Remarks Delivered by Allan Ryskind at America’s Survival, Inc. February 24, 2015 Conference on “America’s Enemies in Hollyood Then and Now” Ryskind is the son of famous Hollywood screenwriter Morrie Ryskind and a long-time editor of Human Events.
By Allan Ryskind
History concedes that Joseph Stalin was one of the bloodiest dictators in the 20th century, so it’s hard to believe that anyone would bestow honors on this evil ruler, even indirectly, but Hollywood, at least a portion of it, seems quite up to this curious task. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Hollywood continues to honor screenwriters who were known as hard-core Stalinists, folks who for a major part of their lives took the side of the Caligula in the Kremlin over their own country in the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s. And Hollywood is poised to do so again this year.
These writers, many of them part of the famous Hollywood Ten that the movie industry continues to champion, were with Stalin in his prime killing years, when he was murdering millions of his own countrymen through the purges and instigating a horrific famine through the collective farm program. They rallied to the Kremlin dictator when he switched sides to support Adolf Hitler when the Nazi warlord unleashed World War II by invading Poland in 1939. They were with the Fuerher when he conquered most of Western Europe the following year and then launched massive bombing raids against Great Britain. And they turned against Hitler for just a single reason: The Nazi leader betrayed his pal in the Kremlin and invaded Russia in June of 1941.
These Red screenwriters also cheered the ousting of the American Communist party chieftain, Earl Browder, in 1945. Why? Because Browder was voicing the heresy that there could be a peaceful path to Socialism in America. They rallied behind the Soviet totalitarian all through the Cold War as he seized Eastern Europe and parts of Central Europe by force and credibly threatened a military invasion of Western Europe. And they were on Stalin’s side when he gave North Korea’s Kim Il-sung the signal to invade South Korea in 1950, a war that cost the lives of nearly 40,000 Americans. To this day, the Hollywood community continues to heap honors on these screenwriters, showering them with awards and even making pictures praising them as beloved defenders of the U.S. Constitution. It is mind-boggling, really.
I’ll get into the events and pictures saluting these screenwriters in just a bit, but one of the reasons I wrote this book was to challenge what has become the prevailing view: that there never were any hard-core Stalinists in Hollywood.
Jack Valenti, who represented many of the Hollywood producers for nearly 40 years, has dutifully fed the myth by suggesting in his book, This Time, This Place, that the Hollywood Ten and the others who were actually blacklisted by the producers were unfortunate victims of “innuendo, rumor and mostly baseless accusations. . .” (The worst thing you could ever say about some on the Left denied work in Hollywood, according to Valenti, was that they had “flirted with Communist ideas. . .” But this is just untrue.
In those famous 1947 hearings and in the multiple hearings it conducted in the 1950s, the much-maligned House Un-American Activities Committee (or HUAC, as it is frequently called) uncovered several hundred folks who had been earnest party members, large numbers of whom held important positions in the industry and would never turn their backs on the party. Moreover, the people I mention as Communists, including the Hollywood Ten, were serious Reds who viewed America as the enemy and whose allegiance was to Moscow and Joseph Stalin.
The folks I’m talking about had party cards, worked covertly—and successfully—to penetrate the powerful guilds and the labor unions, filled entire pictures with Soviet propaganda, used their wealth and energy to promote Red activities outside the movie industry and never deviated from the Stalinist line. Never. They were determined to hand Hollywood over to the Kremlin and by 1944 they had come close to achieving their goal. Another important point to remember: they firmly believed in overthrowing our form of government by force and violence. Indeed, the Hollywood Communists, who fully embraced Moscow during the Cold War, would, judging from their own statements and the organizations they belonged to, have happily sided with Stalin in a hot war, even if he had launched an unprovoked assault against America.
Now why do I believe what may seem so contrary to current opinion? The extensive research for my book certainly bears out my conclusion. But there is another reason as well. In the household I grew up in in Beverly Hills, I managed to meet many people who fought the Communists in Hollywood (and elsewhere), including the famous labor leader Roy Brewer, Oliver Carlson, a scholar on the topic of communism and a former Communist himself, and Ayn Rand, who left her native Russia after the Communist takeover.
I became well-acquainted with Freda Utley, who joined the British Communist party, married a Russian and, sometime in 1936, learned that her husband had been taken by the secret police to a labor camp. She never saw him again. She came to America where she became one of the country’s most eloquent anti-Communist writers. After the Empire fell, her son, Jon, went to Russia and discovered his dad had been executed for protesting the camp’s conditions. I also met Benjamin Gitlow, a famous American Communist who had earned Stalin’s wrath and was booted out of the party for having crossed him, and I knew journalist Eugene Lyons, who, while covering the Moscow beat for about six years with the United Press, became a leading anti-Stalinist figure. In short, I had inside information from very credible people.
And, of course, I learned a lot from my dad, Morrie Ryskind, who was a popular screenwriter himself. He came out to Hollywood in the mid-1930s, having had a successful career on Broadway doing musicals for Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. When he came out West, he would do about 50 movies in all over his lifetime, including a half dozen Marx Brothers films. But my dad was also a major anti-Communist screenwriter and knew what the Communists he faced in the Screen Writers Guild were really about.
Though he would later help found Bill Buckley’s National Review, he was on the left side of the political spectrum when he left Broadway for Hollywood in the mid-1930s. Some of his best friends were ACLU liberals and Socialists like Norman Thomas. And he was eager to join the Screen Writers Guild, a product of the Left, because he believed that writers should be able to bargain with their bosses, just as workers were forming unions to bargain with their bosses.
But when he joined the Guild, he found it was loaded with Communist party members whom he found to be loyal to an enemy government. By 1944, he and many of his colleagues feared that the Communists were on the verge of taking control of Hollywood. So my dad, Walt Disney, Sam Wood, a famous director, labor officials and studio executives formed the Motion Picture Alliance, which became the major anti-Communist organization in Hollywood. Ayn Rand became a member, so did actors Robert Taylor, Clark Gable and Gary Cooper. John Wayne would become its president. Roy Brewer, an important labor leader, became its most influential member.
The reason it was formed was because hard-core Communists were embedded in numerous Hollywood organizations, including the unions and the various guilds. The Screen Writers Guild’s flagship publication, The Screen Writer, was edited by Dalton Trumbo, an excellent screen writer, and Gordon Kahn, our next-door neighbor. They were both dedicated Communists. They turned The Screen Writer into a Communist propaganda organ, devoted to informing its readers of the wonders of Soviet Russia, the excellence of the pro-Stalinist screenwriters, and the supposed malignant motives of the anti-Communist community. The monthly also printed pages of notes and ads publicizing Communist educational institutions, lectures on the greatness of Marxism and the Soviet Union, speeches on American history and “Red baiting” by CP chieftain, John Howard Lawson, et cetera, ad nauseam.
My dad and others were also taken aback by the number of hard-core Communists who were writing glorious film tributes to the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin himself. Among them: Hollywood CP head John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, who fought on the Soviet side in the Spanish Civil War, and dedicated Communists Richard Collins and Paul Jarrico. Lillian Hellman in The North Star told us of deliriously happy families who were living on a collective farm, a Stalinist “experiment” that resulted in death by famine of at least 3 million Russian farmers. (Lillian flatly denied in her book, Scoundrel Time, that she ever joined the Communist party, a statement belied by the fact that she informed her lawyer, Joe Rauh, that she did, indeed, join the Communist party, her admission sitting in Rauh’s papers at the Library of Congress.)
Communist screenwriters Dick Collins and Paul Jarrico gave us Song of Russia, which depicted a pre-World War II Russian village as one of the wonders of the world. Everything was splendid, including the Soviet collective farms bursting with happy children and an astonishing abundance of food. The Soviets harshly persecuted religious people, but in Song of Russia we are informed that priests were the anchors of these wonderful collectives, sort of Pat O’Brien and Spencer Tracey characters, dispensing wisdom and happily performing religious services. Bernard Dick, a liberal scholar on Hollywood’s far-Left screenwriters, bluntly called the film a “Stalinist tract, written by Communist writers.”
Despite all this, the anti-Communists won the battle, at least temporarily.
The House Un-American Activities Committee held its first major investigation of communism in Hollywood in 1947. The hearings produced the so-called Hollywood Ten, most of whom were writers, who refused to say whether they were Communists, even though we were in the midst of the Cold War. The overwhelming majority of Americans knew Stalin was the bad guy by 1947. Even some of the most liberal organizations in our country, such as the Americans for Democratic Action, had banned, or should I say blacklisted, Communists from joining their groups.
Largely as a result of these hearings, the Hollywood Communists were initially set back on their heels. The public had reacted negatively to the Ten’s refusal to say whether they were part of a Soviet Fifth Column in America and their outlandish tactic of branding HUAC’s members as fascists and Gestapo agents badly backfired. Fearful that movie-goers might think that Hollywood was coddling subversives if they didn’t do something dramatic, the producers decided that no one could work in Hollywood if he or she was a member of the party, the decision that initiated the blacklist. The Communists in the Screenwriters Guild were also reeling, with the Guild’s anti-Communist slate overwhelmingly defeating the pro-Communist slate in a critical election. The Conference of Studio Unions, exposed by HUAC as Red controlled, had been mortally wounded. And Hollywood, no longer making pro-Stalinist pictures, was turning out anti-Communist films.
Is any of this relevant today? Well, I think correcting the conventional history is important just for its own sake. But what is amazing, at least from my perspective, is that Hollywood continues to heap honors on these Stalinist screenwriters and hail them as champions of freedom and the First Amendment. Stalinists in favor of free speech? Well, Hollywood continues to embrace this novel concept.
In 1997, I attended a grand affair at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills where Billy Crystal and other Hollywood celebrities lamented the blacklist and took part in an event that gave First Amendment awards to Ring Lardner, Jr., a Hollywood Ten luminary, and Paul Jarrico, who headed the Hollywood section of the CP in the 1950s.
Today we get countless TV re-runs of The Majestic, starring Jim Carrey, which savages HUAC and names a wonderfully patriotic town, steeped in American values and the love of freedom, after John Howard Lawson, a Stalinist from about 1934 until the day he died. And this year we have another treat in store, a movie about Dalton Trumbo, another Hollywood Ten figure, a major apologist for Hitler during the Hitler-Stalin pact period and an enthusiastic supporter of Kim Il-sung’s North Korea—insisting, in fact, that North Korea was fighting for its independence when it invaded South Korea in 1950, just the way we fought for our independence from the British.
The movie will feature Bryan Cranston, the star of Breaking Bad. John Goodman and other big-name stars are also in the film. The publicity already tells us what the film is about: That Dalton bravely “stood against the Communist witch-hunt at the height of the Cold War” and was “punished for his principled stand for free speech and the Constitution.” Already much of Hollywood is abuzz with the idea that this could be Oscar material.
So I would now like to challenge Hollywood movie makers, actors and directors, conservatives, liberals and even some progressives. It’s hard for me to believe that most of you honestly think of yourselves as backers of Joe Stalin and all his criminal activities that are now part of history. So why, if you don’t view yourselves as worshippers of this evil ruler, do you keep celebrating the lives of your colleagues who did?