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Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s Hardcover – October 28, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Here's what most people know about the clash between Washington, D.C., and Hollywood involving Communist influence over the film industry: the House Committee on Un-American Activities led an organized witch hunt against writers and actors with left-wing sympathies, creating an environment that led to a blacklist destroying many talented people's careers. But some insist this isn't the whole story. "It's a false parallel. Witch hunt!" wrote Molly Kazan, whose husband Elia testified before the committee, saved his career as a film director, and earned enmity from Hollywood liberals continuing to the present day. "The phrase would indicate that there are no Communists in the government, none in the big trade unions, none in the press, none in the arts.... No one who was in the Party and the left uses that phrase. They know better."

Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley works to fill in some of the historical gaps with Hollywood Party. The information on the role of Communist (and Communist- sympathetic) screenwriters is not particularly revelatory to those familiar with the basic outlines of the story, although Billingsley pushes the Communist angle hard, noting the Party's lockstep support of Stalin and what might charitably be called his "policies," as well as the vicious backlash against any leftist who spoke out against the Communists. His chronicle of Communist efforts to control the studio workers' unions, however, illuminates a less glamorous but perhaps more substantial aspect of the story. Those in search of celebrity dirt will be mildly disappointed; there are several star-studded scenes, but mostly mild anecdotes on the level of Ronald Reagan's gradual realization that, as an SAG activist, he was being played for a dupe by the Reds. Unless, that is, Billingsley is writing about a Communist or a fellow traveler, in which case no personal quirk, from screenwriter Dalton Trumbo's penchant for working in his bathtub to Bertolt Brecht's lack of hygiene to left-wing journalist Ella Winter's mannishly short hair, is overlooked. -- Ron Hogan

From Publishers Weekly

The Soviet Union's demise, the release of spy-era files and the 50-year anniversary of the year in which Joseph McCarthy wielded lists of supposed Communists like so many sickles, has prompted new studies on the House Committee on Un-American Activities and Cold War politics. Examining accounts of movie industry unions, money trails between Russian Communists and American Communists, the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and other groups' response to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939 and industry insider allegiances and betrayals, Billingsley throws a wet blanket on the gushing self-congratulation with which the entertainment world has memorialized the Hollywood Ten and the era of blacklisted writers and producers. The House Committee and the blacklist it spawned, he contends, were no simple versions of the Spanish Inquisition. Not everyone accused and even persecuted was innocent of the Communist label; not every Hollywood figure told the truth. Heroes and villains, he points out, were not nearly so clear-cut as movies, like the 1991 DeNiro feature, Guilty by Suspicion, and gala events like Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist, a recreation of the HUAC hearings, would have us believe. On this point, Billingsley convinces, supplying what he calls "backstory" to subvert the assumption that the House Committee was pure sham. Filled with specific details of infiltrators and full-fledged activists, his study discloses veins of Communist influence within the studios of that era. But Billingsley also attempts to prove that a battle for control over movies themselves was nearly lost to Communist "seduction," and with this provocative charge, his argument falls apart. The stories he documents of director Edward Dmytryck, writer Dalton Trumbo and countless lesser players, who he accuses of championing themes that were consistent with the Party line, fail to add up to an underground movement to smuggle Communist ideology into American cinema. Its racy subtitle notwithstanding, this volume ultimately fails to provide a convincing picture of those dramatic times.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 365 pages
  • Publisher: Prima Publishing; First Edition edition (October 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0761513760
  • ISBN-13: 978-0761513766
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Thomas Stamper VINE VOICE on June 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The fact that it is called the "red scare" or "McCarthyism" says a lot about how the post World War II communist problem is looked at from the modern perspective. From the earliest times I can remember gavels coming down by angry congressmen as meek witnesses calmly express their disagreement with a committee that would make them "name names." The witnesses seemed real pathetic and the committee chairmen all come off as power mad scoundrels looking for a headline. The poor Hollywood Ten went to jail or fled to Europe to write movies under fictitious names.
What none of the pictures or narration ever told me was that every member of the Hollywood Ten had been a communist at some point in his life and that half of the Hollywood ten were still communists when they went to jail for contempt of court. Since they weren't making the defense in front of Congress that they had the right to be communists, the event was portrayed as a "witch hunt." These were just misunderstood new deal liberals that wanted more socialism than the House Un-American Activities Committee.
What Mr. Billingsley shows in his excellently researched book is that they weren't just a bunch of artistic idealists, but a group of avowed Marxists being funded by and taking orders from Moscow. It's not an open question. They were given orders to get collectivist messages into Hollywood films. They were told not to portray capitalism or businessmen in a good light. Writer Budd Schulberg was criticized by the party because his book "What Makes Sammy Run?" didn't achieve any of the party's goals. Some of these guys were even writing articles for the communist Daily Worker under their own names.
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Format: Hardcover
We have been educated in the myth. During that reign of terror known as the McCarthy era, congressional witch-hunts of Hollywood led to blacklisting that shattered the lives of thousands of innocents.
A recent book, "Hollywood Party," is an effective antidote to the prevailing Leftist version of what happened 50 years ago. Author Kenneth Billingsley details the Communist-Hollywood connection.
Lenin himself recognized the power of cinema, saying "Communists must always consider that of all the arts the motion picture is the most important." His successor Stalin viewed film as "not only a vital agitprop device for the education and political indoctrination of the workers, but also a fluent channel through which to reach the minds and shape the desires of people everywhere."
Communist infiltration of the American motion picture industry began in the trade unions. Expanding into the ranks of actors, writers, directors and producers wasn't terribly difficult. One writer for the Communist Daily Worker claimed that the established view among party leaders was that 99 percent of movie people were "political morons." Judging by the antics of today's Hollywood personalities, that figure hasn't improved.
During the 1930s Communist opposition to the Nazi threat attracted substantial support from film stars and other influential folks from Hollywood. They ignored the obvious similarities between these two faces of Leftism - the mass murders and torture, the secret police, the suppression of the most basic rights, the intimidation, the focus on government rather than the individual, the total ignoring of man's spiritual side - and contributed their fame, money and time to Communist front organizations.
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Format: Hardcover
Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley has done an excellent job of telling the story of the Hollywood blacklist from a conservative perspective which has been missing from most books on the fifties. He accurately depicted the subversive activities of the communist party and their influence on unions and screenplay content.
I used his text as a reference for my own chapter on the blacklist in my new book, "The Moviegoing Experience 1968-2001".
I researched this topic extensively and discovered it's even more complicated than Billingsley suggests.
It probably was fairly safe to hire "Reds" in the thirties since the nature of the studio system kept them in line. There's no question some were talented writers, directors and actors.
The staunch Catholocism of Joseph Breen who ran the Production Code combined with the conservative worldviews of most of the moguls like Meyer, Disney, Warner and Zukor along with conservative exhibitors kept movies within a mainstream context.
To get a movie written, produced, released and exhibited meant you had to go through channels which meant that most Marxist references would've been removed along the way so as not to alienate viewers. There's no question that writers like Dalton Trumbo would've liked to turn cinema into a propoganda medium but those in power made that difficult.
It was the changes in the post-war era that made these same individuals a threat during a major industry upheaval.
The 1948 consent decree which forced the majors to sell off their theater chains combined with an increase in independent production and television competition caused the entire studio
system to unravel.
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