inspired by a real strike against the Empire Zinc Company in New Mexico. However, because Biberman and others involved in the film were blacklisted, the film wasn’t widely screened in the United States for over a decade.
Ring Lardner Jr. (1915–2000)
Ring Lardner Jr. was a screenwriter who served on the board of the Screen Writers Guild. He co-wrote the 1942 movie Woman of the Year, the first film in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy starred alongside each other.
After serving his prison sentence, Lardner found work writing for TV shows and movies under pseudonyms. However, in 1965 Lardner received credit for co-writing the movie The Cincinnati Kid under his own name. In 1971, he won an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay for the 1970 film M*A*S*H, based on the novel by a U.S. Army surgeon, which inspired the TV series of the same name.
Lester Cole (1904–1985)
Lester Cole was a prolific screenwriter who co founded the Screen Writers Guild in 1933 with John Howard Lawson and Samuel Ornitz, two other writers who would later join him in the Hollywood 10. Cole worked on the screenplays for films such as The House of the Seven Gables (1940) starring Vincent Price and Objective, Burma! (1945), for which fellow Hollywood 10 member Alvah Bessie wrote the original story.
After being blacklisted, Cole struggled to find screenwriting work, and later taught screenwriting classes.
Edward Dmytryk (1908–1999)
Edward Dmytryk stands out among the Hollywood 10 for winning an Academy Award in 1948, after he was blacklisted. He won the Oscar for best director for his 1947 film Crossfire, which came out before he refused to testify before HUAC. In addition, Dmytryk stands out among the Hollywood 10 for being the only one to flip.
After being blacklisted, Dmytryk fled to Britain for two years. When he returned to the United States, he was arrested and served four and a half months in prison. He cut his sentence short in April 1951 when he decided to admit that he had been a member of the Communist Party and named other alleged members. This ended his blacklisting, and allowed him to continue directing films in the United States.
John Howard Lawson (1894–1977)
John Howard Lawson cofounded the Screen Writers Guild in 1933 with Lester Cole and Samuel Ornitz, and served as its first president. He was nominated for an Academy Award for best story for Blockade (1938), a movie about a farmer fighting in the Spanish Civil War against the Nationalists, who were allied with fascist General Francisco Franco.
After his prison sentence, Lawson adapted Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country for the screen, though he did not receive credit. The 1951 movie of the same name was the first major film to depict Apartheid in South Africa.
Albert Maltz (1908–1985)
Albert Maltz is known for screenwriting films such as Pride of the Marines (1945), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best adapted screenplay.
After serving his prison sentence, he continued to write some scripts under pseudonyms. In 1970, he received writing credit under his own name for the film Two Mules for Sister Sara, a western starring Shirley MacLaine and Clint Eastwood.
Samuel Ornitz (1890–1957)
Samuel Ornitz cofounded the Screen Writers Guild in 1933 with Lester Cole and John Howard Lawson. He wrote screenplays for several films, including Little Orphan Annie (1938), based on the popular comic strip.
Ornitz published a novel, Bride of the Sabbath, while serving his prison sentence in 1951, but he never worked in Hollywood again. He died in 1957, while the blacklistings of the other members of the Hollywood 10 (except Edward Dmytryk’s) were still in effect.
Adrian Scott (1911–1972)
Adrian Scott produced films such as Crossfire (1947), which was directed by fellow Hollywood 10 member Edward Dmytryk.
After his blacklisting, Scott sued RKO Pictures for wrongful dismissal. The case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which dismissed it in 1957. He found uncredited writing work during the 1950s, and also did some TV writing under the name of his wife, Joanne Court.
Dalton Trumbo (1905–1976)
Before his blacklisting, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was most famous for Kitty Foyle (1940), which earned him an Academy Award nomination, and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944). But he did some of his most prominent work after his blacklisting.
Trumbo was one of the screenwriters behind the 1953 Audrey Hepburn hit Roman Holiday, which won the Academy Award for best screenplay. At the time, he did not receive credit for the movie. Trumbo’s blacklisting came to an end in 1960, when he received credit for writing the screenplays to Spartacus and Exodus.