Allan Ryskind documents "love affair with totalitarianism"
Hollywood is not exactly known for accuracy when portraying historical figures and events in the movies. Perhaps we shouldn’t be all that surprised then when Hollywood gets its own history wrong.
That’s been the case with the blacklist of assorted industry communists during the early years of the Cold War. For nearly seven decades, leftists in the entertainment industry have peddled the idea that blacklisted screenwriters–especially the “Hollywood Ten”—were innocent, naïve standard bearers for First Amendment rights who unjustly suffered for their political beliefs at the hands of fascists in Congress and the movie business amidst a period of irrational anti-Red hysteria. This spin has come to be widely accepted as actual history.
Allan Ryskind, author of Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters, Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler, will have none of it, however. The longtime Human Events editor (and son of Morrie Ryskind, a screenwriter with various Marx Brothers films to his credit) offers a compelling, comprehensive tome that takes a fair—and as a result, damning—look at mountains of evidence regarding what the Hollywood Ten and other communists in the movie business actually did and advocated. For good measure, as any writer delving into history should do, Ryskind places the events and individuals he’s writing about within the proper context of their time.
Ryskind writes, “The Hollywood Ten, far from being ‘radical innocents,’ far from having just ‘flirted with Communist ideas,’ as their sympathizers so frequently insist, had all been committed to a Soviet America.” This is perhaps best illustrated by the flip-flopping by Hollywood’s communists in and around World War II as they followed Kremlin orders via the Communist Party in America. That is, being anti-Nazi initially; then working against the anti-Nazis, including Great Britain and the U.S., during the Hitler-Stalin pact; once again, turning passionately against Hitler when he attacked the Soviet Union; and finally, turning against U.S. foreign policy and ultimately advocating our nation’s violent demise. It was all about defending the U.S.S.R., not the U.S.A.
Ryskind makes clear that the Hollywood communists were working for Stalin, either unconcerned or supportive of “Stalin’s swallowing of Eastern Europe, his installation of Red regimes in Asia, his aggressive acts against Western Europe, and the deep penetration of his fifth column in virtually all areas of American society.” Oh yes, and there were the millions of Russians starved and murdered by Uncle Joe.
As for the much-maligned hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Ryskind takes a close look at what actually happened. He concludes that the HUAC investigation of Hollywood “proved to be one of the most effective, albeit controversial probes ever carried out by any committee of Congress.” The results showed, in contrast to the revisionism heard for so long, “that Hollywood was packed with Communists and fellow travelers, that the guilds and the unions had been heavily penetrated, and that wartime films, at least, had been saturated with Stalinist propaganda.”
The Hollywood Left’s love affairs with totalitarianism, such as more recent embraces of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, and continuing defense of the Hollywood Ten have nonetheless spread.
Over these many decades, the need apparently has grown to make clear the comprehensive ills of totalitarianism. As a reminder, at the 1947 HUAC hearing, actor and producer Robert Montgomery declared to applause in the hearing room, “Mr. Chairman, in common with millions of other men in this country in 1939 and 1940, I gave up my job to fight against a totalitarianism which was called fascism. I am quite willing to give it up again to fight against a totalitarianism called communism.”
Ryskind’s Hollywood Traitors would make an excellent movie, but I doubt it could ever break through the ideological barriers erected by the Hollywood Left. Those seeking an interesting, well-written history about the Hollywood blacklist, however, will find this book worth the price.
Ray Keating is a novelist, economist, newspaper columnist, adjunct college professor, and now, an occasional book reviewer for Aleteia. The latest thriller in his Pastor Stephen Grant series is titled The River.