The Hollywood blacklist began in 1947 when the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) began to subpoena artists, producers and screenwriters to investigate communist sympathies in Hollywood. Over the next thirteen years, it came to include Charlie Chaplin, Leonard Bernstein, Dashiell Hammett, Arthur Miller, Paul Robeson, Dorothy Parker, Pete Seeger and Orson Welles.
Ten artists, known as the “Hollywood Ten,” originally refused to cooperate with HUAC and were cited for contempt of congress. They were fired and blacklisted by the Motion Picture Association of America the next day in a public announcement. All ten served up to a year in prison, were fined $1,000 and faced great difficulty working in Hollywood again.
In 1950, a pamphlet called “Red Channels” accused 151 actors, writers, directors, musicians and performers of having pre-war connections to left-wing or communist organizations. Those listed were blacklisted from working until they renounced their affiliations and testified to the HUAC. As individuals cooperated and “named names,” the list grew. Altogether some 320 people in the entertainment industry were blacklisted for suspected involvement in “subversive” activities.
“Friendly witnesses” included Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan and Walt Disney, who claimed the League of Women Voters was a Communist front. HUAC critics, on the other hand, formed the Committee for the First Amendment in support of the Hollywood Ten. It included Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, Gene Kelly, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. The group flew to Washington D.C. in October 1947 to protest HUAC hearings.
In 1952, the famous director Elia Kazan named eight former friends from the Group Theater in New York as communist party members (his 1954 film “On the Waterfront” is often viewed as a defense of informers). This ended his long friendship with Arthur Miller and inspired Miller’s play “The Crucible” (1953) about the Salem witch hunt of 1692. In 1957, Miller was convicted of contempt of congress for refusing to name names.
The blacklist was effectively broken in 1960 when Dalton Trumbo, an unrepentant member of the Hollywood Ten, was publicly acknowledged as the screenwriter of the films “Spartacus” and “Exodus.”