Oscar Politics: Filmmakers' Careers

Producers and directors also suffered from the fear induced by McCarthyism. The Hollywood Ten, a group of directors and screenwriters subpoenaed to appear before the HUAC in 1947 and cited for contempt of Congress because they refused to disclose their political affiliations, included: producerdirector Herbert Biberman, director Edward Dmytryk, producer-writer Adrian Scott, and screenwriters Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Matz, Samuel Ornitz, and Dalton Trumbo. Tried at a Federal Court in Washington, D.C., in April 1948, they were given the maximum sentence of a year in jail and a fine of $1,000. While blacklisted, some went abroad, others were forced to retire, and still others wrote scripts while using fronts.

Most of the Hollywood Ten were prominent artists with Oscar Awards and Oscar nominations to their credit. Edward Dmytryk was nominated for Best Director for Crossfire, which was also nominated for Best Picture. After his release from jail, he went into selfimposed exile in Europe. However, in 1951, Dmytryk cooperated with the Committee and became a “a star witness” in its second round of hearings. His testimony incriminated several colleagues, but he was able to work. In 1954, Dmytryk's version of Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny received a Best Picture and other nominations.

Robert Rossen

The Oscarnominated director Robert Rossen was also blacklisted. In 1947, he was subpoenaed to appear before the Committee, but the hearings were suspended. Rossen continued to work and his film, All the King's Men, won the 1949 Best Picture, though he failed to win the directing award, probably because of his politics. There is usually a strong correlation between the two categories, but the 1949 Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz for A Letter to Three Wives.

In the second round of hearings, Rossen was identified as a Communist, and his refusal to testify resulted in blacklisting. Like Dmytryk, two years later, Rossen requested a second hearing in which he admitted membership in the Communist Party and was subsequently able to work, though he decided never again to return to Hollywood. In 1961, Rossen scored the greatest success of his career with The Hustler, which was nominated for nine awards, including Best Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, winning two technical awards.

Albert Maltz

Broken Arrow became a cause celebre for another, equally important reason. Its screenplay, credited to Michael Blankfort, was nominated for an Oscar, except that Blankfort served as a front to blacklisted writer Albert Maltz. In 1947, Maltz became one of the Hollywood Ten, convicted of contempt for Congress for refusing to testify about membership in the Communist Party. maltz served ten month in prison. Though he continued to do uncredited work on movies, after Naked City in 1948, his name would not appear on screen. His status changed in 1970, when Clint Eastwood hired him for his Western, Two Mules for Sister Sara. In 1991, the Writers Guild of America corrected this injustice and Maltz received official credit for Broken Arrow.

Jules Dassin

Jules Dassin was identified as a Communist by his former colleague, Edward Dmytryk, which forced him into Europe an exile. He became one of the few American directors to have been able to work abroad, making Night and the City in England, and Rififi in France. Even so, a major American company agreed to distribute Rififi in the U.S. on one of two conditions: that Dassin sign a declaration renouncing his past and stating he was duped into subversive associations, or that his name be removed from the film as writerdirector. When Dassin refused, Rififi was dropped and a smaller distributor released it; earlier negotiations with United Artists failed because of hostile public opinion.

Dassin's next picture, He Who Must Die, also could not get a major American distributor, and when the film was finally shown, only a few Hollywood figures came to see it, among them, Richard Brooks, Gene Kelly, and Walter Wanger. It took over a decade for Dassin's reputation to be restored with the release of Never on Sunday in 1960, his greatest commercial success, which won him his first and only directorial nomination.

Carl Foreman

Among the blacklisted writers was Carl Foreman, whose script for High Noon was nominated. Under pressure, Foreman left for England, working there underground for years, using the pseudonym Derek Frey for his script of Joseph Losey's The Sleeping Tiger. Foreman was given no credit for The Bridge on the River Kwai, which won all the major awards, including Adapted Screenplay to Pierre Boule, the author of the book, who had nothing to do with the script. ironically, Boulle had written the book in French and spoke very bad English. In 1984, the Academy corrected this injustice and awarded the Oscar posthumously to those who deserved it, Foreman and Michael Wilson.

The Academy itself became a victim of McCarthy's political hysteria, when, on February 6, 1957, it decided to enact the following rule: “Any person who, before any duly constituted federal legislative committee or body, shall have admitted that he is a member of the Communist Party (and has not since publicly renounced the Party) or who shall have refused to answer whether or not he is or was a member of the Communist Party or shall have refused to respond to a subpoena to appear before such a committee or body, shall be ineligible for any Academy Award so long as he persists in such a refusal.”

Michael Wilson

More than any other talent group, writers suffered from this rule. Michael Wilson won the writing Oscar with Harry Brown for A Place in the Sun, but, refusing to answer charges of Communist affiliation, he found himself out of work.

In 1956, William Wyler's Friendly Persuasion, nominated for five awards, was released without giving credit to Michael Wilson's script, which he had written a decade before; the only credit mentioned on'screen was “from the book by Jessamyn West.” Industry observers interpreted the writing nomination as an act of defiance by the Writers Branch, which always was more sympathetic toward its blacklisted members than the Academy, but Wilson never forgave director William Wyler and remained bitter to the end of his life.

Dalton Trumbo

An interesting incident occurred in the 1957 ceremonies, when the Best Story went to Robert Rich for The Brave One, but no writer claimed the award. The Writers Guild acknowledged that, “it knew nothing about the man, who's as much of a mystery to us as he is to everybody else.” Producer Frank King told the New York Times that he had no idea of his writer's whereabouts, but added that he was a brilliant young writer whom he had met in Germany, when he served in the American Army. To the Academy's embarrassment, it turned out that Rich was the pseudonym for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten. Trumbo received his long overdue Oscar in 1975, when producers Frank and Maurice King sent the Academy an affidavit verifying his identity.

Ned Young

One of 1958's most acclaimed films, The Defiant Ones, earned nominations in most categories, including story and screenplay to Nathan E. Douglas and Harold Jacob Smith. But Douglas was the pseudonym of Ned Young, a blacklisted writer. The Academy, embarrassed for having to declare a member of a team ineligible, revoked its rules in January 1958. The Board of Directors denied that the motive for revoking the old rules was linked to The Defiant Ones. But it issued a statement calling the previous rule “unworkable and impractical to administer and enforce.”

According to the new regulations, the Academy would simply “honor achievements as presented.” Dalton Trumbo hailed that decision as the official end of the blacklist, though he continued to wonder how the industry could officially rescind a blacklist that it had never acknowledged existed in the first place.

If you would like to know more about this issue, please read my book, All bout Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards(NY: Continuum International, paperback 2003).