Hollywood Blacklist Question:

I've read quite a bit about the Hollywood blacklist lately, but the answer to an obvious question has been surprisingly elusive: what percentage of those blacklisted were members of the Communist Party of the United States at the time of their blacklisting? A secondary question is, of those who weren't members of the CPUSA at the time of their blacklisting, why (a) did they wind up on the blacklist; and (b) did they not "clear their names" and get off the blacklist (I know some did, but I'm talking about those who didn't).

I've opened comments, but I really don't want to open a debate on the morality, wisdom, etc. of the blacklist--perhaps we can have one after I finally post my review of Redish's The Logic of Persecution. Rather, I'd like informed answers, preferably with sources, to either or both of the questions above.

UPDATE: An expert on the subject emails (didn't get his permission yet to use his name) to estimate "98 per cent, and the other two per cent had been and may have left its ranks by that time." If anyone has contrary information, please let me know.


Those numbers sound about right. The best recent scholarship on this subject has been done by the historians Harvey Khler and John Haynes, who have gone to the Russian archives to scour the KGB contact lists and documentation. Two of their best books are "In Denial: Historians, Communism, &Espionage" and "The Secret World of American Communism." Along the same lines, you might consult Kenneth Billingsly's "Hollywood Party" and John Lewis Gaddis's indispensible "We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History." It turns out that the general thrust of McCarthy's accusations were absolutely correct. There really WERE dozens of communists in the State department and other areas of government. The trouble was that McCarthy couldn't spot a communist if one jumped out and bit him (not to mention his terrible penchant for demogoguery and shamelessness).
2.7.2006 9:04pm
byomtov (mail):
Why did they not "clear their names?"

Because it wasn't Joe McCarthy's business what political organizations they belonged to?
2.7.2006 9:13pm
Eric Muller (www):
David, when you ask "why did they not 'clear their names,'" what is the process for name-clearing that you have in mind?
2.7.2006 9:31pm
jpaulg (mail):
Eric Muller,

To clear your name all you had to do was answer congress' questions, well unless answering congress' questions involved self incrimination on subversion charges.

ref: McGilligan, Patrick. Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997.
2.7.2006 10:32pm
DavidBernstein (mail):

Many people who were mistakenly blacklisted for being Communists were able to "clear their names" by showing that they had resigned from the CPUSA, or whatever. So the question would be, if there were many blacklisted folks who weren't members of the CPUSA, why didn't they go through the channels that were available to do so, sue for libel, or whatever. The answer may be, as my expert correspondent suggests, that nearly all of them were in fact Communists.

And Byomtov, Joe McCarthy had zero to do with the Hollywood blacklist, which was instituted after the "Hollywood Ten" Communists made a mockery of a Congressional hearing investigating Communist (read: Soviet) infiltration into Hollywood, creating a public backlash sufficiently severe with their misbehavior at the hearing that even the Hollywood liberals and progressives who came to Washington to defend them wouldn't do so. This was either several years before McCarthy's time in the limelight, and McCarthy never bothered Hollywood.
2.7.2006 10:35pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
"Because it wasn't Joe McCarthy's business what political organizations they belonged to?"

Actually at the time, CP membership was (effectively) a crime so criminal activity by public employees is within the supervisory responsibilities of Congress.

Being a commie spy was (and remains) a crime.
2.7.2006 10:50pm
ron (mail):
Granted, I don't know much about the issue. But I am curious. Was there an actual connection between the communist party USA and the Soviet Union?
2.7.2006 10:53pm
ron (mail):
Also, was it illegal to be a communist? If so, does anyone have a citation to the law? Did the S.Ct. ever rule on this law? Is it still against the law to be a "commie" or only a "commie spy"? What does one have to do to be a "spy"? Were those blacklisted supposed to be spies or just communists?
2.7.2006 10:56pm
Eric Muller (www):
But David, the way one demonstrated that one had resigned from the CP was by pointing the finger at others. Many were unwilling to do that.
2.7.2006 11:08pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
Eric, my understanding is that if you were either misidentified as a Communist, or contrite about it and willing to resign, there were "fixers" with the proper connections who would clear you for a few hundred dollars. If you were misidentified, you could also sue for libel. But I'm willing to accept citations to the contrary, though recall that I'm only focusing on the Hollywood blacklist, not FBI or Congressional investigations or whatnot.
2.7.2006 11:17pm
Sam (mail):
ron, yes, there was a strong connection between the American Communist Party (and later, the Communist Party of the USA) and the Soviet Union.

For a recent treatment that includes documents from Soviet archives, see the "Annals of Communism" series, in particular: The Secret World of American Communism, Klehr, Haynes, Firsov; and The Soviet World of American Communism (same authors).
2.8.2006 12:20am
Bleepless (mail):
Dear ron:

Espionage by the CPUSA went all the way to the top. Chairman Earl Browder (who later got bounced for revisionism) was a recruiter, courier and agent. His cryptonym was Rulevoi (Helmsman).
2.8.2006 12:26am
Yes, the Communist Party in the US had direct connections to Moscow. The big unanswered question is how much involvement most of these people really had in the party. Back in the 30s, many progressives got involved with socialist and communist organizations because they often were the only organizations willing to tackle the emerging threat of fascism and contentious social issues like civil rights for blacks. It's unlikely that most members of the party were actively spying for the Soviets.

It's not illegal to be a member of the Communist Party (now) but you would be breaking the law if you're spying on the US for any other country, Communist or not.
2.8.2006 12:28am
W.J.Hopwood (mail):
Professor Dwight Murphey wrote an rather comprehensive article on the subject several years ago for The Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. Can be seen online at

Click here: The Hollywood Blacklist
2.8.2006 12:31am
Kent Scheidegger (mail) (www):
A more current question would be whether there is now an informal blacklist of persons not hired in Hollywood because they hold nonconforming, i.e. conservative, political views.
2.8.2006 12:36am
W.J.Hopwood (mail):
Re above post. Sorry. The link won't work as/is. Can be seen by copying and addressing the URL only without the words "The Hollywood Blacklist"
2.8.2006 12:40am
Spying is a separate issue, but how can mere membership in an organization be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment?
2.8.2006 2:09am
David Rogers (mail):
My knowledge in this area is extremely limited, but it is second-hand (direct from the mouth of an actual Hollywood Communist). One of my professors at the University of Southern California (since deceased) was, in fact, a "victim" of the blacklist. I put "victim" in quotations marks because he was, even in the early 1990's, still unapologetic about being a Communist.

Being blacklisted didn't keep him from working, though it made it harder, and he was paid less. He was a writer, so he just wrote under a pseudonym. In fact, he received an Academy Award, for the movie "Father Goose" under a pseudonym. Years later, the Academy corrected the award to reflect his real name, Frank Tarloff.

Being a commie is no bar to high honors in Hollywood anymore. And, if Mr. Tarloff's stories are to be credited, it never really was. The blacklist was, more or less, a way for the studios to keep Washington at bay, not a serious effort to keep Communist propaganda out of the movies.
2.8.2006 2:10am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Spying is a separate issue, but how can mere membership in an organization be criminalized consistent with the First Amendment?
Because there's no First Amendment right to join a criminal conspiracy. Putting aside whether the CPUSA qualified, consider the Mafia. Can one join and then argue that one isn't guilty of conspiracy (to violate umpteen different laws); one is simply engaged in protected First Amendment behavior?

You say "spying is a separate issue," but to the extent the raison d'etre of the organization is spying, it can't be a separate issue.
2.8.2006 2:26am
If the organization was a political one, there is a very high bar against criminalization of membership. However, if it could be shown that the organization is inherent criminal, presumably the First Amendment right to free association would not hold sway. This has been the approach used against certain Muslim organizations here in the US that have been branded as being supportive of terrorist organizations.
2.8.2006 2:51am
Sarah (mail) (www):
From family stories I am led to understand that my grandfather's social and political associations (not any membership in the CPUSA) kept him from working in any strictly "employment" capacity in Hollywood -- he worked as a contractor, doing all kinds of things (including delivering ink to the studios and printing presses, and according to the ALBA newsletters of the late 1930s, selling apples.) He fought in the Spanish Civil War, was released from Franco's prison in 1939, and then went and fought in WWII for a while.

It may have been his friendships more than any actual activities on his part that did it, though; he and my grandmother were friends with folks like Edwin Edwin Rolfe (they named my father after him, in part as their respective death and birth happened nearly simultaneously,) and Abe Osheroff. He (my grandfather) was generally disillusioned with the USSR, but remained a fairly committed socialist, and didn't seem (to a little girl, in the 1980s) all that distressed by not having a "job" to go to, per se, for the last forty-odd years. I've been under the impression that the blacklist had two effects on the lives of relatively minor leftist activist types like him: they found it unusually hard to get someone to "hire" them officially, and unusually easy to engage with Hollywood and entertainment businesses in a semi-official or contractor-like capacity.

There is no evidence that I've been able to find that he was ever seriously interested in joining the CPUSA, nor that his name ended up on any official list. He got involved in Socialism as a poor Jewish kid in New York in the 1920s and early 30s, watching Franco, Hitler, et al take over and the US and Britain and so forth do nothing.
2.8.2006 8:31am
Sarah - good points. Britian and France refused to help the democratically elected Republican government during the Spanish Civil War because it included Communist elements and also had support from the Soviet Union. That allowed Hitler and Mussolini to support the Facist Franco in overthrowing the Republican government and establishing a dictatorship that lasted into the 70s.
2.8.2006 10:32am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
A more current question would be whether there is now an informal blacklist of persons not hired in Hollywood because they hold nonconforming, i.e. conservative, political views.

You raise an interesting point, was there ever a formal "blacklist" which had names of people who would not be hired because they were suspected communists (in which case all one needs to do is go through the names on the list and try to determine whether they were in fact communists or held membership positions in a communist organization) or was the term "blacklist" more of a metaphor used by people who weren't hired (i.e. this studio won't hire a particular writer and nor will anyone else so he's considered "blacklisted")?
2.8.2006 12:25pm
byomtov (mail):
David Bernstein,

Sorry for the error. I accept your correction. I will change my comment to read, "It was none of the particular committee's business."

Duncan Frissell,

"criminal activity by public employees is within the supervisory responsibilities of Congress."

I wasn't aware the Hollywood film industry was a government operation.

As to those who allege espionage, belonging to criminal organizations, etc., isn't law enforcement the way to deal with this? If there were grounds for assuming people are criminals then charge them and have a trial. Don't have Congressional committees harass them and subject them to economic pressures, including the need to pay "fixers" to "clear their names," a situation about which Bernstein is remarkably uncritical.
2.8.2006 12:45pm
He got involved in Socialism as a poor Jewish kid in New York in the 1920s and early 30s, watching Franco, Hitler, et al take over and the US and Britain and so forth do nothing.

Then the Nazis invaded Poland, and Britain and France immediately declared war on Germany. Initial CPUSA reaction was negative to the Nazi invasion, but that only lasted until they got marching orders from Moscow after a few days. You see, the Soviets were cooperating with the Nazis in stomping Poland out of existence, and since the Soviets could do no wrong, the CPUSA quickly took the party line that Poland deserved it.

One wonders why naive party members didn't take that clarifying moment to quit.
2.8.2006 2:12pm
waltt (mail):
Here is another recent book that deals with the subject.

Red Star Over Hollywood: The Film Colony's Long Romance with the Left, by Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh
2.8.2006 2:56pm
David S. (mail):
I don't see how just being a member of CPUSA could be a crime, whether or not the leaders were actually spying for the USSR. The mafia analogy is not a good one in that you can't join the mafia without committing crimes. I'm sure you could have joined the communist party without spying or even knowing that members were spying. I would assume that general CPUSA meetings didn't have an update on espionage activity on the docket, for example. Even so, you can't be put in jail for simply being a member of the mafia, only for committing a specific crime as a member.

If there is a guilt by association, does this mean that being a union member while Hoffa was in charge was a crime? Or that working for Enron was a crime?
2.8.2006 5:58pm
There was a period when membership in the KKK was a crime based on its being a criminal conspiracy, but I don't think membership in the CPUSA ever achieved criminal status.
2.8.2006 6:00pm
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):

I think that many American communists were horrified by Molotov-Ribbentrop and either left the CPUSA or decided to no longer be active. Sure, a lot didn't leave and remained active, but it's not like the revelation of Molotov-Ribbentrop had no effect on the CPUSA rank and file. I don't mean this as a defense of CPUSA or American apologists for Communism. I'm about as anti-Communist as they come.
2.8.2006 7:08pm
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
Speaking of libel, what was then the largest libel judgment in US history was levied against blacklisters: Faulk vs Aware et al.

It's possible that nearly all of the actors and other members of Hollywood who were called in front of the various McCarthyite investigating committees were Communists or ex-Communists—after all, if they weren't going to crumble or take take the Fifth, what would be the point of calling them? But the accuracy of the blacklisters, in general, was weak. They chose Faulk (making up several Communist affiliations completely and distorting some totally innocent activities to appear Communist) because he had the temerity to run (and win) on an AFTRA slate opposed to the union's cooperating with the blacklist. The evidence at the trial showed the blacklisters were much more interested in a steady income stream than any sort of accuracy. (It's no accident that a lot of the revisionist history had to wait for the subjects to die: funny thing about those libel laws.)
2.9.2006 12:15am
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Re: Communist party membership being illegal. The Smith act of 1940 did make such membership illegal, for all practical purposes see:

The fact that the Smith Act was rarely invoked does not negate its existence. I am not sure whether anything of the Smith Act still exists on the books.
2.9.2006 3:10am
Brooks Lyman (mail):
Darn - didn't manage to get the link to print???!!! Anyhow, search for Smith Act and check out the Findlaw link.
2.9.2006 3:12am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Actually, Andrew, historian Ellen Schrecker, who is very sympathetic to the Communists, concludes that the blacklists were largely accurate.
2.9.2006 10:09am
For the Smith Act to outlaw CPUSA membership, the prosecution would first have to establish in court that the CPUSA advocated the violent overthrow of the government. Given that they've fielded candidates for various local,state, and federal offices, as far as I know since their inception, that would be a pretty good rebuttal of that proposition. Does anyone know of a case where someone was convicted under the Smith Act for CPUSA membership? It wouldn't be illegal to belong until the first such verdict.
2.9.2006 12:27pm
Sam (mail):
My understanding was the Smith Act was used (with at least approval or possibly urging of the Communist Party of the USA) to prosecute and convict members of the Socialist Workers Party in 1941--this was the Soviet influenced/controlled CPUSA persecuting the Trotskyists in the SWP. Later, in 1949, some members of the CPUSA were convicted under the Smith Act.
2.10.2006 8:36am
Andrew J. Lazarus (mail):
David Bernstein, your summary of Ellen Schreker's work strikes me as inaccurate, at least what I can reach with Google.
The listings in Red Channels were compiled, so J. B. Matthews claimed, from his collection of front group letterheads, congressional and California Un-American Activities Committee reports, and old Daily Workers. They were not always accurate, but they were devastating. [snip] The blacklisters' targets extended far beyond the Communist party and sometimes seemed to encompass almost every liberal in show business. One producer [this was David Susskind–AJL] found that a third of the performers he wanted to hire were turned down by his superiors--including an eight-year-old girl.
It's worth repeating, the blacklisters were hit with the largest libel judgment (at the time) in American history, for a libel that was characterized by the appellate courts as "malicious".
2.11.2006 11:02pm