Posted on October 20, 2020 at 11:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek
Most of us are familiar with playwright Arthur Miller’s connection with the Red Scare of the late 1940s.
It inspired him, after all, to write The Crucible, which on the surface is a play about the Salem witch trials but recalls the hysteria — and “paralysis” of bystanders, in Miller’s own words — of Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Like others, Miller refused to testify when called and was convicted of contempt of court (though that conviction was later reversed).
Today marks the 73rd anniversary of when HUAC began investigating Communism in Hollywood, so we thought we’d take a look at the literary creatives who had real reason for fear during this time.
Langston Hughes, one of the star poets of the Harlem Renaissance, sometimes expressed left-leaning views in his poetry and had supported some Communist groups, though he never joined the official party.
Still, that was enough for Congress to call him to testify; Hughes maintained then that his interest in anything political was purely educational, not emotional.
Dorothy Parker, a poet and critic celebrated for her wit, had a long history of political activity — as evidenced by her FBI file, which dates to the 1930s and can actually be viewed now.
Her support of causes considered to be “fronts” for Communism and with openly Communist groups caused her to be blacklisted.
Orson Welles was well-known for his adaptations of literature, like the radio broadcast of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds and the movie version of Booth Tarkington's novel The Magnificent Ambersons.
His crowning achievement, though, was Citizen Kane — which was almost his downfall.
The film, which portrays (in a not-so-flattering way) a man’s evolution from idealist to capitalist, was considered to be Communist propaganda by the FBI.
Welles was even put on a list of people to be apprehended in a national emergency; he left the U.S. in 1948 and stayed away for eight years.
Dalton Trumbo, a popular screenwriter who also wrote the award-winning novel Johnny Got His Gun, was in fact once an official member of the Communist Party.
He refused to answer the HUAC’s questions, resulting in his being held in contempt and imprisoned for a year.
Many of his movie scripts, for which he’d won acclaim before the Red Scare, were then written under pseudonyms.