Regarding Blacklists

Burt Prelutsky

2/9/2009 12:01:00 AM - 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.

Some people might find it ironic that Hollywood’s liberals, who are still inflamed over a blacklist that took place 60 years ago, not only condone it in America, but practice it every day of their lives.

For those of us involved in the lawsuit, it’s been an interesting decade. Those of us who don’t play golf find it helps fill the time. The lawyers for the other side have done everything in their power to delay a court judgment. The masochists among us particularly enjoyed the interrogatories. Not only did they want us to recall the date of every meeting we ever had with any of the defendants, but what was said, by whom, if we got the assignments and, if so, when was the script shot, when did it air and how much were we paid. Some of us have a hard time recalling what we had for lunch.

It’s quite obvious that the defendants figure time is on their side, that all they have to do is wait us out and we’ll start dropping like flies, like very old flies. Fat chance! What they haven’t considered is that the lawsuit is providing some of us with the will to live that we might otherwise not have.

Not to sound too cynical, but when I saw Abe Polonsky leading a picket line composed of unrepentant Commies outside the Academy Awards in 1999, and saw Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Nick Nolte, and a few other Tinseltown pinheads, sitting on their hands and sneering when 90 year old Elia Kazan came on stage to collect his honorary Oscar, it merely reminded me once again how hypocritical, rude and self-righteous the liberals in this town can be.

In spite of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” “Boomerang!” “Gentleman’s Agreement,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “East of Eden” and “On the Waterfront,” Hollywood’s political elitists couldn’t get over the fact that 50 years earlier Kazan had, as they say, named names. What’s more, he made no secret of the fact that he was proud to have named the names of those he regarded as the enemies of his adopted country.

As we all know, the patron saint of Hollywood, a town devoted to back-stabbing and betrayal, is Lucrezia Borgia. And the truth is, if Elia Kazan had named fascists, Nazis or even conservatives, instead of Communists, they’d have erected a statue of him at the corner of Hollywood and Vine.