They couldn't keep a good writer down

Hide in Plain Sight
February 20, 2004

Anyone who reads Paul Buhle and David Wagner's Hide in Plain Sight , the final volume of a trilogy explaining the Hollywood blacklist of the late 1940s and after, and its impact, will want to read the first two volumes, Tender Comrades by Buhle and Patrick McGilligan and Radical Hollywood by Buhle and Wagner.

This final superb, encyclopedic volume (the best of the three in my opinion) offers as complete a study as there can be of the Hollywood blacklist and its aftermath, and traces the careers of those blacklisted after they were hounded out of Hollywood. The book also successfully explores the effects of the blacklist on the artistic world in the US and, indeed, Europe over the past half-century.

Those who have either never known or almost forgotten the dreadful purges in the US of anyone remotely radical, presided over by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) between 1947 and 1954, and much encouraged by the atmosphere of McCarthyism, will find this book an eye-opener. Besides being excellently written and supported by a comprehensive index of films, television shows and individuals, the book provides a fascinating synopsis of practically every film and television programme created, inspired, directed or produced by those driven out of Hollywood.

This includes the work of many who left Hollywood for careers in television, where they usually worked under a pseudonym or anonymously, writing children's and family television programmes such as The Bullwinkle Show , Daktari , Lassie and Flipper , and adult sitcoms such as Hogan's Heroes , The Donna Reed Show , The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family .

Others worked on socially progressive programmes such as Justice , Naked City , The Defenders and East Side/West Side .

A few directors, for example Joseph Losey ( Stranger on the Prowl , 1951) and Ben Barzman (who co-wrote it), left the US and went to Europe, but most found refuge in the relative freedom afforded by early television in New York (which was happy to employ immediately available low-priced Hollywood talent), where they could continue to deal with issues of race, class, war and nuclear holocaust.

Thus, the radical political attitudes of the 1930s and the war years never really disappeared, despite the Hollywood blacklist. They re-emerged in the popular culture of television. These television shows were an increasingly important outlet for leftwing political expression. The motifs of poverty during the Depression were transformed into the stresses of the atomic age and the stirrings of a new rebellious attitude in the population, which opposed the materialism of the American Dream and welcomed minorities and outsiders.

In the later 1950s and after, many casualties of the HUAC crept back into Hollywood to work creatively on mildly subversive films such as Planet of the Apes , Rififi , The Go-Between , Norma Rae , Midnight Cowboy , Bridge on the River Kwai , Lawrence of Arabia and Coming Home. Indeed , despite being expelled from Hollywood, the blacklisted never stopped writing and directing. They exerted a major influence over the development of American cinema in the following decades.

The authors end with in-depth study and critique of some later works: by Jules Dassin ( Never on Sunday , 1960), Harold Jacob Smith and Fredrick Young ( Inherit the Wind , 1960), Arnold Manoff ( You Are There , 1960), James Baldwin ( Autobiography of Malcolm X , 1967), Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein ( The Front , 1976), Lillian Hellman ( Julia , 1977) and, of course, by Elia Kazan, the least repentant of those who "named names" to the HUAC.

Kazan's lifetime achievement award from Hollywood proved highly controversial even in 1999.

There are also comments on the work of upfront leftist actors such as Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave ( Julia ) Barbra Streisand ( The Way We Were , 1973) and Jim Carrey ( The Majestic , 2001).

After 1980, the Hollywood blacklist movement died. That is surely a fine thing. Yet I find I agree with the authors that the days of the blacklist were more vital, imaginative and truer to the best that American cinema has produced than the years that have followed. As Buhle and Wagner aptly conclude: "Hollywood was always about money. It still is. But at its best it was and eventually might once again be something a great deal more - a glimmering of a democratic art form returning the embrace of its vast audience with equal sincerity and the sense of a common fate."

Hide in Plain Sight is a sincere testament to that hope.

Christopher Ondaatje is a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery.

Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002

Author - Paul Buhle and Dave Wagner
Publisher - Palgrave Macmillan
Pages - 328
Price - £19.99
ISBN - 1 4039 6144 1

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