One of the best things about writing This is True is I’m always learning interesting things. (Usually I say “It’s really fun!”, which is certainly true too. But I get to research so many interesting topics!) And not just the regular stories: I learned something I never knew about before with this week’s Honorary Unsubscribe, too.
When we hear about the “blacklists” that came out of the Joseph McCarthy “Red Scare” era in the late 1940s and early 50s, usually it’s a reference to writers, filmmakers and such, especially from Hollywood. Why, you dare make a film to explore the left side of an issue? Well, OK, we can’t legitimately prosecute you for that, but we’ll do our best to make sure you can never earn a living!
Thus, the “blacklists” of people who had, or were thought to have, “sympathies” toward Communism, or any organization that had, or were thought to have, “communist ties.”
Wikipedia notes that “Even during the period of its strictest enforcement, the late 1940s through the late 1950s, the [Hollywood] blacklist was rarely made explicit and verifiable, but it caused direct damage to the careers of scores of American artists, often made betrayal of friendship (not to mention principle) the price for a livelihood, and promoted ideological censorship across the entire industry.”
It wasn’t just a few such artists, either. It started with the “Hollywood Ten” who refused to testify before the “House Committee on Un-American Activities”. The ten were fired from their jobs. Then came a list called Red Channels that listed 151 “Red Fascists and their sympathizers” in the entertainment industry, and most of them were fired too.
Things didn’t really start to break until 1960, when it was revealed that the writer Dalton Trumbo had written the films Spartacus and Exodus under pseudonyms — and had won two Academy Awards — while blacklisted. (And I just found out Trumbo was born in Montrose, Colorado: the town next to me, where we do most of our shopping.) He was actually imprisoned for 11 months for “Contempt of Congress” — his refusal to testify about his personal beliefs. In all, he wrote about 30 scripts while blacklisted; it wasn’t until the 1990s that all of his film credits were restored. He died in 1976.
Not Just Artists
But that’s the reasonably familiar Hollywood blacklist story. Who knew that even family doctors were swept up in the “Red Scare“, called to testify, and also blacklisted for refusing to answer questions about personal beliefs? Such was the case with this week’s Honorary Unsubscribee, Joseph Hittelman.
I had no idea of the ridiculous waste of talent and ability across so many professions, but that’s what we get when we get too much of our history from Hollywood, eh?
Good thing we’re not that stupid anymore, and wouldn’t think of doing such crazy and ridiculous things ever again.
Right. Now we have “Watch Lists” and the good ol’ “No Fly List” of people suspected of having “ties” with terrorist organizations who are not allowed to travel by air.
If only the latter “list” was limited to just that class of people. It’s not. Even children have been denied boarding on airplanes because they have the same name as a terrorist (even if that terrorist is dead!), or a name “like” that of a known (or suspected) terrorist. Even U.S. Senators have had trouble flying because their name is “like” that of a suspected terrorist.
But hey: it’s just destiny, right? “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” –attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish statesman (1729-1797).
But hey: it’s still fun writing True — even though from time to time I’m accused of being a “bleeding heart liberal” and a “heartless Rush Limbaugh conservative,” depending on who I’ve offended by calling stupid actions stupid. We’ll probably never learn.
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