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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 [via]