Burt Prelutsky

Once upon a time there was a blacklist in Hollywood. Liberals still refer to it as McCarthyism, but they can’t even get that right. Joseph McCarthy was a U.S. senator and had nothing to do with Hollywood. It was the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that conducted the star-studded hearings in Los Angeles. But I guess HUACism doesn’t have quite the same panache.

The congressmen on the Committee weren’t trolling for Russian spies, but only for publicity. They worked hand-in-hand with a sleazy publication called Red Channels, which purported to identify actors, writers and entertainers, who were Communists, subversives and fellow travelers. Red Channels was the brainchild of an opportunistic grocery chain owner named John G. Keenan, who found there was more fun and profit in extortion than in selling cans of corn. On more than one occasion, Red Channels got the names wrong. But even when they got the names right, sometimes the folks named had done nothing worse than voiced opposition to Nazi Germany prior to America’s entering World War II.

But every victim of the blacklist wasn’t just a premature anti-fascist. Most of them in Hollywood took their marching orders from a screenwriter named John Howard Lawson. Jack Lawson, a man born to run a gulag, was head of the Communist Party in this town. The Party members prided themselves on being pro-democracy. They showed it by contributing sizeable portions of their Paramount, Universal, Warners, MGM, Columbia and 20th Century-Fox salaries to Joseph Stalin and the Soviet Politburo.

When screenwriter Albert Maltz, like Lawson, one of the Hollywood Ten, dared to write an article for the New Masses, stating that a writer’s main responsibility was to his art and not to the Party, Lawson led an intervention of Maltz’s friends and colleagues. For several hours, they verbally bludgeoned him in his own living room. The result was that he caved in and wrote a second article for the magazine in which he essentially pleaded temporary insanity.

These days, there is another blacklist taking place, but they’re calling it a graylist because the victims are scriptwriters who made the stupid career decision of allowing themselves to become gray-haired or, in some distinguished cases, even bald.

Back in 1999, a class action suit was initiated by about 150 of us. Today, there are over 600 aging writers who are plaintiffs suing the various studios, networks and major talent agencies, for conspiring to blacklist WGA members on no other basis than age.