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R. E. Cohen
- Publié sur Amazon.com
REDS WERE NOT PART OF THE RED, WHITE & BLUE - a review by Bob Cohen of "Red Star Over Hollywood" by Ronald & Allis Radosh
Ronald & Allis Radosh's new book: "Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left" is a brilliant, myth-busting and yet compassionate exploration of the era and the errors of the blacklist in Hollywood.
For ideologues there is only black and white. They allow no paradoxes, complications,and irony that are the ingredients in real life. For the Radoshes these same ingredients make their book read like a political thriller even though we know the outcome.
As Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten, wrote many years later the informers, the informed, and the uninformed were all victims. His disgust with the Communists as time went on is one of the many important revelations compiled in this book. Most moving is the painful questioning by two sons of blacklisted writers (Lawson & Lardner - also part of the Hollywood Ten) of their fathers - what led them, in Jeff Lawson's words, "to believe so strongly in such false concepts."
One of the Radoshes conclusions will surely shock both the extreme left and the extreme right: "But ultimately HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) and the [Communist] Party served each other's purposes." The Party served up real "witches" to rationalize HUAC's witch-hunt proceeding, and HUAC made martyrs of the Reds who were up until then in great trouble with Hollywood liberals because of their fanatic support for Stalin and the Soviet Union, i.e. their turning on the U.S. when Stalin signed a peace pact with Hitler in 1939.
"Red Star Over Hollywood" is necessary reading for folks from all shades of political opinion. When I mentioned this book to a friend who had voted for George W. Bush in the last election, and explained to him what it was about, he responded by asking: what's all the fuss about - the Communists were just another political party, like the Democrats and the Republicans! This book shows that the cultural commissars of the American Communist Party had a covert agenda and that they callously used well-intentioned writers, actors and directors to press that agenda - the propaganda that Stalin was our spotless ally and that anyone who opposed his dictatorship as well as Hitler's was, indeed, a fascist.
The writers also deal with today's romanticization of the "victims" of the blacklist through film, TV documentaries and even the Academy of Motion Pictures apologia exhibit. The irony of the iconization of John Garfield (in a TV documentary written by his daughter) as loyal to the Left, when he, in fact, told HUAC that "the Communist Party was not a legitimate political party such as the Democratic or Republican party," is almost surreal.
Perhaps the biggest irony we see in "Red Star" is that the socialist "paradise" that so many of both the knowing and unknowing Reds yearned for, would have not tolerated their idiosyncracies and would have put them in the Gulag, if they were lucky, or tortured and shot them as they eventually did to Otto Katz who posed as a pure anti-fascist at Hollywood parties in the 30's.
The other side of the pro-Soviet coin that these Hollywood elite played with, was an anti-American outlook. Even when some, such as Trumbo, eventually made their way out of the black and white world of Communist ideology, they weren't able to completely drop the view of the U.S. as the "imperialist, racist" monster they had so long tried to hold at bay.
One last delicious irony. The Hollywood Reds posed as defenders of free speech. John Howard Lawson, one of the most vociferous Stalinists in the group, was honest, at least, in saying (albeit in a private meeting with the Hollywood Ten's lawyers): "'The answer is that you do not believe in freedom of speech for fascists.' As he explained, they were to favor free speech for Communists 'because what they say is true,' whereas what fascists say 'is a lie.'" Not exactly the words of a poster-boy for the ACLU.
This book is well written, concise, and very fair in it's portrayal of what Lillian Hellman called a "scoundrel time" (except that she herself was one of the scoundrels) and sheds a bright light on what is now become received wisdom about the blacklist. In doing so it does more to honor the blacklistees, including those, whom like Elia Kazan remained blacklisted by the Left for the rest of his life, and the blacklisters, then most of the dishonest films, books and TV shows who, once again, exemplify the tunnel vision of the ideologues.
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- Publié sur Amazon.com
Remember the Hollywood blacklist? The Hollywood Ten? I'll bet you know a lot about these events even if you weren't alive in the 1950s. That's because Tinseltown has a vested interest in keeping the memory of this era alive. It was the era of the Red Scare, of Senator Joseph McCarthy waving his infamous list of communist subversives during a speech in West Virginia. It was the time of congressional investigations, a time when invoking the Fifth Amendment might keep you safe from a contempt charge but would make you look guilty as sin in the public eye. For a select few the McCarthy era was a time of great fear, and no one feared this witch-hunt against communism more than Hollywood. Why? Because, despite the mountains of claims to the contrary that have emerged over the years, the movie industry oozed communists. There were so many Reds in Hollywood that they should have renamed the town Little Moscow. Yet even today, you won't hear about this truth in the media. You will, however, get the skinny on what really went on if you pick up a copy of Ronald Radosh's "Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left."
Talk about exploding myths! Radosh's book, which he co-wrote with his wife Allis, cuts through the layers of denial and presents us with an ugly picture of the real Hollywood of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Vladimir Lenin, the little pipsqueak who brought the nightmare of Marxism to the Soviet Union back in the early part of the twentieth century, had a soft spot for film and theater. He believed that the best way to spread communism around the globe was through movies and plays. This is exactly what the Kremlin crowd set out to accomplish in the following decades. They managed to gain converts to their cause--men who later became movers and shakers like Budd Schulberg, Joseph Losey, and Maurice Rapf--by allowing them to work closely with the Soviet film industry. Once these people came back to the United States, they spread their plague to others with the help of party apparatchiks Willi Munzenberg, V.J. Jerome, and John Howard Lawson. In no time at all, writes Radosh, a branch of the communist party flourished in Hollywood. So many big names signed on that newcomers to the industry, in an attempt to make contacts and find work, had to become communists or fellow travelers themselves.
The Hollywood branch of the communist party worked to increase their membership and influence in several ways. One of the most successful methods involved the tried and true "United Frontism" and "Popular Front" techniques, or the forming of organizations that on the surface embraced popular progressive causes to lure in unsuspecting liberals while maintaining strong communist control behind the scenes. Radosh reveals that the concerns many people had about the rise of National Socialist Germany in the 1930s helped increase membership, although the party's propensity to change direction, oftentimes overnight according to directives issued from the Kremlin, tended to alienate many members. Also off putting was the heavy-handed discipline that could fall on an unsuspecting member at any time. Albert Maltz, for example, discovered the inflexibility of the party when he wrote an article deemed "revisionist" by the upper hierarchy. His very public refutation of his article left little doubt about the strong-arm tactics used behind the scenes. Despite the ugliness the Hollywood Reds occasionally displayed, they were somewhat successful in spreading their propaganda through films like "Mission to Moscow," "The Spanish Earth," and "The North Star." Congressional investigations threw some of these dupes in the slammer, and silenced a few more, but many never repudiated their warped views.
I enjoyed Radosh's book, the first one of his I've had the chance to read. The author and his spouse obviously know what they're talking about and, since Ronald Radosh himself was a communist for many years, he understands how these groups think and act. "Red Star Over Hollywood" occasionally suffers from dry prose and a bewildering number of groups and individuals, but the authors always manage to bring the book back up to speed by throwing in some great anecdotes. For instance, the part where we learn about Ronald Reagan (at the time a liberal) and his buddy William Holden crashing a communist get together in an attempt to inject some common sense into the proceedings is great fun to read about. Reagan got up and started talking only to find himself under verbal attack for some forty minutes. God bless him! The account of Albert Maltz's forced rehabilitation is absolutely chilling, a sobering tale that hints at the violent tendencies inherent in communism. Arguably the best part of the book, however, involves the long, strange trip writer Dalton Trumbo took from the time of his blacklisting to his repudiation of the communist party later in life. So many intriguing stories pop up in the book that the actual creation of the blacklist takes a backseat.
I have one recommendation and one warning to those readers about to attempt the book. In the case of the former, if you're not very familiar with this time period, read a background history of the Red Scare first. Doing so will assist you in learning the context for what happens here and help you learn the basics about a few of the groups and personalities associated with the blacklist. In the case of the latter, the topic is so huge that Radosh doesn't have the space to cover many of the important Reds. There is almost nothing here about Lillian Hellman or Dashiell Hammett, for example, and both of those individuals had a lot to do with the influence of communism in film and books. Nevertheless, this book is well worth your time. Read it and remember it the next time Hollywood releases yet another "we were innocent" propaganda piece.