Blacklist Profiles: 7 Writers and Actors Who Defied Hollywood
This story first appeared in the Nov. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In the late 1950s and early '60s, few people in Hollywood possessed as much power or popularity as the dimple-chinned Kirk Douglas, who was not only a matinee idol but, through his own production company, a behind-the-scenes player. In other words, he had as good a shot as anyone at taking the controversial stance of opposing the Blacklist, but he also had more to lose than most by doing so. So Douglas went out on a limb when he decided to make noted lefty Howard Fast's novel Spartacus into a film, and went even further when he hired Dalton Trumbo, who was one of the first writers to be blacklisted, to adapt it. Trumbo was one of the original Hollywood Ten who had refused to cooperate with HUAC, spent 11 months in prison and was still on the Blacklist.
Douglas ultimately decided that it was the right thing to do -- both professionally and morally -- to hire and give credit to Trumbo. And, as director Otto Preminger also found when he hired and gave screen credit to Trumbo for Exodus (1960), even though the move raised eyebrows, the world didn't end -- and the Blacklist began to fade away. "I have a letter he wrote to me thanking me," says Douglas, 95. " 'Kirk, I thank you for giving me back my name.' It was very touching. … It's nice to make a movie that people enjoy and that does something." In 1996, just two months after Douglas suffered a stroke, the Academy gave him an honorary Oscar "for 50 years as a creative and moral force in the motion picture community." He recently chronicled his battle with the Blacklist in his 10th book, I Am Spartacus! Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist.
Douglas was photographed by Joe Pugliese on May 23 at his home in Beverly Hills.
Walter Bernstein and Lee Grant
Screenwriter Walter Bernstein, 93, always has been open about the fact that he was a communist. He became politicized during a trip to France and then at Dartmouth, where he joined the Young Communist League. After he graduated, he went to Europe to cover World War II for Yank, the Army weekly. When the war ended, he formally joined the Communist Party. "I never thought there'd be repercussions," he says. "The ideas and the ideals were very important to me." Around the same time, an anthology of his wartime writing was published, which led to his first work in Hollywood.
Things came to a halt in 1950 when his name appeared in Red Channels -- a pamphlet distributed to studios and networks that listed 151 show-business people whom it deemed members of or sympathetic to the Communist Party -- alongside allegations which, he says, were "all true." His name did not again appear in the credits of a film until 1958 or a TV show until 1961. That wasn't because he stopped working. In fact, using pseudonyms and fronts (other writers who agreed to claim credit so those blacklisted could earn a living), he wrote for The Magnificent Seven (1960), Fail-Safe (1964) and The Molly Maguires (1970). He is best remembered for The Front (1976), a dramedy about the Blacklist that brought him an original screenplay Oscar nom.
In 1951, at age 20, New York theater actress Lee Grant made her film debut as a shoplifter in Detective Story. Within the next year, she was voted best actress at the Cannes Film Festival, nominated for a supporting actress Oscar and blacklisted. The young newlywed wife of screenwriter Arnie Manoff, a well-known Party member, Grant got in trouble when, at a memorial service for actor J. Edward Bromberg, she attributed his premature death to pressure caused by a HUAC subpoena. The following week, her name was in Red Channels and, for the next 12 years, she was unemployable. (She was taken off the list in 1964.)
Grant was one of the few actors who achieved greater success after being blacklisted than before. "You have to understand how motivated I was," she says. "I had 12 years to make up for, and nothing was going to stop me." She earned an Emmy in 1966 for Peyton Place; a Golden Globe nom for In the Heat of the Night (1967); and best supporting actress Oscar and Globe noms for The Landlord (1970), Shampoo (1975) and Voyage of the Damned (1976), winning the Oscar for Shampoo. "I realized I had no more enemies," the 81-year-old says with a smile. She became a filmmaker, directing the Oscar-winning documentary feature Down and Out in America (1986), and is writing a book about her Blacklist years.
Bernstein and Grant were photographed Oct. 19 by Wesley Mann at Grant’s home in New York City.
Cliff Carpenter and Jean Rouverol
Cliff Carpenter, 97, a prolific film, radio, theater and TV actor, is best remembered for voicing Terry on the popular Terry and the Pirates radio show for years until the outbreak of World War II, at which point he left to serve his country. A founding member of AFRA, the radio union, he first got himself into hot water at a 1942 meeting of the TvA, the pre-AFTRA television union, when he spoke out against the unjust treatment of fellow actor Philip Loeb, who had been listed in Red Channels. The sponsors of The Goldbergs, the show on which Loeb was starring, demanded his termination; Loeb eventually accepted a payoff and resigned. Not long after, he committed suicide.
The situation prompted Carpenter, who was an active member of the Communist Party, to submit a motion calling for blacklisting to be labeled an unfair labor practice. "I was so disturbed by what was happening to Phil that I had to do it," he has said, "though I knew it could take me down a treacherous road from which I might never return." The motion passed by an overwhelming margin, he was elected chairman of the committee and, shortly thereafter, his own name was added to the Blacklist, rendering him unemployable for years. Carpenter got the last laugh, though, as he continues to do voice-over work for radio and occasionally appears on TV shows such as The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and in films like 2008's Synecdoche, New York. Today, he lives with fellow Blacklist victim Jean Rouverol, whom he met nine years ago. He says, "It is a happy ending."
Rouverol, 96, won a contract with Paramount Pictures at age 17 and made her big-screen debut opposite W.C. Fields in the classic comedy It's a Gift (1934). She went on to appear in 12 other films during the next six years, including Stage Door (1937) with Katharine Hepburn and Western Jamboree (1938) opposite Gene Autry. Then, at 24, she married screenwriter Hugo Butler and gave up film acting for radio work and writing. In 1943, before Butler went away to serve in World War II, the two joined the Communist Party. In 1950, So Young, So Bad was produced, based on her script, and her career held promise. But in 1951, agents for HUAC came looking for the couple.
"I knew when the doorbell rang who it was," she has said. "I went to the peephole, looked through, and it's two men with hats. … I was so terrified, tears were on the verge." They spent a month at various friends' homes in order to dodge subpoenas but, eventually, rather than risk jail time in America, they and their four young children fled to Mexico, where they lived for the next 13 years. They continued to write, often together (until Butler died in 1968) and always using pseudonyms or fronts. Decades later, when she returned to the U.S., Rouverol served four terms on the board of the Writers Guild and received its Morgan Cox Award for exemplary service and values. In 2001, she wrote a book about her years in Mexico, Refugees From Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years.
Carpenter and Rouverol were photographed Oct. 18 by Wesley Mann at their home in Pawling, N.Y.
Marsha Hunt and Norma Barzman
Marsha Hunt, 95, made her film debut in 1935, at age 18, and appeared in 52 films during the next 14 years, most notably Pride and Prejudice (1940), Blossoms in the Dust (1941) and The Human Comedy (1943) for MGM. In 1946, she was elected to the SAG board and first sensed trouble when members were asked to sign loyalty oaths. A year later, HUAC called its first witnesses, 19 screenwriters and directors. The move prompted Hunt and her husband, screenwriter Robert Presnell, to join the Committee for the First Amendment, which was composed of Hollywood A-listers looking to defend their colleagues' constitutional rights. "We were defending freedom and the good name of our industry, which was being attacked," Hunt recalls.
After recording Hollywood Fights Back, a radio broadcast co-scripted by Presnell that questioned the propriety of HUAC, the group chartered a flight to Washington to sit in on the hearings in silent protest. For this, and for signing on to other "lefty" causes and petitions, Hunt was included in Red Channels. Despite being a hot commodity before then -- she'd had a solo Life cover and been offered shows by all three TV networks -- she found it virtually impossible to get film or TV work for the next decade. Instead, she shifted her attention to public service, devoting 25 years to the United Nations. "It enriched me, it challenged me, it helped me grow," she reflects. "I was lucky, wasn't I?"
Norma Barzman, 92, on her 21st birthday came out from New York to Hollywood, where her cousin, a noted screenwriter, enrolled her at the left-leaning School of Writers. A year later, she married up-and-coming screenwriter Ben Barzman and joined the Communist Party, of which he was already a member. Her attraction to the party was due as much to the community that it provided as the politics it professed. "The Hollywood progressive community in the '40s was so wonderful, so exciting to be part of," she says. But she made no secret of her belief that capitalism wasn't working. After a stint as a newspaper writer, she began penning scripts of her own, including the 1946 Errol Flynn picture Never Say Goodbye. But in 1947, after the Hollywood Ten were jailed, the parents of two decided not to wait for their time to run out. To avoid being subpoenaed if named by others, they moved to Paris in 1949. (They indeed were named in 1951.)
Even overseas, they continued to be monitored by the FBI but still wrote under pseudonyms and fronts. It would be three decades before they could return to America. "These were intensely difficult years," she says. "When I got back here, by God, I was gonna be the Norma that I was supposed to be, that I started out as." In the years since, Barzman has written a popular newspaper column and several books, including a memoir, The Red and the Blacklist. Ben died in 1989.
Hunt and Barzman were photographed Oct. 24 by Joe Pugliese at Barzman’s home in Beverly Hills.