Until now, Hollywood’s political history has been dominated by a steady stream of films and memoirs decrying the “nightmare” of the Red Scare. But in Red Star over Hollywood, Ronald and Allis Radosh show that the real drama of that era lay in the story of the movie stars, directors and especially screenwriters who joined the Communist Party or traveled in its orbit, and made the Party the focus of their political and social lives. The authors also show the Party’s attempts at influencing filmmaking; their greatest achievement being the film “Mission to Moscow,” which justified Stalin’s great purge trials.
Using material from the papers of Dalton Trumbo, Dore Schary, Albert Maltz, Melvyn Douglas and the FBI’s Hollywood file, and from the newly released testimony of formerly closed HUAC Executive Session hearings, the authors trace the growth of the Communist Party from the 1930s, when many notables toured the Soviet Union and came back converted, through the 1950s when Party members were held to account for their allegiance to another country.
The Radoshes’ most controversial discovery is that during the investigations of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the Hollywood Reds themselves were beset by doubts and disagreements about their disloyalty to America, and their own treatment by the Communist Party. Their allegiance to the Communist Party and its ever changing line, combined with their outlandish behavior before HUAC, turned old liberal allies against them, and left them vulnerable to the eventual blacklist.
One case study, of actor John Garfield, looks at the strategy he tried to employ to avoid the blacklist, while working to keep the support of both the studios and the Hollywood Left. Acting more as an opportunist than an idealist, Garfield moved to espouse a strong anti-Communism, while at the same time avoiding naming the names of his old radical associates, by pretending to only have been a dupe. In constant agony, his evasions satisfied no one, and led to his fatal heart attack shortly before he as to again appear before HUAC, where he would have finally had to make a decision as to where he actually stood.
Based on a new and extensive interview with writer Budd Schulberg, Red Star over Hollywood opens up the Party cells and discussion groups that defined Hollywood radicalism. Ronald and Allis Radosh also bring their story into the present, describing how the men and women who agitated for Communism a half-century ago created a legacy used by Jane Fonda and others of the Hollywood Left of the 1960s, and by celebrities such as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss and Sean Penn in the turbulent filmland politics of today.