- Off Set
400Pages; Print, $28.00
In the film, The Contender (2000), a liberal female politician who is undergoing a bruising confirmation hearing for a position in the president’s cabinet, uses the blacklist as an example as to why she won’t answer questions from Congress about her sex life. In Atticus Finch fashion, she instructs a young hothead who wants her to answer the questions, that had the first witness before HUAC refused to name names, then other witnesses would have done likewise and the whole nightmare of the blacklist would have been stopped in its tracks. Thus the point of her “history lesson” is that she must refuse, otherwise blacklist part two will occur.
This is a prime example about the navel-watching Left Coast Hollywood indulges in that when they need an event to show America betraying its democratic ideals. In these sweepstakes, the more horrific event of the Japanese Internment cannot compete with their almost continuing citation of the blacklist—always the blacklist. For it happened to “them:” tinsel-town liberals, whose, more often than not membership in the American Communist Party did not disqualify them from liberalism; indeed, it intensified their humanist ideals. And those who inflicted the blacklist, “culturally illiterate” right-wingers, suit the Left Coast’s description of their enemies today; Meryl Streep’s “mixed martial artists” and “brown-shirts” that support her hated Donald Trump.
When those such as the Streeps and Baldwins conjure up the boogeyman of the blacklist one gets the sense that they want it to happen; that their sense of drama and fantasy demands their chance to defy their own form of “HUAC.” [End Page 25]
The roles, in every sense of the word, have been established in the history of the blacklist: liberal humanist celebrities vs. knuckle-dragging conservatives—read fascists.
But in 2002, for one brief shining moment, these roles were challenged, and not with the typical conservative example of the Hollywood left blacklisting them. Conservative film-maker Lionel Chetwynd made the documentary Darkness at High Noon, which defended a Hollywood Communist against a liberal betrayer. The “red” in question (who, in point of fact, had left the Party years before) was Chetwynd’s mentor, blacklisted screenwriter Carl Foreman, and the cowardly liberal was Foreman’s partner in a film production unit, Stanley Kramer, the “brave” liberal producer of such movies as “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” (1967).
The role reversal was present even in the reactions to this documentary. Suddenly, anti-anti-communists like Victor Navasky, who never left an opportunity go to waste to bemoan the cowardly behavior of those who named names and/or betrayed their comrades, were defending Kramer and bashing Chetwynd, and in effect, Foreman himself.
And this betrayal and blacklist occurred during the making of a cut-rate black and white Western (probably the most reactionary of film genres) with an aging A-list star, High Noon (1952).
In this excellent book, Glenn Frankel conveys the ironies involved in this Western that became a metaphor for what was happening off set. Foreman, who adapted the story of a sheriff abandoned by the townsfolk to face the outlaws coming back to town, felt more and more like the main character, played by Gary Cooper. Foreman was called to testify before Congress about his Communist associations mid-way into production. Because he refused to name names (although he did volunteer information, however limited, about his own political history), Congress gave Foreman the “kiss of death” for studio employment by declaring him “an uncooperative witness.”
When Cooper went down the town square to face an almost certain doom as townspeople closed their shutters, Foreman felt that represented his “leper” status among his friends.
And that was most evident in how Kramer, his friend and colleague for ten years, treated him after the testimony. Kramer always claimed that (a) Foreman lied to him about being a Communist and (b) that Foreman was going to falsely name Kramer...