Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002

by Paul Buhle
ISBN: 1403961441

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A Review of: Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television 1950 - 2002
by Christopher Ondaatje

Anyone who reads Paul Buhle and David Wagner's Hide in Plain Sight-the final volume of a trilogy explaining the Hollywood Blacklist and its impact will want to read the first two volumes: Tender Comrades by Paul Buhle and Patrick McGilligan and Radical Hollywood by Buhle and Wagner. This superb encyclopedic volume (the best in my opinion) is as complete a study as there can be of the Hollywood Blacklist and its aftermath, and traces the careers of all the blacklistees after they were literally hounded out of Hollywood. The book also successfully explores the effects the Blacklist had in the art world in America and indeed Europe in the last fifty-two years.
For those of you who have either never known or have almost forgotten the dreadful purges of the radical politics instigated by the McCarthy hearings of the 1940s and 1950s, you will find this book an eye-opening discovery. It is not only beautifully written but gives a fascinating synopsis of practically every film and television programme created, inspired, directed or produced by those driven out of Hollywood. Not surprisingly, a good many left Hollywood for careers in television. Usually using a pseudonym or working anonymously they created or worked on children's and family television programmes like The Bullwinkle Show, Daktari, Lassie and Flipper. Many more wrote adult sitcoms such as Hogan's Heroes, The Donna Reed Show, The Dick Van Dyck Show, M*A*S*H and All in the Family. Others worked on socially progressive themed shows like Justice, You Are There, Naked City, The Defenders and East-Side West-Side.
Some directors like Joseph Losey (Stranger on the Prowl, 1951) and Ben Barzman (who co-wrote Stranger on the Prowl) escaped to Europe, but others who did not leave America sought refuge in the relative freedom that early New York television (anxious to use immediately available low-priced talent) allowed to deal with issues of race, class, war and nuclear holocaust. Quite clearly the radical political attitude of the 1930s and 1940s never really disappeared. It simply found ways to build a progressive liberal tradition through popular culture in television. These television shows became an increasingly important outlet for the new left political expression.
Eventually many casualties of the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) crept back into Hollywood in the sixties and seventies, working creatively on films like Planet of the Apes, Rififi, The Go-Between, Norma Rae, Midnight Cowboy, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia and Coming Home. All of them exuded radical political statements and were lenient portrayals of society's downtrodden and oppressed. Although expelled from the Hollywood scene blacklisted men and women did not ever stop writing and directing. They all influenced the development of films in the following decades. The complete and informative index to the book gives a skillful description of both films and television shows intertwined with the personal tragedies and successes of the writers and directors that created the legacy of the horrendous blacklist era. It is an enlightening and intriguing history which sets out and makes the memories and sense of tradition evident. Although it appeared that everything changed after 1950, in fact nearly everything continued, readapting the various motifs of Depression poverty into the stresses of the atomic age and a discovery of a new rebellious attitude of the population which catered to minorities and outsiders alike, all speaking out against the development of a materialistic society which looked down on the left-wing leanings of the media.
The authors end with in-depth studies and opinions of Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday, 1960), Harold Jacob Smith and Fredrick Young (Inherit the Wind, 1960), Arnold Manoff (You Are There, 1960), James Baldwin (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, 1967), Martin Ritt and Walter Bernstein (The Front, 1976), Lillian Hellman (Julia, 1977) and even the least repentant friendly witness Elia Kazan, who achieved a protested Hollywood Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. The authors also give comments about some brave up-front leftist actors like Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave (Julia, 1977) Barbara Streisand (The Way We Were, 1973) and Jim Carrey (The Majestic, 2001). However, despite the fact that the Hollywood Blacklist movement died after 1980, I agree with the authors that something about those days and those films remains more vital, imaginative, and truer to the best that America produced than what followed. As the authors so aptly conclude: "Hollywood was always about money. It still is. But at its best it was and eventually might once again be something a great deal more-a glimmering of a democratic art form returning the embrace of it vast audience with equal sincerity and the sense of a common fate." Their book is a sincere testament to that hope.

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