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  • The Blacklist through New Eyes by Bill Jarrico
  • Bill Jarrico (bio)

This article is based in part on a talk I gave to the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist congregation in Springfield, Illinois, in 1998, after the death of my father, Paul Jarrico.1

This article is based in part on a talk I gave to the Abraham Lincoln Unitarian Universalist congregation in Springfield, Illinois, in 1998, after the death of my father, Paul Jarrico.1

It's hard to distinguish the effects on me of my family's dissident ideas about American culture and society from the effects of America's retaliation during the blacklist. By world standards, with World War II just past and the Cold War starting up, the American witch-hunt was pretty mild. Only a few people actually died or even went to jail. Thousands of people (not just in entertainment) were affected in their livelihoods and people were careful about expressing left-wing thoughts, even liberal ones, but these ideas still had an impact.

Even the most conservative people now think of the blacklist as an aberration. When I tell people that I saw the Hollywood blacklist up close, they are interested [End Page 104] and sympathetic. It's been years since anyone bothered to tell me that my parents and their friends were on the wrong side of the Cold War. Maybe people don't know the facts—even people who were alive at that time. It's old history, complicated and a little ugly, but when I explain things, I'm glad I did.

My grandparents had been immigrants from the Jewish pale of settlement in Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania. They came to America young and alone, fell in love quickly, built businesses and organizations, and prospered in the free air. My father's father followed a somewhat older woman out west and married her after her tubercular husband died. He became a lawyer. They and their circle founded a sanitarium that later became a big cancer hospital, the City of Hope. My mother's mother followed a young boyfriend from Lithuania to Baltimore, eventually moved to California, and was active first in socialist, then in Jewish circles in Ventura County near Los Angeles. These people admired radical thinking as part of the mix and were amused rather than shocked when some of the next generation were attracted to communism.

My parents, most of their friends, many of their relatives, a lot of our neighbors, and people all around us viewed the world with optimism. From the famous postwar prosperity, with its sudden improvement over the recent past, to a Hegelian or Marxist sense of revolutionary progress in history seemed a small step to some of them. Several nights a month I could step out of my room into the living room and listen to a political discussion, in a large or small group, formal or informal, calm or angry, sophisticated or naïve. I didn't always really listen or understand when I did, but I loved the earnest tone and knew I was hearing something important. One evening somebody said, "Paul, do you really want your kid listening to this stuff?" Paul didn't mind at all.

My father was one of the few Hollywood screenwriters from the old days who actually came from Los Angeles. He could look at an old movie and say what street it was shot on: "That's Riverside Drive." All these places look completely different now.

My grandfather died while my father was at UCLA. My father went to the University of Southern California as a freshman, to UCLA as a sophomore, to Cal Berkeley as a junior, and back to USC as a senior. He was more and more active in politics and was doing some writing, living with my mother.2 His senior year he actually registered at the USC law school—his father and uncle had gone to law school there and even now you don't need an undergraduate degree to become a lawyer in California—but he changed his mind. Since he couldn't get his money back, he signed up for the cinematography curriculum because he'd heard...


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