A Special Report from the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism
With the war on Islamic terrorism being portrayed as a righteous cause in “American Sniper,” the Clint Eastwood film breaking box office records, a book which documents the days when Hollywood was a mouthpiece for communist propaganda might seem out of date. But Allan H. Ryskind’s book, Hollywood Traitors, is a reminder that Hollywood can’t always be counted on to take America’s side in a war, even a World War when the United States faced dictators by the names of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
The Ryskind book, published by Regnery, documents how the much-maligned House Committee on Un-American Activities, known as HUAC, uncovered dramatic communist infiltration of Hollywood and forced the studios to clean house.
Ryskind calls HUAC’s investigation of Hollywood in 1947 and 1950 “one of the most effective, albeit controversial, probes ever carried out by any committee of Congress.” He adds, “HUAC had revealed that Hollywood was packed with Communists and fellow travelers, that the guilds and the unions had been heavily penetrated, and that wartime films, at least, had been saturated with Stalinist propaganda. Red writers were an elite and powerful group in Hollywood—many of them working for major studios.”
He writes that, “HUAC, though bruised by elite opinion, had won the support of the American people and a victory over Hollywood Communists, fellow travelers, and the important liberals who supported them.” Members of Congress involved in HUAC did their jobs, in the face of opposition from “the East coast establishment newspapers” like The New York Times and The Washington Post.
The book reminds us that the Hollywood agents of Stalin had also been “Allies of Hitler,” a threat symbolized on the book cover by a Hollywood director’s chair featuring a Nazi swastika. The Hitler-Stalin Pact of 1939-1941 had paved the way for World War II.
As a result of the purging of communists from Hollywood, the so-called “blacklist,” we entered a time, from about 1947 to 1960, when the communists lost control of the major Hollywood unions and “the studios were actually creating anti-Communist pictures,” Ryskind writes. It was a remarkable turnaround.
But while Hollywood did turn anti-communist, at least for a while, the communists scored their own ultimate victory, succeeding in forcing Congress to abolish HUAC. The committee, which had been renamed as the House Internal Security Committee, was the target of what HUAC called the Communist Party’s “Cold War against congressional investigation of subversion.”
For many years, there was a comparable body in the Senate, which went by different names but tackled such matters as “Castro’s Network in the United States,” a 1963 investigation into the “Fair Play for Cuba Committee” that we later learned included JFK assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
To those insisting it was somehow inappropriate to ask Hollywood figures about their “political beliefs,” Ryskind counters that “Few questions could have been more important for a congressional committee to ask than whether American citizens were actually serving as agents of a hostile foreign government.” He said HUAC was engaging in hearings designed to accurately disclose membership in the Communist Party, “a subversive organization controlled by an enemy nation and designed to turn America into a Communist country…”
In its battle against communism, HUAC had subpoena power and was not afraid to use it. HUAC also issued contempt citations against those who refused to testify completely and truthfully. All of the members of the so-called “Hollywood Ten,” who refused to testify about their involvement in the Communist Party, eventually went to prison.
Ryskind cites estimates that over 200 Hollywood Communists were named in this process. His book provides the Communist Party card numbers of the Hollywood Ten as well as the names of other “well-known radicals,” many of them overt Communists, who were active in the movie industry.
Bring Back HUAC?
Today, with dozens of leading conservatives now clamoring for congressional action to “Stop the Fundamental Transformation of America,” the Ryskind book may add to the impetus for Congress to reestablish a HUAC-style panel. The George Soros-funded Center for American Progress (CAP) acted frightened and alarmed in 2010 when Rep. Steve King (R-IA) expressed agreement with my suggestion at that time that re-establishment of such a committee would be a good idea. “I think that is a good process and I would support it,” he said.
The oath of office for members of Congress requires that they support and defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” HUAC is a model for how such a problem can be identified and confronted.
Donald I. Sweany, Jr., a research analyst for the House Committee on Un-American Activities and its successor, the House Committee on Internal Security, sees the need for such a committee. He has issued this statement:
“The re-creation of the House Committee on Internal Security will provide the Congress of the United States, Executive Branch agencies and the public with essential and actionable information concerning the dangerous and sovereignty-threatening subversive activities currently plaguing America. This subversion emulates from a host of old and new entities of Marxist/Communist revolutionary organizations and allied militant and radical groups, some of which have foreign connections. A new mandated House Committee on Internal Security is of great importance because it would once again recommend to Congress remedial legislative action to crack down on any un-American forces whose goals are to weaken and destroy the freedoms which America enjoys under the Constitution. In addition, this legislative process will provide public exposure of such subversives.”
Ryskind’s father, Marx Brothers screenwriter Morrie Ryskind, testified before HUAC about communist penetration of Hollywood that he had learned about first-hand through his involvement with the Screen Writers Guild. Morrie Ryskind had attended the Columbia School of Journalism in New York and written for Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper World. But he underwent a political transformation, from an anti-war socialist who became disillusioned with FDR to a Republican determined to stop the communist advance. He wrote for conservative publications such as Human Events and National Review, which he helped William F. Buckley Jr. launch.
Morrie Ryskind helped found the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals to counteract the work of the communists and educate the American people about what was at stake. The Ryskind book also notes how the American Legion and various Catholic organizations were focusing attention on Hollywood’s far-left elements and making the public aware of this problem.
The book includes Allan Ryskind’s memories of his Hollywood upbringing, including meeting famous people such as top Communist Party leader Benjamin Gitlow. He spent decades as editor of Human Events, which was President Ronald Reagan’s favorite paper. It also became known for its aggressive reporting on the communist and socialist threats. Reagan so appreciated the weekly paper that he had arranged for copies to be sent to him personally at the White House residence.
Ryskind, who still serves as Human Events editor-at-large, documents the development of Reagan’s anti-communism in Hollywood Traitors. Reagan began his acting career as a liberal who got involved in Communist-front activities, later realizing that the “nice-sounding” groups he was supporting were secretly controlled by members of the Communist Party. He carried this understanding and analysis of the communist threat into his presidency and talked openly about the growing Marxist influence in Congress as he battled with congressional liberals and tried to stop the Soviet advance in Latin America.
In fact, as President, he told journalist Arnaud de Borchgrave in a 1987 interview that “I’ve been a student of the communist movement for a long time, having been a victim of it some years ago in Hollywood.” He said that he regarded some two dozen Marxists in Congress as “a problem we have to face.”
The problem is far worse today. Analyst Trevor Loudon now counts the number of Marxists in Congress at more than 60, a fact that would seem to make it more of a controversy to re-establish HUAC, but even more of a reason to do so. All it would take is more courageous members like Rep. King, backed by the House Leadership. Such a committee would be able to seriously analyze an area that remains off-limits to the House Homeland Security Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, and the Select Committee on Benghazi—subversive infiltration of the highest levels of the U.S. government, including the White House and Congress.
One key to HUAC’s success was finding those in Hollywood, including in the unions, willing to name names and identify the subversives. Reagan testified before HUAC and took a leadership role in defeating communist influence in the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), later becoming the union’s president. Labor leader Roy Brewer was another effective anti-communist in Hollywood highlighted in Ryskind’s book.
Although the 506-page book is based on HUAC hearings, Ryskind conducted independent research that adds to his case against the Hollywood traitors. For example, he combed through the historical papers of one major Hollywood-Ten figure, the Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, who refused to cooperate with HUAC and expose his comrades. Ryskind reports on an unpublished script Trumbo wrote that treated the invasion of South Korea as a “fight for independence” for the communist north.
Trumbo wrote many excellent film scripts, including Roman Holiday, but was “a hard-core Party member, a fervent supporter of Stalinist Russia and Kim Il-sung’s North Korea, and an apologist for Nazi Germany until Hitler double-crossed Stalin and invaded the Soviet union,” Ryskind notes. “Yet to this day he is regarded as a hero in Hollywood.”
Almost on cue, as Ryskind’s book was being published, it was reported that Hollywood is planning a new film which glorifies Trumbo, starring Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame as the screenwriter. The battle over communist influence is slated to return for another act.
Love for Cuban Communism
The book’s chapter, “Hollywood Today,” tries to bring the communism problem up to date by examining Hollywood’s love affair with the longtime Stalinist ruler of Cuba, Fidel Castro. He writes that much of Hollywood “is still lured by the romance of Marxism, and its films are still filled with heavy doses of anti-American propaganda.”
More details are provided in Humberto Fontova’s excellent books, Fidel: Hollywood ‘s Favorite Tyrant and The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro.
I recently asked Fontova why a Stalinist like Castro gets fawning treatment, while the Stalinist North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is ridiculed in the movie The Interview. “My best guess is that it’s a generational thing, nostalgia mostly,” he told this writer. The Castros and Che Guevara, he said, are perceived as “the first hippies” or beatniks.
Indeed, The Longest Romance quotes The New York Times reporter who helped bring Castro to power, Herbert Matthews, as saying, “Castro’s is a revolution of youth.” Fontova adds, “The notion of Castro’s Cuba as a stiflingly Stalinist nation never quite caught on among the enlightened. Instead the island often inspires hazy visions of a vast commune, rock-fest or Occupy encampment, studded with free health care clinics and with [the hippie icon] Wavy Gravy handing out love-beads at the entrance.”
Perhaps the pro-Castro influence in Hollywood is something that a new HUAC might want to tackle.
Another issue worth investigating is how Hollywood has also come under the influence of radical Islam. For example, the 2002 film, “The Sum of All Fears,” which was the movie version of the Tom Clancy book of the same name, replaced the Arab terrorist villains with neo-Nazis so as not to offend the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim Brotherhood affiliate. The Fox network responded to complaints about its popular series “24” depicting Muslims in America secretly plotting terrorism by running public service announcements from CAIR portraying American Muslims as moderate and peaceful.
The book, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Its Use of Lawfare and Intimidation, has an entire chapter on how CAIR attempts to silence its critics in radio, television, and the film industry.
There will be those in Congress and the media who will argue against the return of anything resembling the old HUAC, contending that “McCarthyism,” or the anti-communist “witchhunt,” is the greater danger. The truth about McCarthy’s investigations is provided in the M. Stanton Evans book, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight against America’s Enemies.
It bears repeating that Senator McCarthy never had anything to do with the House committee or its investigation of Hollywood.
This book is a valuable contribution to understanding a dangerous time in American history when America’s elected representatives and the people themselves rallied to the defense of their homeland against these foreign and domestic enemies.
While it is worth noting that the veteran Hollywood actor and director Clint Eastwood has bypassed the censors at CAIR with “American Sniper,” this kind of film is the exception and not the rule. The film portrays the great sacrifices being made by U.S. military personnel in the Middle East as they combat an enemy that is depicted as savage and barbaric. It is based on the life of Chris Kyle, an Iraq War veteran and Navy SEAL who joined the Armed Forces to defend his country from Islamic terrorism.
Zaid Jilani, a “progressive” writer who left the Center for American Progress after being charged with anti-Semitism, has emerged as one of the film’s most vocal critics. A regular on the Kremlin channel Russia Today (RT) and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Al Jazeera, he insists the film about the “remorseless” sharpshooter has sparked “anti-Muslim bigotry,” and he complains about it becoming “a rallying point for the political right.”
However, he admits that Eastwood’s skill as a filmmaker could result in a “Best Picture” award for “American Sniper” and “Best Actor in a Leading Role” award for Bradley Cooper, who plays Kyle. He just can’t bring himself to admit that the pro-military and anti-terrorist message is also a major factor in its success. The Academy Awards take place on February 22.
Indeed, this is the fear from the modern-day “progressives”—that Hollywood will rediscover the box office appeal of American patriotism.
But according to the annual Reuters/Ipsos Oscars poll, if ordinary Americans voted for the Academy Awards, “American Sniper” would be the Best Picture winner. Those who wonder why we don’t get more pro-military and pro-American movies out of Hollywood should read Ryskind’s new book.