The postwar years in Hollywood were an era of extreme contrast. On the one hand, it was in the late 1940s and early 50s that Hollywood produced many of its brightest and boldest movies, a grand and glorious series of Technicolor productions that have remained firm favorites with moviegoers ever since.
On the other, the end of the 1940s marked the creative industries’ slow descent into McCarthyism and blacklisting, and as the Cold War progressed, suspicion even began to fall on some of Hollywood’s biggest hitters.
In October 1947, this suspicion reached a new height when as many as 40 individuals with connections to the film industry were called to give evidence on the infiltration of Communist sensibilities in Hollywood in front of the so-called House Un-American Activities Committee.
The committee, known as the HUAC, had been created almost a decade earlier to investigate an undercurrent of far-left politics in American culture and had quickly set its sights on Hollywood.
Many of those called before the HUAC in 1947 cooperated with investigators for fear of ruining their careers and reputations or else called upon their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
A group of ten acclaimed screenwriters, however, refused to comply, and instead openly criticized the legitimacy of the committee’s investigations and questioned its violation of the First Amendment—which, they argued, granted them the right to belong to any political organization they wanted.
The ten writers in question were Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Robert Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo.
To some they were traitors, to others they were heroes making a noble stand against an increasingly narrow-minded world. Either way, their actions came with a terrible price, as each man was sent to prison for a year, fined $1,000, and found their work in Hollywood evaporate overnight.
The blacklisting era lasted long into the 1950s but began to grow less severe in the increasingly open-minded 60s.
As for the Hollywood Ten, it later emerged that many of them had continued their writing careers, albeit hidden behind aliases and pseudonyms. Incredibly, despite being shunned by much of Hollywood, Dalton Trumbo even went on to the 1956 Academy Award for Best Writing by submitting a screenplay under the fake name “Robert Rich.”