Commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist
From the shoulders of cheering, singing supporters, Dalton Trumbo, left, and John Howard Lawson, Hollywood writers, make farewell speeches, June 9, 1950, as they prepare to leave Penn Station in New York for Washington, D.C., where they were to start serving one-year prison terms for contempt of Congress. | Marty Lederhandler / AP

This month marks the 75th anniversary of the start of the Hollywood Blacklist. On October 27, 1947, screenwriter John Howard Lawson, the first member of what came to be known as the “Hollywood Ten,” testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The contentious, testy testimony before a gavel-banging congressman in Washington launched the Hollywood Blacklist, wherein members of the motion picture industry who refused to “cooperate” with HUAC by informing on themselves and others about their leftist politics were forbidden from working in the movies until roughly 1960, when the Hollywood Ten’s Dalton Trumbo received screen credits under his real name (instead of a pseudonym) for writing Spartacus and Exodus.

The Hollywood Ten served prison time and were fined for refusing to answer questions such as “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” and for declining to rat out others. This conservative cancel culture, enforced by the movie studios and the U.S. government with the aid of the FBI, prevented about 300 talents from being able to earn a living—because of their politics and beliefs—in the cinema during the inquisition in Tinseltown. The Cold War-era Hollywood Blacklist paved the way for the repressive Red Scare of McCarthyism during the 1950s.

Commemorations of the 75th anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist kick off on October 13, 2022, as Turner Classic Movies launches a film series with the premiere of the excellent short, High Noon on the Waterfront. This compelling 14-minute documentary co-written and co-directed by David C. Roberts and Billy Shebar shows how two artists ensnared in the Blacklist metaphorically expressed their stands regarding the motion picture purge through their films.

Elia Kazan, the quintessential informer who collaborated with HUAC and “named names” of other suspected radicals, directed On the Waterfront, a movie that justified informing. Carl Foreman, who was blacklisted and eventually moved overseas in order to be able to continue making movies, wrote the allegorical Western High Noon, with the frontier town of Hadleyville—where Gary Cooper is forsaken by the townsfolk and must take a stand against evil by himself—symbolizing Hollywood during the Blacklist. Using the actual written words of the talents, Kazan is voiced by John Turturro, while Ed Norton speaks Foreman’s lines. The short creatively intercuts between scenes of High Noon and On the Waterfront. Here is the TCM schedule, all times on Eastern time:

Thursday, October 13

Special Theme: 75th Anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist—Night 1

8:00 pm             High Noon on the Waterfront (2022)

8:30 pm             High Noon (1952)

10:00 pm             High Noon on the Waterfront (2022)

10:30 pm             On the Waterfront (1954)

12:30 am             High Noon on the Waterfront (2022)

1:00 am             Marsha Hunt’s Sweet Adversity (2015)

3:00 am             Carnegie Hall (1947, featuring Marsha Hunt)

Thursday, October 20

Special Theme: 75th Anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist—Night 2

8:00 pm             Salt of the Earth (1954) (Herbert Biberman, Paul Jerrico, Will Geer, Rosaura Revueltas, Michael Wilson)

10:00 pm             A King in New York (1957) (Charlie Chaplin)

12:00 am             The Brave One (1956) (Dalton Trumbo)

2:00 am             Time Without Pity (1957) (Joseph Losey)

Thursday, October 27

Special Theme: 75th Anniversary of the Hollywood Blacklist—Night 3 (Looking Back)

8:00 pm             The Way We Were (1973)

10:15 pm           The Front (1976)

12:00 am           The Majestic (2001)

On October 21 a movie about the production of the Orson Welles-directed 1936 play that came to be known as Voodoo Macbeth opens. In it, Texas Congressman Martin Dies, who co-started what came to be HUAC, is depicted as racebaiting and redbaiting Voodoo Macbeth’s all-Black cast and crew. About 11 years later, the congressional committee Dies set into motion turned from the stage and set its sights on the screen. The film Voodoo Macbeth is being theatrically released Oct. 21.

L.A.’s new Academy Museum, dedicated to film culture and history, is also reportedly planning a Blacklist series in Spring 2023. Oona Chaplin, whose grandfather Charlie directed and starred in 1957’s anti-HUAC A King in New York, is presenting a BBC podcast on the Blacklist in 2023. As book banning, school board prohibitions on teaching history, attacks on standup comics, etc., accelerate, it’s important for Americans to remember when the First Amendment was forgotten in Hollywood.

Stay tuned—and down with censorship!


Ed Rampell
Ed Rampell

Ed Rampell is an LA-based film historian and critic, author of "Progressive Hollywood: A People’s Film History of the United States," and co-author of "The Hawaii Movie and Television Book." He has written for Variety, Television Quarterly, Cineaste, New Times L.A., and other publications. Rampell lived in Tahiti, Samoa, Hawaii, and Micronesia, reporting on the nuclear-free and independent Pacific and Hawaiian Sovereignty movements.