Revisiting the Blacklist:
“An unparalleled campaign of cumulative calumny…”

Such was the dilemma faced by Hollywood, and “particularly the screen writers,” as described by Garrett Graham in his article “Witch-Hunting in Hollywood” published in the June 1947 issue of The Screen Writer.  This historical Screen Writers’ Guild publication is ripe with fascinating pieces dealing with censorship, blacklisting, and the general political and creative atmosphere of the film industry as a whole, as seen from the perspective of the writer.

Screen Writer Jun. 47While blacklisted writers such as Trumbo and Maltz were finding creative outlets in American Marxist publications such as Masses & Mainstream, some of their compatriots remained steadfast in their attempts to speak their minds and show their support through editorials and creative pieces in the Guild’s official publication.  I.A.L. Diamond had two poems published in The Screen Writer in 1947.  Both were infused with pointed jabs and condemnation of the “cinelords.”

The first, evocatively titled “Hollywood Jabberwocky,” contains plenty of clever wordplay that takes aim at the industry.

Hollywood Jabberwocky

“Hollywood Jabberwocky” (The Screen Writer Vol. 3, No. 1, June 1947)
[click the image for a closer read]

Screen Writer Dec. 47The December 1947 issue was host to Diamond’s poem “The Saga of Doubting Thomas,” which ties together the biblical figure of the skeptical Thomas the Apostle and J. Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC).  Thomas was responsible for the summoning the Hollywood Ten in October 1947.  Their subsequent conviction of being in contempt of Congress on November 24th was followed by a meeting between a group of industry executives at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York which resulted in the “Waldorf Statement.”  This industry-wide declaration delivered by MPAA president Eric Johnston stated that the convicted would no longer be employed until they had sworn under oath that they were no longer Communists.

The Saga of Doubting Thomas

“The Saga of Doutbing Thomas” (The Screen Writer Vol. 3, No. 7, December 1947)
[click on the image for a closer read]

Philip Dunne letter

Phillip Dunne to the SWG Executive Board
From the Screen Writers’ Guild Records
1933-1954

A letter from Philip Dunne to the Executive Board of the Screen Writers’ Guild on that very day pledged his support for committee work against censorship and blacklisting.  Dunne was a co-founder of the Committee for the First Amendment – a group which protested the HUAC hearings that also included the likes of John Huston, William Wyler, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, and Gene Kelly among many others.  His letter urged the formation of an industry-wide organization to oppose the Thomas Committee and the Motion Picture Alliance.  Dunne’s concern that addressing blacklisting would require “a great deal more work” proved to be quite true, as it was not until 1960 that the blacklist was “broken” with Dalton Trumbo’s screen credits for SPARTACUS and EXODUS.  Nevertheless, these historical documents demonstrate that Guild members were active agents early on in the struggle.


FYI: the Foundation has the entire run of The Screen Writer from June 1945 to October 1948 (a selection of issues have been digitized by the Media History Digital Library as well).  We’re also currently processing the Guild’s records from the 1930s through the 1950s. Click here for descriptions of the collections and contact the Archive with any inquiries!

Revisiting the Blacklist:
Relics from the “Hollywood Ten”

As a month host to several Hollywood Blacklist watersheds, November 1947 is remembered by screenwriters and film historians past and present as a period of political turmoil and creative confinement. To revisit the era, the WGF Library and Archive have a number of interesting artifacts that we’ll be highlighting on the blog over the next couple of weeks.

First off… to commemorate the upcoming November 24th anniversary of the Hollywood Ten’s day in contempt of Congress, we’d like to share a few relevant gems that represent the group from our collections.

Lester Cole's "Best Plays" Cole Bookplate

From the bookshelf of Lester Cole – a founding member of the Screen Writers’ Guild who wrote over forty screenplays between 1932 and 1947 – the Foundation recently acquired the blacklisted writer’s personal collection of the Burns Mantle Best Plays series.  Each of the 25 bound volumes bear Cole’s bookplate. Thanks to a generous donation from Lia Meiselman-Beachy, this special collection now resides alongside the works of Cole’s fellow writers.


Political Prisoners (July 1950)

From the Albert Maltz collection

The July 1950 edition of the American Marxist publication Masses & Mainstream features works by another pair from the Hollywood Ten.  Albert Maltz’s short story, “Circus Come to Town” and a series of poems entitled Poems on Parting by Dalton Trumbo can be found in the issue.

Excerpt from Dalton Trumbo’s
For a Convict’s Wife

The judges will never understand
That to imprison thought
Is to imprison air
Which is always free
Which ranges the world
Producing its most extreme turbulence
Whenever it is compressed beyond its requirements.

 

Broken Arrow

Both writers were the true scribes for award-winning screenplays whose accolades were attributed to others during the Blacklist era. Maltz’s script for BROKEN ARROW (1950) won the WGA Award for Best Written American Western in 1951, with credit given to his “front,” Michael Blankfort.

The Guild officially credited Maltz as the sole writer of the film in 1991.

Broken Arrow opening

Roman HolidayThe screen credit and Academy Award for Motion Picture Story for ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953) were originally credited to Ian McLellan Hunter, Trumbo’s “front.”  In 1992, the Academy amended their record and posthumously granted Trumbo his Oscar.  Trumbo’s story credit was also restored by the WGA in 1991 and his screenplay credit was restored in 2011.

Roman Holiday excerptEach of these screenplays (along with several others from the Hollywood Ten) are available for use in the Library’s collection.  Explore the catalog!

Austin Was A Blast

You might be wondering why our posting schedule has been a bit off lately. Apparently this is what happens when your entire staff visits the biggest writer-focused film festival in the country and gets - maybe - three hours of sleep per night the whole time you’re there.

Yeah, we can’t recommend the Austin Film Festival highly enough.

No promises yet, but we’re hoping to return next year with another great selection of items from our library and archive.

What we’re doing in Austin

As I write this, we’re in final preparations to head to the Austin Film Fest and present our SCRIBBLE TO SCREEN panel and exhibit. If you’ve explored our website before, you know a little about S2S; it’s a collection of early notes and handwritten drafts to classics like A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN and MY SO-CALLED LIFE. You can check it out online here.

But this is the first time we’ve ever made a live event out of it, and we’re so thrilled about it that we haven’t slept in days, and occasionally just stare at ourselves in the mirror and laugh until the memory centers of our brains stop working and we wake up hours later on the bathroom floor with the dog on our chest begging to be fed. OK, maybe we’ve been working a little too hard.

Either way, S2S is going to be, as the kids say, off the chain. We’re going to have hella screenwriters there (“OK, Kevin,” you’re saying. “We get it.”) and they’re all coming armed with their old drafts and notes. Like these note cards from MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA that Robin Swicord is bringing with her:

MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA note cards

 

When writing the script, Robin was careful to account for varying possibilities later in the screenwriting process, as well as anticipate studio notes. So she jotted down multiple iterations of the opening scene to use in the actual first draft.

We’re also hosting David Shore, who’ll talk about HOUSE M.D. David was kind enough to share his master list of possible titles for the show.

HOUSE - possible titlesI’m a fan of “House Rules,” which has a more sitcom-on-TBS feel to it, and “Med Squad,” which sounds like an awesome 70s-style action series with Erik Estrada as a street-smart paramedic who solves mysteries. (David, these are hints.)

These documents and more will be on view at the S2S exhibit at the Austin Film Fest. And if we’re lucky, we’ll have time to make more of them available in this space as well. Keep watching.

The Magical Wonders of
Archival Processing

Cataloging Elves

In honor of National Archives Month, here’s an exclusive sneak peek at how stacks and stacks of scripts, papers, photographs, disks and more are processed in the WGF Archive.

Imagine the last scene in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK where rows of boxes with rare treasures sit and gather dust…waiting to be discovered.  Or transport yourself to a cold, dark garage where musty papers and old LPs in warped, dingy boxes long for attention.  Believe it or not, this is how many collections arrive at the WGF Archive.  Ah, if only magical elves existed!

The truth is it takes many hours to assess, process, house and catalog a collection.  We wish it were as easy as simply placing a book on a shelf, but it requires time, expertise, creativity, research, supplies and special programs and software to organize the archival materials.

Thanks to donations and grants, such as the generous support of the Writers Guild of America, West, the WGF Archive is slowly but surely providing brief catalog records and increasing access to more collections.  And now we’re even featured at the Online Archive of California.  Look for more collections to appear in the future!

 

Dog Photo Day Afternoon:
Guild Presidents Pose with Pooch

President Tunberg

From the Screen Writers Guild Records, courtesy of the WGAw.

A common pattern has emerged while scouring the archive’s photograph collection… this rather large St. Bernard appears alongside several of the Screen Writers Guild’s presidents from the 1940s and 1950s. Here we see Karl Tunberg (who served from 1950-1951), a writer whose long list of credits range from TALL, DARK AND HANDSOME (1941) and BEN-HUR (1959) to episodes of CANNON and CHiPs in the 1970s.

We have more of these incredible photographs to look forward to in Miranda Banks’ upcoming book, The Writers: A History of American Screen Writing and the Writers Guild, (Rutgers UP), set to be published in 2014, which explores both the individual and the collective work of American screenwriters and their trade union.

The Coochie-Coochie Heard ‘Round The World

It’s time: Put on your best polyester zippered jumpsuit. Put some Vicki Sue Robinson on your old hi-fi. And have Isaac the Bartender mix you a Harvey Wallbanger. Because we’re hopping in our fluxcapacitor-equipped Gremlin and setting the time circuits to the 1970s!

OK, sorry. That got a little silly. BUT GUYS WE’RE JUST SO EXCITED because we recently found THIS tucked away in our archive:

Charo. Charo!

Yeah – that’s a gold lamé script with the word “Charo” on it. And yeah – it’s the script for a variety show featuring Charo.

Written by Bob Booker, the Charo special aired on ABC in 1976 and starred the woman herself – and if you don’t remember Charo, you’ve probably never really been exposed to her. Born María del Rosario Mercedes Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza in 1951, Charo rose to fame in the 70s on the strength of her vocal and comedic skills, her sex appeal and her married life (according to legend, she married famed Havana bandleader Xavier Cugat when she was a teenager and he was 66). But she’s also a really, really, really good guitarist:

Booker was charged with writing the special by power exec Fred Silverman, who he credits with helping give it broad audience appeal.

“Silverman was your average home viewer,” Booker told us. “He sits there like a madman, just laughing his ass off. He was the perfect audience.”

For much of the 70s, Booker was the go-to guy when the networks needed a script for a variety show. Along with the Charo special, he also scripted amazingly titled shows like THE PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL (we’ll have more on this in a later post) and THE WAYNE NEWTON SPECIAL (more on this later too).

But this Charo special, man. It’s great. Full of cool stuff like this:

Poo Poo Pee Dupe

And this:

America the booty-ful

The centerpiece of the half-hour special was a Revolutionary War-themed comedy sketch featuring Charo as Martha Washington and Mannix star Mike Connors as George, bookended by Charo telling the story of the revolution to her local paperboy. Loaded with topical humor and double-entendres spawned by Charo’s poor command of English (“Every Friday I take a class in adultery education!”), the scene is 70s network comedy at its silly best. The show also get a lot of mileage out of Xavier Cugat, which is surprising considering Charo’s memory in the broader popular culture is arguably much stronger.

The script itself is in amazing condition; Booker bound it in the gold lamé himself (it matches perfectly one of the costumes Charo wears in the show). A former album-cover artisan, Booker made it a point to creatively bind every script he produced (the Paul Lynde script is soft and puffy enough to take a nap on). Preserving cool stuff like this is part of the reason we started the archive.

As I mentioned earlier, we’ll be detailing more of the scripts in the booker collection in the future. But for now, courtesy of YouTube channel CharoTV (where you could do a lot worse than watching this amazing video), here is the special in its entirety:

“Certain writers have become very lax in the hours they keep.”

When writers are at their best, they’re in a more-or-less constant state of flow, where ideas and connections and whole paragraphs pour forth from heretofore hidden recesses in the brain. When they’re not at their best – a much commoner state of being for most writers – the material still comes, but it’s stilted and unfinished, and the truly worthwhile stuff has to be sought and plucked from piles and piles of absolute crap.

Neither of these states is particularly responsive to scheduling. Notions arise in the shower, on the drive to work, on the verge of sleep. And sometimes our best writing moments come at unexpected – but always welcome – moments. One of the more amusing items in the WGF archive details one exec’s (probably futile) attempt to impose order on the chaos of creativity.

Apparently, Jack Warner didn’t really understand the unpredictable nature of creativity when he sent a memorandum to all writers on the Warner Brothers lot demanding that they work regular hours. Warner, who was known for having an aggressive management style, would never have been called popular among the studio’s creative staff (he reportedly banned actors from the studio’s dining room because the hell with actors, man).

“Certain writers have become very lax in the hours they keep at the studio, coming in late in the morning and leaving early in the afternoon” he wrote. “This is not true of all the writers, but it unfortunately makes it necessary for me to send out a general note of this nature.”

Not cool, Jack Warner. Not cool.

He goes on to demand that writers be stationed at their desks by 9:45 AM at the latest. “Even the elite in any other businesses come to work earlier than that,” he asserted.

The rest of this story is apocryphal, but it’s told in writerly circles often enough to feed our hopes that it’s true. If anyone out there has any confirmation, please share it with us.

After receiving the letter, Julius and Philip Epstein – they of the Casablanca script – asked Warner for a meeting to discuss a writing assignment they’d been given. Warner agreed to the meeting, and the twins visited his office.

“We have great news,” they told the studio chief. “We finally cracked the nut and figured out an ending for this screenplay we’re working on.”

“Great!” said Warner. “What is it?”

“We can’t tell you,” they said. “Because we came up with it at 8:30 this morning.

At this point we like to imagine Warner turning red and spewing steam from his ears.

The Big Jump: A Title’s Value

“Across the gulf between the worlds, from end to end of a Solar System poised taut and trembling on the verge of history, the rumors flew.  Somebody’s made it, the Big Jump.  Somebody came back…”

Space Stories

February 1953 issue of Space Stories
– A thrilling publication for only 25¢

By March 4th 1953, Leigh Brackett (well-known among Star Wars fans for her early contributions to The Empire Strikes Back) had already established herself as a successful science fiction author and budding screenwriter.  Dozens of her interplanetary short stories and novelettes were published in pulp sci-fi magazines of the day, including Astounding Science Fiction, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Planet Stories (where Brackett headlined alongside author Ray Bradbury), among many others.  She had also penned dialogue for the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in The Big Sleep (1946) – the first of several collaborations with director Howard Hawks.

This brings us to the quandary of The Big Jump – a novel written by Brackett first published in the February 1953 issue of Space Stories involving humankind’s first expedition to Barnard’s Star.  Things don’t go too well, as only one “breathing skeleton” of a crew member named Ballantyne returns to Earth to share some ominous whispers and painful screams before expiring.A "big jump" requires a big rocket.  Our protagonist Comyn is off to find the truth, as well as his missing compatriot Paul Rogers.  Cue ridiculously enormous rockets, a daring rescue mission, and subsequent bizarre happenings…

Brackett's Letter to the Guild

Click on the images for a closer read.

Meanwhile, Columbia Pictures mogul Harry Cohn had apparently recently changed the title of a forthcoming World War II picture starring Alan Ladd from Red Beret to The Big Jump.  Concerned with title complications that may arise with planned future publications of her novel, Brackett wrote the Screen Writers’ Guild seeking advice.

The Guild's Reply

The Guild’s reply stated that this conundrum was ultimately “outside of [their] province,” and Columbia’s feature was eventually released with the fitting, though somewhat pedestrian title Paratrooper.  Nevertheless, this tidbit from the Archive demonstrates an interesting inquiry into the potential value of a title.  As an aside, the Guild’s executive secretary made a seemingly common mistake of addressing a Mr. Leigh Brackett Hamilton – a surname shared with her husband and fellow science fiction author Edmond Hamilton.

Items depicted in this post are drawn from the Screen Writers’ Guild Records, 1921-1954 and are available to the public by request.  Material may not be published or reproduced in any physical or digital form for display, Web page use, or commercial purposes without prior permission from the Writers Guild Foundation, Writers Guild of America, West (in the case of WGA materials), and the copyright holder.

For more information, please contact the WGF Archive.