Hollywood’s treatment of communism has historically been performed with kid gloves—which shouldn’t surprise us given the number of communists in the industry in the 1950s and ’60s.
In light of our recent recognition of a more realistic view of communism and the open threat against America it represented for a solid four decades (see, for example, articles here, here, and here), it’s valuable to know some of the history of the matter, to see exactly how important and impressive this change really is, and what it’s fighting against.
Ever since the early 1950s the common Hollywood attitude toward communism was essentially one of acceptance, with Tinseltown denizens commonly assuming that the alleged values behind communism were sincere and good and that any criticism of American society—regardless of whether it was actually true or fair—was good because it would speed the transition to the better, communal way that was working so superbly in the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and other wonderful bastions of human self-fulfillment.
In sum, it was a topsy-turvy world in which truth was hated and lies adored, as Spencer Warren has noted rather eloquently in an extensive analysis in Conservative Battleline Online Magazine:
As disciples of Stalin’s party line, American communists obediently endorsed the Nazi-Soviet Pact in August 1939, which precipitated the Second World War with the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1st (in which Soviet Russia joined weeks later). This led eventually to the Holocaust that was centered in Poland. These people also supported the Soviet invasion of neutral Finland in 1940, defended Stalin’s purge show trials of the late 1930s, and dismissed revelations about his growing Gulag concentration camps that imprisoned millions. Further parroting the party line, they joined with isolationists and German-American Bund fifth columnists in loudly protesting President Roosevelt’s crucial assistance to Churchill’s Britain, including Lend-Lease, when it held the torch for Western civilization, fighting Hitler alone after the fall of France, in 1940-41. American communists thus were aligned with Hitler at Stalin’s order, until the Nazi invasion of Russia in June 1941, when they leaped through the hoop and took a diametrically opposite position.
In short, the Hollywood Ten, especially Stalinist CPUSA members like John Howard Lawson (their Stalinist leader) and Dalton Trumbo, who are such a cause celebre for Turner and left-wing Hollywood, did not have clean hands. (Trumbo joined the party during the period of the Nazi-Soviet pact.) And the blacklist, in Tom Wolfe’s words, has become a “poignant myth.” Appearing before HUAC, these people ostentatiously invoked their First Amendment rights under the Constitution they were pledged in secret to destroy.
In this environment, Warren notes, open opposition to communism could be not only career suicide but real suicide. Hence the actions of Ronald Reagan and other Hollywood liberal anticommunists should be seen as heroic:
The Ten’s Communist brethren meanwhile were attempting to take over Hollywood craft unions, including the Screen Actors Guild. During a violent strike they fomented at Reagan’s studio, Warner Brothers, studio employees avoided the picket lines by entering in shuttle buses. Reagan was the only one who, rejecting the warnings of security personnel, sat upright inside his bus rather than hiding under a seat. When Reagan, with Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn and others in the guild tried to mediate an end to the strike (the last thing the Communist union wanted), Reagan received a telephone call in which an unidentified voice “threatened to see to it that he never made films again,” as recounted in Schweizer’s book (page 11). Schweizer continues: “If he continued to oppose the . . . strike, the caller, said, ‘a squad’ would disfigure his face with acid.” Reagan received many other threats, and felt compelled to hire guards to watch his children; he obtained a gun permit and slept with a revolver at his bedside. His wife, Jane Wyman, “would awaken and find him sitting up in bed at two in the morning, holding the gun because he had heard an unusual sound.” Reagan’s stand against the Communist union earned him verbal abuse from a subsequently blacklisted actress, Karen Morley, whom Osborne loves to portray only as a victim. Later, repentant former Communist actor Sterling Hayden described Reagan as “a one-man battalion” who stopped the Communist union’s attempted takeover. (Schweizer, pages 12-13.)
Anticommunists such as Reagan, Robert Montgomery, Robert Taylor, and John Wayne came under increasing fire from the far left, which in Hollywood was the middle of the road, during the 1950s and ’60s. As I noted in an earlier article on the subject, Hollywood’s attitude was that even if communism might have some flaws in practice, it was well-intended and a good thing overall, and thus Americans’ opposition to it was much worse.
Warren uses an intensive analysis of comments on the Turner Classic Movies channel, especially those of movie host Robert Osborne, to document pro-communist attitudes in Hollywood during the Cold War and its hangover even during the years since the self-inflicted fall of communism:
Sadly, Turner and Osborne demonstrate, in their instrumental view of truth in the name of their “Cause” (however vaguely defined) just how much they have in common with their Hollywood Ten heroes. This is a very important issue because, as Orwell writes in 1984, he who has the past has the future. It is amazing that Time Warner, the owner of Turner Classic Movies, permits such politicization, which must be costing the channel viewership.
As Warren’s analysis shows, Hollywood’s attitude toward communism was far different in the past from what we see in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull—where the villains are quite matter-of-factly and accurately shown to be communists—and the jaundiced critical reaction to Steven Soderbergh’s new film hagiography of Che Guevara.
This is a welcome change, then, and as the great and increasing difference between the attitude then and now suggests, a truly monumental one.