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.
While 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.The 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.
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!