The Hollywood Ten

And Then There Were Ten

Written by Peter Bowen

Jay Roach’s drama TRUMBO follows the remarkable life of the titled writer (played by Bryan Cranston), from his triumph as a Hollywood screenwriter to his persecution by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to his determined climb to redeem his name and former glory. In September 1947, Dalton Trumbo was one of 43 members of the filmmaking community to receive subpoenas to appear before HUAC to answer questions about the spread of communism in Hollywood. Many of the more famous names––Robert Montgomery, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, and Walt Disney––were chosen as “friendly witnesses,” people ready to give the committee what it wanted. Of these, 19––a group of all men composed mostly of screenwriters with some directors and one actor––refused to provide evidence. Of those 19, HUAC called 11 unfriendly witnesses to testify, the 10 who would become the Hollywood Ten (Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo), plus German playwright Bertolt Brecht. (Brecht appeared, answered HUAC questions nonsensically, and then left the country the next day, never to return). While many of the Hollywood Ten had worked together in the past and knew each other socially, they were by no means a unified front prior to being called by HUAC. What each held––and what bonded them together––was a belief that HUAC’s intrusion into their personal and political beliefs was unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American. With their lawyers, the Ten agreed to argue that the First Amendment gave them a constitutional waiver from having to answer HUAC’s questions. Congress disagreed and voted to hold all Ten in contempt of Congress. After being convicted in 1948, the Ten appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1950 refused to hear their case. With no other options, the Ten accepted their punishment. Most were given a $1,000 fine and a year inside a federal prison (although two received 6-month sentences). But jail time was really only the start of their ordeal. When they were released, the Ten, who had worked hard to become successful in their fields, were now blacklisted from working in Hollywood. And they were not alone. Over the next ten years, hundreds of writers, actors, musicians, and other artists would be blacklisted, and scores more would be bullied by the threat of it. TRUMBO dramatizes the story of arguably the most famous of the Hollywood Ten. Here we take a look at the other nine––who they were before HUAC, and what happened after they were blacklisted.


Alvah Bessie

BEFORE

Born in New York City in 1904, Alvah Bessie lived many different lives before becoming a Hollywood screenwriter. After attending Columbia University, Bessie worked as an actor and screenwriter for Eugene O'Neill's Provincetown Players. He also pursued a separate career writing stories and articles for The New Republic,Scribner's, Atlantic Monthly, and Saturday Review of Literature, among others. He published his first novel Dwell in the Wilderness in 1935 while still a staff writer at The New Yorker. In 1938, Bessie started a new adventure when he joined up with other politically motivated intellectuals to fight the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. His 1939 memoir of that experience, Men in Battle: A Story of Americans, was praised by Ernest Hemingway as a “true, honest, fine book.” Back in New York, Bessie opened another chapter of his life by becoming the film and drama reviewer for the New Masses, a position that set him up for his move to Hollywood. In 1943, he moved to California to work as a contract writer for Warner Brothers. There he worked on several films, including the 1943 Canadian Nazi spy caper Northern Pursuit and the 1945 war thriller Hotel Berlin. But his high point came when he was nominated for a Best Story Oscar for his 1945 combat movie Objective, Burma!

HUAC

When the House Un-American Activities Committee called Alvah Bessie to the witness stand in 1947, he was ready to give them a piece of his mind. “I will never aid or abet such a committee in its patent attempt to foster the sort of intimidation and terror that is the inevitable precursor of a fascist regime," Bessie told them. As such, in 1950, along with the other members of the Hollywood Ten, Bessie was found guilty of contempt of Congress, fined $1,000, and sentenced to one year at the federal prison at Texarkana, TX.

AFTER

Before going to prison, Bessie wrote one last film, the 1951 Western Passage West, for which his friend Nedrick Young fronted for him. After leaving jail, Bessie abandoned any hope of continuing as a screenwriter. He eventually moved to the Bay Area, finding odd jobs, like running the lights at the hungry i night club in San Francisco and, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, working as a publicist for various arts organizations, including the San Francisco Film Festival. As a writer, he used his Hollywood experience as the material for a series of books, including The Un-Americans (1957), Inquisition in Eden (1965), and the Marilyn Monroe-inspired tale The Symbol, which was adapted into the 1974 film The Sex Symbol. "I was thrown out of Hollywood on my ass, and I've been involved in a struggle to stay alive ever since," Bessie told the Los Angeles Times in 1977. "People say it's now pretty fashionable to say you were blacklisted, but if it's that fashionable, I haven't gotten any offers from Hollywood yet." He died in 1985 from a heart attack.


Herbert J. Biberman

BEFORE

Born in Philadelphia in 1900 to a successful textile manufacturer, Herbert Biberman was groomed for a prosperous life in industry, but then discovered a love of drama. After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Biberman took a small break to tour Europe before taking his place in the company business. At 28, however, he shifted gears. Working to help run New York City’s Theater Guild, Biberman moved into directing plays. In 1935, Biberman moved to Hollywood and got his first job as a dialogue director, slowly moving up the ranks to become the writer, and occasional director, of a number of modest films, including the mystery Meet Nero Wolfe (1936), the crime drama King of Chinatown (1939) and the anti-Nazi yarn The Master Race (1944).

HUAC

Although Biberman never gained great success in Hollywood, his involvement in politics, especially his early stand against fascism, earned him the wrath of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1947, Biberman refused to answer the Committee’s questions on constitutional grounds. His punishment was a $1,000 fine and a six-month sentence, half of what many others got. While his wife, the Oscar-winning actress Gale Sondergaard, was not part of the original Hollywood Ten, she was also brought before HUAC, refused to testify, and later blacklisted.

AFTER

Unable to work in Hollywood, Biberman signed on to direct the 1954 independent drama Salt of the Earth about the 1951 strike against the Empire Zinc Company in Grant County, NM. Produced and written by other blacklisted artists, Salt of the Earth gained the full antipathy of the US Government. The House of Representatives formally denounced it and the FBI investigated its finances. In Europe, the film received distribution and critical attention, but in America, it got a single New York City screening before being banned from exhibition for 11 years. In 1971, Biberman died from bone cancer in New York City. Twelve years later, in 1993,Salt of the Earth was chosen for preservation in the United States National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."


Lester Cole

BEFORE

The son of Polish immigrants and a high school dropout from New York City, Lester Cole thought he’d found his American dream in Hollywood. Originally working as a stage actor, Cole eventually moved to Hollywood picking up parts in several silent films, like Love at First Glance and Painted Faces. By the ‘30s, he moved over to writing, penning a number of B-movies, including several in the Charlie Chan series. While he worked steadily inside the Hollywood machine, he also pushed for workers’ rights. In 1933, he was instrumental in reviving the Screen Writers Guild, the union that would eventually become the Writers Guild of America. His organizing gained him the unfavorable moniker “Hollywood Red” by studio execs. The next year, Cole confirmed the title when he officially joined the Communist Party. While he mostly hammered out scripts for crime genres and melodramas, he was quick to add a socially conscious message when possible. The 1936 thriller The President’s Mystery, for example, includes a scene with workers storming a cannery yelling, “everybody works, everybody shares.” And in the ‘40s, Cole excelled in dramatizing anti-fascist sentiments in films like Hostages and None Shall Escape. In 1946, his career appeared ready to take off when MGM, Hollywood’s most prestigious studio, put him under contract. Then the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) subpoenaed him.

HUAC

While the Committee did not allow him to speak his mind, Cole released a statement at the time that affirmed his patriotism and denounced the hearing: “This Committee is determined to sow fear of blacklists; to intimidate management, to destroy democratic guilds and unions by interference in their internal affairs, and through their destruction bring chaos and strife to an industry which seeks only democratic methods with which to solve its own problems. This Committee is waging a cold war on democracy." For his refusal to cooperate Cole was found guilty of contempt of congress; his sentence was a $1,000 fine and a year at the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, CT.

AFTER

In 1949, under the name J. Redmond Prior, Cole penned the Humphrey Bogart aviator adventure Chain Lightning. But after being released from prison, Cole found little screenwriting work. His work on Viva Zapata! was taken over by John Steinbeck. Instead he turned to doing any job he could find, be it working as a cook, waiter or day laborer. For a short period, he moved to London to pursue a playwriting career, which unfortunately went nowhere. In the ‘60s, he carved out a second profession teaching screenwriting. In 1965, he wrote the lion adventureBorn Free under the name Gerald L. C. Copley, a film that brought him many requests to write more animal films, a genre for which he had little interest. Even after the blacklist ended, Cole found people wary of offering him more socially conscious work. ''When you write a nonpolitical play or film, there's little problem now,” Cole commented in 1974, “but when any of us writes anything political, it's harder. We're judged by a different standard.” In 1982, Cole published a moving memoir of his life in the movies (as well as the experience of being blacklisted from them) in Hollywood Red. He died in 1985 of a heart attack.


Ring Lardner, Jr.

BEFORE

While Ring Lardner, Jr. came from a somewhat privileged background, he demonstrated a sharp social conscience early on. Raised in a family of writers—his father was the humorist and journalist Ring Lardner and his uncle John was a well known sports writer—Ring Lardner, Jr. attended Phillips Academy before going to Princeton University. He moved to Hollywood in the ‘30s to work as a publicist for David O. Selznick, who gave him his first writing break when he asked him to rewrite dialogue for the 1937 A Star Is Born. That same year, worried about developments in Europe, the left-leaning Lardner joined the Communist Party, as well as the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. As a writer, his razor-sharp wit quickly brought him success. In 1943, he received an Oscar for Best Screenplay (along with Michael Kanin) for the brilliant repartee of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in Woman of the Year, the first of several comedies that would pit the two icons against each other. He also joined up for World War II but was assigned to the Army Signal Corps, where he spent much of his time in Queens, NY, writing a script for an army training film.

HUAC

On October 30, 1947, Lardner appeared before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), where he famously responded to J. Parnell Thomas’ question of “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” with the tart reply, ''I could answer the question exactly the way you want, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.'' After losing his appeal for the charge of contempt of Congress, Lardner was sentenced to 12 months in Danbury Prison and fined $1,000. Never to lose his sense of humor, Lardner, who had to sell his Santa Monica house to pay his legal fees, titled his real estate listing, “Owner Going to Jail.”

AFTER

Staying in Hollywood, Lardner, ever optimistic, believed the blacklist would blow over. In the meantime, he worked unaccredited on a number of films and later TV shows. But as the years dragged on, things got tougher. In 1965, his blacklist officially ended when producer Martin Ransohoff gave him a screen credit for his work on The Cincinnati Kid. In 1970, Lardner experienced a new career high when he won his second Oscar for M*A*S*H. Offered the chance to adapt M*A*S*H for television, Lardner turned down the producers, believing the Korean war comedy would never work as TV sitcom. He died in 2000 at the age of 85.


John Howard Lawson

BEFORE

Born into a wealthy Jewish family, John Howard Lawson (whose family’s actual name was Levy) demonstrated a love for theater at an early age. At age 12, during a tour of Europe, Levy took extensive notes of the foreign productions he attended. At 16, he attended Williams College where he wrote his first play Hindoo Love Drama. Its success pushed him to become a playwright. In 1928, when MGM offered him a writing contract, his playwriting career was still going strong. For the next decade, Lawson would wear a variety of professional hats. In 1933-34, he helped found the Screen Writers Guild, had two of his plays––The Pure Heart and Gentlewoman––open on Broadway, and joined the Communist Party. To grasp the real experience of America’s working-class men and women, Lawson traveled to the South, getting a bloody, first-hand lesson in labor politics along the way. In 1938, Lawson brought his politics to the screen withBlockade, a hard-hitting drama in which Henry Fonda stars as a farmer fighting in the Spanish Civil War. The movie earned him his sole Oscar nomination for Best Story. He also demonstrated a talent for Hollywood action films, penning both the 1938 thriller Algiers and the 1943 wartime adventure Sahara (with Humphrey Bogart).

HUAC

When he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), Lawson’s attempt to make a statement caused such a furor that J. Parnell Thomas, HUAC’s chairman, nearly broke his gavel attempting to silence him. Lawson had intended to tell the Committee, “My political and social views are well-known…My deep faith in the motion picture as a popular art is also well-known. I don't 'sneak ideas' into pictures. I never make a contract to write a picture unless I am convinced that it serves democracy and … the American people.” Found guilty of contempt of Congress, Lawson was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 12 months in the Federal Correctional Institution, Ashland, KY.

AFTER

After prison, Lawson moved to Mexico. In 1951, he wrote the screenplay for Cry, the Beloved Country, an adaptation of Alan Paton’s novel about the effect of apartheid in South Africa. Even though it was a British production, Lawson still could not attach his name to it. In addition, he penned a number of books of film criticism and theory, including The Hidden Heritage (1950),Film in the Battle of Ideas (1953) and Film: The Creative Process (1964). Later in life, Lawson felt that his struggle with the blacklist had been singular and different than his comrades. “I'm much more completely blacklisted than the others,” he told the New York Times. “I'm much more notorious and extremely proud of that. It had much to do with the fact that I helped to organize the Guild.” He died in San Francisco in 1977.


Samuel Ornitz

BEFORE

Born to a prosperous Jewish family in 1890, Samuel Ornitz grew up to follow a different destiny than his mercantile kin. From an early age, he identified with the poor and downtrodden. At 12, he was delivering impassioned socialist speeches on the streets of the Lower East Side. At 18, he became a social worker with the New York Prison Association and later the Brooklyn Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Hoping to connect to a larger audience, Ornitz turned to playwriting. His drama The Sock: A Play of Protest, in which he loosely restages Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in a New York slum, was staged at the People’s Playhouse in 1918. His new found talent and love for writing pushed him to pen his humorous 1923 novel Haunch Paunch and Jowl about growing up Jewish. When the book proved an unexpected commercial success, Ornitz found himself in demand. By 1928, Ornitz had moved to Hollywood, where he wrote 25 films between 1929 and 1949. Ornitz rarely created outright political dramas. Instead he infused his entertaining genre films and melodramas with socially conscious sentiments. Ornitz was also a pivotal figure in starting the Screen Writers Guild.

HUAC

For his refusal to conform to the wishes of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947, Ornitz was sentenced to twelve months at Vermont Springfield Prison and fined $1,000.

AFTER

After prison, Ornitz returned to writing novels. His 1951 Bride of the Sabbath recalls with humor and humanity his experience growing up Jewish in New York City’s Lower East Side. While Samuel Ornitz never again worked in film, his son, Arthur J. Ornitz, became an accomplished cinematographer, lensing such movies as The Boys in the Band, Serpico and Death Wish. On March 10, 1957, Samuel Ornitz died of cancer in Los Angeles.


Albert Maltz

BEFORE

Born in Brooklyn in 1908, Albert Maltz showed a talent for writing and social criticism early on. After graduating from Columbia University in 1928, Maltz attended the Yale School of Drama where he honed his skills as a playwright. His 1932 playMerry Go Round, a political exposé loosely based on a real Cleveland busboy framed for murder, gained enough critical attention that it was adapted into a film. In New York, Maltz not only created politically pointed drama, but also sought to stage his works in equally progressive venues, like the Theatre Union and the Group Theater. To more formally cement his position as part of New York’s progressive community, Maltz officially joined the Communist Party in 1935. But his main political activity remained writing. His short story "The Happiest Man on Earth,” about unemployment during the depression, won the 1938 O. Henry Award. His 1940 novelThe Underground Stream brought a sharp eye to the history of automobile unions. In 1941, Maltz was hired by Warner Brothers and moved to Los Angeles. He lent his (unaccredited) voice to the screenplay forCasablanca, but also showed off his talent for a gritty noir tone in his adaptation of Graham Greene’s This Gun For Hire. During the war years, Maltz worked in various media. His 1944 novel The Cross and The Arrow about German resistance was considered so inspirational that a special Armed Forces edition was created and distributed to 150,000 soldiers. His screenplay for the 1945 Pride of the Marines garnered him his first Best Writing, Screenplay Oscar nomination. And that same year, Maltz won an honorary Academy Award for penning The House I Live In, a documentary about racial relations in post-war America with Frank Sinatra playing himself.

HUAC

With the war over in 1947, Maltz was considered more of a pariah than a patriot by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). Although Maltz refused to answer their questions on First Amendment grounds, he nevertheless declared, “I am an American, and I believe there is no more proud word in the vocabulary of man…I will take my philosophy from Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln." Such philosophy did not save him from being convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a $1,000 fine and 12 months in the Federal Correctional Institution, Ashland, KY.

AFTER

In the time between being blacklisted and going to prison, Maltz adapted Elliott Arnold’s novelBlood Brother into the James Stewart Western Broken Arrow. Its unusually sympathetic treatment of Native Americans garnered an Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay, although his friend Michael Blankfort fronted for him as the film’s writer. After jail, Maltz moved to Mexico City, where he continued to write novels and, when he could, screenplays. Early on he wrote without credit the 1953 big-screen religious epic The Robe. In 1959, Frank Sinatra attempted to lift the blacklist for his friend by announcing that Maltz would pen the screenplay for his proposed adaptation of The Execution of Private Slovik. The political backlash from this announcement was so great Sinatra had to drop the project. On the right, figures like John Wayne condemned Sinatra for supporting communists, while on the left, John F. Kennedy, whom Sinatra was supporting for president, worried that engaging the blacklist would distract from his campaign. By 1970, Maltz was given full credit for writing the Clint Eastwood WesternTwo Mules for Sister Sara, although he continued to use his alias John B. Sherry on other projects. In 1975, he told the American Civil Liberties Union, “Today, in a manner of speaking, the Hollywood Ten have been rehabilitated. Once mercilessly excoriated, we get honored nowadays for having stood up for what we believed while so many others sat by. But that does not mean any of us can relax our vigil." He died on August 26, 1985.


Adrian Scott

BEFORE

Born in 1911 to a middle class family in Arlington, NJ, Adrian Scott worked writing magazine articles before moving to Hollywood. Starting in 1940, Scott added his voice to a number of scripts, including the wildly popular Cary Grant comedy Mr. Lucky. But Scott really found his stride, not as a writer, but as a producer, most notably of a string of dark thrillers directed by Edward Dmytryk. Starting with his 1944 adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s Murder, My Sweet, and followed by the 1945 anti-fascist thriller Cornered, and finally the 1947 anti-Semitism drama Crossfire, Scott was instrumental in defining the emerging genre of film noir. His last film, Crossfire, went on to receive five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture for Scott and Best Director for Dmytryk.

HUAC

Just as his career was at an all time high, Scott was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to answer questions about being a member of the Communist Party, which he had joined in 1944. As the Hollywood Ten waited to hear the court’s decision on their refusal to comply on First Amendment grounds, Scott moved to London to look for work. As things grew increasingly dark in the States, Scott’s French and British friends urged him to stay. “They said they'd hide me out,” Scott recalls. “I was tempted. It could have been arranged. But nine of us couldn't go into court with the tenth on the lam. That would have made it impossible for the rest who were left." Scott returned to be sentenced on September 27, 1950 to a $1,000 fine and 12 months in the Federal Correctional Institution, Ashland, KY.

AFTER

Out of prison, Scott eventually found work writing without a credit for the British TV show The Adventures of Robin Home. In the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, his wife, Joan Scott, used the name Joanne Court to front for her husband on TV shows like Lassie and Have Gun –– Will Travel. Joan Scott recalls, "There were times when it almost severed our marriage. Then again, there were times when it also saved us." Not only did she front his scripts, but at a certain point, Joan Scott started writing them herself, eventually becoming an accomplished TV writer on her own. Adrian Scott died of lung cancer on December 25, 1973.


Edward Dmytryk

BEFORE

Born in 1908 in Canada, Edward Dmytryk found in Hollywood the home he never had with his family. His father, a Ukrainian immigrant who worked various jobs, from truck driver to smelter worker, raised his son with a harsh and often violent disciplinarian’s hand. By 14, Dmytryk ran away and found a job as a messenger at Paramount Pictures. Rising up through the studio system, Dmytryk became a projectionist, film editor and finally a director. In 1935, he made his directorial debut with The Hawk, a B-movie Western, but then continued to work as an editor until 1939. For the next seven years, Dmytryk worked through a variety of genres. In addition to the 1943 wartime melodrama,Tender Comrade (written by Dalton Trumbo), Dmytryk helmed the 1940 sports drama Golden Gloves, the 1940 horror flickThe Devil Commands, the 1941 musical comedy Sweetheart of the Campus, the 1941 mystery Secrets of the Lone Wolf and the 1943 political docudrama Hitler’s Children. In 1944, teaming up with producer Adrian Scott, Dmytryk found his real métier directing Murder, My Sweet, a dark and satisfying adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s mystery. Working with Scott, Dmytryk helped to define the emerging style of film noir with his 1945 Cornered and 1947 Crossfire, the latter for which Dmytryk garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Director.

HUAC

Dmytryk, who’d become a Communist Party member in 1945, agreed to join his colleagues to stand tough when called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947. Afterwards, as their appeal was making its way through the courts, Dmytryk moved to England, and even considered staying there. But when his passport expired, he returned and was arrested. He was sent to Mill Point Federal Prison in West Virginia for six months, as well as ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. In prison, Dmytryk realized that the only way for him to continue to work would be to make a deal. On April 25, 1951, Dmytryk once again appeared before HUAC, but this time to provide them with over two-dozen names of known communists, including his old friend and colleague Adrian Scott. In his 1978 memoir, It's a Hell of a Life, but Not a Bad Living, Dmytryk looked back on his actions, explaining, “Hollywood's right wing had to have its pound of flesh. They were riding high now, and there was no way they were going to let anyone off the hook. It was an eye-for-eye attitude, but who could blame them?''

AFTER

Once cleared by HUAC, Dmytryk found work immediately. Producer Stanley Krammer hired him to direct three films: the 1952 creepy psychopathic killer film The Sniper; the 1953 postwar psychodrama The Juggler (with Kirk Douglas); and the 1954 critically acclaimed court martial drama The Caine Mutiny. Dmytryk worked steadily through the fifties and sixties, mostly helming action and suspense films. In the ‘70s, the jobs abruptly stopped coming. He began a second career teaching filmmaking at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California. In 1996, Dmytryk once again tried to clear his name with Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten in which he blames his compatriots for refusing to bend to HUAC’s demands. He died three years later.

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