If there ever was any doubt that Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were guilty as charged, it vanished when the Venona decryptions were released. Likewise,only fools and revisionists now deny that Whittaker Chambers told the truth about Alger Hiss. Consequently, there's hope that one day the liberal establishment will at last concede that in post-World War II Hollywood, Communism was indeed a significant and malignant force.
But judging from how the media handled the fiftieth anniversary of the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings into Communist penetration of the movie industry, this concession will have to wait until the next millennium. Journalists covering the occasion fell short by using the most threadbare and wrongheaded of cliches to describe the era. Surviving blacklistees were given unlimited access to microphones, their rants virtually unchallenged by either opposing views or historical truth.
In his October 19 article, Patrick Goldstein of the Los Angeles Times loosed this fusillade of cant: "It was the age of loyalty oaths and McCarthyism, a chilling time in which free speech and the First Amendment were tossed out the window...Hollywood...became center ring for the Red Scare circus." A bit later, he referred to the "anti-Communist paranoia of the Cold War."
Mr. Goldstein is in need of a civics lesson. 1) Joe McCarthy (and McCarthyism) didn't become household words until his February 1950 Wheeling speech. 2) As a senator (which he was in 1947) McCarthy couldn't have been a member of HUAC or any other House committee. 3) No one's right to free speech was "tossed out the window." Then as now, Americans liberal and conservative voted, demonstrated, wrote letters, and otherwise expressed themselves. The so-called Hollywood Ten actually were cited for not expressing themselves, i.e., for refusing to answer the committee's questions. 4) As for "Red Scare circus" and "anti-Communist paranoia," some one hundred million victims would disagree except they are very dead; those phrases belong in the dustbin of history with Communism itself.
Alas, Goldstein wasn't alone in his myopia. On October 24, Daily Variety 's Army Archerd, who was columnizing in the dot-dot-dot style before Larry King's first divorce, declared the hearings "heinous." The Chicago Tribune, once a conservative bastion, ran an October 29 piece by Michael Kilian which called the blacklist "one of the greatest threats to free speech and American liberty in the last half-century" and asserted that it resulted from, yes, "national paranoia." More predictably, the leftist Village Voice, in an October 21 story by Elliott Stein, stated that "HUAC's undeclared agenda was the introduction of thought control and the humiliation and silencing of political dissenters."
The media's favorite blacklistee appears to be Abraham Polonsky, who's now well past eighty. Polonsky wrote the original screenplay for "Guilty By Suspicion," the 1991 Robert De Niro film depicting Hollywood Communists and fellow-travelers as simple humanitarians. Polonsky had his name removed from the credits because he insisted the De Niro character be firmly labeled as a Communist; producers chose instead to deal ambiguously with the character's party affiliation.
If these men weren't Communists, what then did they believe in? It is telling that in the historical reconstruction of the HUAC hearings, beliefs are never discussed. Polonsky is given to noble-sounding remarks like "the artist is supposed to be free," as if this were the goal and not the means to another goal. Edward Dmytryk, however, has Polonsky's number. Dmytryk left the Party in 1946 and, explaining he wouldn't "be a martyr for a cause I [no longer] believe in," named names before HUAC. In a Los Angeles Times interview last year, he called the typical portrayal of Polonsky, et al as heroic victims "a load of crap...They said they were fighting for freedom of speech, the commonweal. They weren't. They were protecting freedom of speech for the Communists." As for everyone else's right to express themselves, said Dmytryk, "they didn't give a good goddamn."
Allan Ryskind, the former editor of Human Events, knows that all too well. His father, Morrie, a screenwriter, was ruined professionally by the post-blacklist backlash against conservatives. The Hollywood Ten, Ryskind told me last week, are usually presented as "victims of a terrible witchhunt, [but] that's not the case. They were basically agents of the Soviet Union - members of a party that was a wholly-owned subsidiary of [a government] which was out to subvert the United States." Keeping them out of Hollywood, he adds, was a "legitimate function of HUAC, and of [movie] producers."
"Politics," Polonsky commented to the L.A. Times earlier this year, "consists of false promises and real consequences." Of course, the ideology he championed promised utopia and delivered death and misery. It's an irony which has escaped the revisionist chroniclers of history, who caused and continue to cause far more damage than anything done by the Hollywood Ten.