Tender Comrades: A Backstory Of The Hollywood Blacklist

  • Publish Date: 2012-07-26
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Patrick McGilligan Paul Buhle
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More than sixty years ago, McCarthyism silenced Hollywood. In the pages of Tender Comrades, those who were suppressed, whose lives and careers were ruined, finally have their say. A unique collection of profiles in cinematic courage, this extraordinary oral history brings to light the voices of thirty-six blacklist survivors (including two members of the Hollywood Ten), seminal directors of film noir and other genres, starring actresses and memorable supporting players, top screenwriters, and many less known to the public, who are rescued from obscurity by the stories they offer here that, beyond politics, open a rich window into moviemaking during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Film historians Patrick McGilligan and Paul Buhle have assembled a collection of interviews with film writers, directors, and actors whose careers were interrupted by the blacklist imposed in the wake of congressional probes into alleged Communist influence over the motion-picture industry. The subjects, including two of the "Hollywood Ten," Alvah Bessie and Ring Lardner Jr., systematically debunk the notion that there was an extensive conspiracy to load mainstream movies with "Red propaganda." "We were in the film business not to change the world but to make films," recalls writer-director Abraham Polonsky. "To change the world we were involved in other kinds of things, like the labor struggle in Hollywood." Screenwriter Paul Jarrico concurs: "The Communist Party was not a revolutionary organization, not in the period when I was in it. It was a reformist organization, and for most of the years I was in it, it was the tail to the liberal-Democrat kite." (Recent historical research, it must be noted, indicates that Kremlin officials did in fact wield substantial influence over the CPUSA platform. Evidence for the attempted subversion of America's movies, however, remains elusive.)

Some of those shut out of the industry weren't even actual Communists, but ran into them as part of broader leftist activities. Character actor Lionel Stander, for example, became an actor in order to support his extravagant lifestyle; when the film jobs disappeared, he waited out the studios on the stock market. "It seems that if my face or figure got on the screen, so delicate was the balance of the American socioeconomic and political scene at the time that I would throw the thing right off the tightrope," he recalls drolly. "But I could go to Wall Street and invest the savings of widows and orphans with impunity." At turns mirthful and tragic, Tender Comrades presents an unfiltered perspective on the cold war that should be studied by anyone interested in the effects of a government persecuting its own people. --Ron Hogan

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