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Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist Paperback – February, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Film historians Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle have assembled a collection of interviews with film writers, directors, and actors whose careers were interrupted by the blacklist imposed in the wake of congressional probes into alleged Communist influence over the motion-picture industry. The subjects, including two of the "Hollywood Ten," Alvah Bessie and Ring Lardner Jr., systematically debunk the notion that there was an extensive conspiracy to load mainstream movies with "Red propaganda." "We were in the film business not to change the world but to make films," recalls writer-director Abraham Polonsky. "To change the world we were involved in other kinds of things, like the labor struggle in Hollywood." Screenwriter Paul Jarrico concurs: "The Communist Party was not a revolutionary organization, not in the period when I was in it. It was a reformist organization, and for most of the years I was in it, it was the tail to the liberal-Democrat kite." (Recent historical research, it must be noted, indicates that Kremlin officials did in fact wield substantial influence over the CPUSA platform. Evidence for the attempted subversion of America's movies, however, remains elusive.)

Some of those shut out of the industry weren't even actual Communists, but ran into them as part of broader leftist activities. Character actor Lionel Stander, for example, became an actor in order to support his extravagant lifestyle; when the film jobs disappeared, he waited out the studios on the stock market. "It seems that if my face or figure got on the screen, so delicate was the balance of the American socioeconomic and political scene at the time that I would throw the thing right off the tightrope," he recalls drolly. "But I could go to Wall Street and invest the savings of widows and orphans with impunity." At turns mirthful and tragic, Tender Comrades presents an unfiltered perspective on the cold war that should be studied by anyone interested in the effects of a government persecuting its own people. --Ron Hogan

From Library Journal

The 50th anniversary of the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings, which resulted in the infamous Hollywood blacklist, is the occasion for this landmark collection of interviews with more than 30 of the blacklisted filmmakers. While HUAC's activities are well known and documented, only recently have many victims of the blacklist stepped forward, most notably Walter Bernstein with his Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist (LJ 9/15/96). The sheer bulk of this book gives a sense of the enormous damage to the lives and careers of those blacklisted and the impact on filmmaking caused by losing this magnitude of talent. The interviews, expertly conducted by McGilligan (biographer of Fritz Lang and George Cukor) and Buhle (historian of the political Left), vividly reveal those who for so long have lurked in the shadows, silenced by their adversaries or, more often, allowed to perform, write, and direct under an alias. Formerly unacknowledged film credits are listed for each filmmaker. Highly recommended for academic libraries.?Richard W. Grefrath, Univ. of Nevada Lib., Reno
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 800 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312200315
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312200312
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,820,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Douglas Doepke on October 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I grew up midwestern 1950's, in a hotbed of Mc Carthyism. Needless to mention, my ingrained image of who and what was a communist was somewhat different from the thoroughly humanized portraits that emerge in the pages of the book. Not that the interviews with individual victims of the blacklist result in glamorized or enviable cameos. They don't. Instead, we get a glimpse of what life was like for people of strong conviction who defied the fashion of their day even when it cost them dearly. The fact that most were communists was enough to demonize them in the eyes of so many of us, who, when it comes right down to it, were victims ourselves.

To those who have been assailed by America's peculiarly virulent strain of anti-communism, please read the book. It won't make a communist of you, but it will give you second thoughts about a political culture that regularly demonizes its opposition, whoever that may be. The interviews reveal not only an America that was, but in many ways an America that still is. The individual stories themselves are fascinating. The names are ones you may have seen briefly on a late night movie credit crawl. Here they come alive in their own words, names and faces that were on the screen one day, then gone the next. Not celebrities, but the kind of people who made movies memorable because they brought more than varying degrees of talent to their work, they brought social commitment.

I hope the authors soon bring us a similar volume on non-Hollywood victims of the purges, of which, I gather, there were thousands. Folks without marquee names, but with their own stories to tell about how the world was made safe for democracy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By watchit on October 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In another richly detailed exploration of people and politics, Patrick McGilligan and his colleagues have restored the voices of people whose speech was silenced by the real un-Americans. But this is no crying game. The blacklistees profiled in "Tender Comrades" have gone beyond victimization to assert themselves on the front lines of social change, from goodwill ambassadors and local politics to historians and oracles. The questions are as well-informed as the answers, and the editing is crisp and knowledgeable. Not only a solid research tome, this makes for great reading, like a dinner party you wish you could have been invited to without your name being named.
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8 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on October 15, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
That was the question during the "red scare" in Hollywood. Ironically, the government knew all the names of everyone involved in the Communist Party. What they wanted from Hollywood directors, actors, and writers was humble submission...give us names, pledge allegiance to the flag, abandon your liberal stances. As explained in this book...the issue was never whether the individual was to the right or to the left. It was always an issue of morality and honor. Many very impressive actors and directors bowed to political pressure. This book is the oral history of those...who did not. For example, Allen Boretz was offered a half million dollars for a popular script that could be turned into a film...but the deal included one extra condition - he had to confess his associations with others in the communist party, an organization he left years before. He explained that even if he was offered 900 million dollars for the script, he would not betray confidences. How many of us possess that kind of courage?

It's a good idea to read this book in conjunction with "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood" by Neal Gabler.

Fundamentally, this is an essential story of the movie industry, and by extension, America. Interviews with very intelligent persons (mostly scriptwriters - some directors...some actors/actresses) cover several topics: The individual's life in Hollywood, what attracted them to film business, their contributions to the art of filmmaking, their private thoughts about other actors and films, the reason they were attracted to liberal and sometimes communist party positions, and their lives after the blacklist. Obviously, there is some very interesting Hollywood "gossip" that might fascinate film buffs.
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By Steek on September 14, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating history of a dark period.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Reckless Reader on August 26, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is as great a collection of oral histories as I have ever read...and I have read too many mediocre ones....Paul Buhle in particular has some kind of knack for bringing out the most interesting aspects of incredibly intense and interesting people, who have a lot to hide, but haven't....No better way to understand this dark nasty piece of modern history....
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