Victor Navasky's Naming Names

(New York: The Viking Press, 1980)

Back to Naming Names contents page.

Chapter 10, Degradation Ceremonies

On only one issue did the House Un-American Activities Committee and its most visible victims, Kazan and Polonsky, the blacklisters and the Hollywood Ten, Sokolsky and the Daily Worker, all agree: the test for friend or foe was the willingness to inform. Why did such a consensus develop on the meaning of the names test? Why did the Committee insist on it?

Suspend the search for individual motives and consider the under-reported testimony of one William Ward Kimple. On June 30, 1955, Kimple appeared as a witness before the Committee and told a story whose significance may have been lost at the time. He was not a star witness. The hearings had stopped making news. The dozen or so names he read into the record were those of mostly anonymous Party functionaries. In other words, who cared...

--that he had been a member of the intelligence unit of the Los Angeles Police Department from 1924 to 1944;

--that from 1928 until September 1939 he was a member of the Communist Party under the name William Wallace;

--that he served the Party as unit literary agent, unit educational director, unit organizer, alternate on the county-level disciplinary committee, and, last but not least, assistant to the L.A. County membership director;

--that in this latter capacity he had all the membership records;

--that during the years 1936, 1937, 1938, and 1939--years of the Popular Front, when Party membership skyrocketed--he had charge of the membership lists and kept them in his own possession;

--that there had been 100 members of the Communist Party in Los Angeles when he joined, and 2880 when he left in September 1939;

--that it was his extracurricular duty "to keep the police department informed . . . of the 'who and what and when' and the 'where and the why' of the Communist movement and activities."

As he put it in his testimony before the Committee:
My duties . . . were to keep the membership records of the Communist Party in order to assist in the annual registration of Communist Party members, to assist in the mid-year control of the Communist Party membership books. That was an activity taken about the first of July--to check on all Communist Party members, to see to it that they were paid up in dues and when.... When their books were inspected and [they were] found to be paid-up members, then a control card was detached from the membership book and sent back to the membership commission.

Then I, as assistant membership director, would check against the records and show that they were Communist Party members in good standing. I would also assist in the transfer of Communist Party members from one unit to another, one section to another; see to it that their Communist Party cards were kept in place so that at all times we knew where each CP member was and where he was functioning and what his duty was supposed to be.

The following dialogue then took place with Frank Tavenner, counsel to the Committee:

MR. TAVENNER: Then it would be correct to say that you had in your custody or under your control at one time or another the record of memberships in the Communist Party in the Los Angeles area?

MR. KIMPLE: Yes, sir.... I furnished [my police superior] copies of the CP membership records and, where possible, I furnished him copies of the Communist Party membership registration and, where possible, I turned in to him the Communist Party membership books which were picked up at the end of the year when the new books were issued, and the old books I turned over to him.... My instructions were to destroy the old books and the method I used was to turn them over to the police department.

MR. TAVENNER: Did you follow that practice with regard to the entire membership of the Communist Party during this period that you were membership director? I mean, did you furnish the department with the records of membership of all the members?

MR. KIMPLE: Yes, sir....

MR. TAVENNER: . . . You said you had some assistance in this work from another person employed by the police department. In what way did she assist you in that work?

MR. KIMPLE: Well, sir, we worked as a team all the time and she was the Los Angeles County dues secretary for the Hollywood subsection, dues secretary at the time she was in the new unit. She was also secretary of the Los Angeles County disciplinary committee of the Communist Party. And working together we kept the police department pretty well informed.

MR. TAVENNER: Have you recently been in a position to review the reports and records which you and the person whom you later married turned over to the police department?

MR. KIMPLE: I have, yes, sir; many of them, not all of them.

At the close of Kimple's testimony, Congressman Donald Jackson thanked him. and observed:
It is by virtue of informed testimony such as this that it has been possible to piece together across the years the nature and the extent and the objectives of the Communist Party in the United States. Of course, anyone who serves on this Committee is automatically a heel in the eyes of the comrades. Your future will be that of a stool pigeon.

MR. KIMPLE: I have been so labeled many times.

MR. JACKSON: However I feel that that will reflect a very small vocal minority viewpoint and that by and large the people of the city of Los Angeles, California in general, and of the Nation owe to you and other people who have been willing to take on assignments of this kind in the line of official duty, separating yourself in large part, as I know you must have, from family associations, social things you would very much have preferred to do, a debt of gratitude.

Jackson then asked whether the witness was in a position to give the Committee additional names. "I am in the position, sir," said Kimple, "to positively identify the Communist Party membership of close to a thousand people."

MR. JACKSON: A thousand people?

MR. KIMPLE: In Los Angeles, yes, sir.

MR. JACKSON: Is the Committee in possession of that information?

MR. KIMPLE: They are.

MR. JACKSON: Thank you very much.

Three years before Kimple testified, in 1952, the Committee had heard from one Max Silver, who had been the paid full-time organizational secretary for the Southern California Communist Party from 1938 to 1945. In other words, Silver's West Coast duties commenced the year before Kimple had retired. Silver guessed that there were four thousand members in the Los Angeles County Party. So between Silver and Kimple alone, the Committee had access to all of the Party's local names from 1936 through 1945. And then, to bring the Committee up-to-date on the postwar period, it had witnesses such as Roy Erwin, a Hollywood radio worker who had joined the Party in 1945 and who doubled as an FBI informant and Party member from 1947 to 1949. The testimony of Kimple, Silver, and Erwin, combined with intelligence from the FBI and countless other government sources in the business of trading information (with such as the good-natured investigator Bill Wheeler and his colleagues on HUAC), meant that the last thing the Committee needed to do its job was to accumulate more names. Moreover, almost all the witnesses who named names publicly preceded their public testimony with a private, executive-session rehearsal, which means that the public hearings were indeed largely ceremonial. Why did they agree to participate in the ceremony? Lest there remain any doubt about the informational irrelevance of the public naming, let us remember Wheeler's own injunction to the penitent Martin Berkeley: "When Berkeley came down with his list of 154 people, I told him, I said, Don't name that many. You're just going to get yourself in big, deep trouble." I said, 'We don't need all this. Put the rest of it in executive testimony." Names were turned on and off like water by the Committee's counsel and investigator, depending on the symbolic goal of the day. Thus, on January 21, 1952, Wheeler reined in

Max Silver: "I advised him not to identify too many people because I told him I wanted from him the theory of Communism, the story of the way the Hollywood section of the Party was divorced from the Los Angeles section and how they got their directives from New York, and the fight about how New York picked up all the money. I wanted the hearings to focus on the big argument about whether under the Hollywood tithing system they got ten percent of the gross or ten percent of the net. Well, I think he still named about thirty people or something like that, and there were the usual big headlines in all the Los Angeles papers--you know, EX COMMUNIST IDENTIFIES THIRTY, and they left out all the theory, they just skipped it."

And the Committee's critics are further confirmed in one of their several indictments of its activities: The purpose of the public hearing was not, as HUAC and its defenders insisted it was, to gather information for legislation. The information it demanded in public it already had, and other information that might have been useful to it was rejected. (When Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Robert Rossen, Larry Parks, Sidney Buchman, and others offered to tell all about themselves as long as they weren't required to name others, the Committee said no.) Its "official" reason for demanding the naming of names was perhaps most forcefully stated by Congressman Jackson, who believed that only the naming of names was the final proof that a witness had broken with his past. He said: "I personally will place no credence in the testimony of any witness who is not prepared to come before this Committee and fully cooperate with respect to activities within the Communist Party." And naming names was "the ultimate test" of a witness's cooperation. In theory the failure to name names left open the possibility that one was still in the business of protecting one's old comrades.

Jackson's test may help to explain why the practice was inaugurated but not why it persisted. Nor are we given much guidance in the histories, political analyses, or legal briefs of the period, which concern themselves primarily with matters of the separation and abuse of powers, and the reputation of various constitutional amendments.

One turns instead to the sociologists and anthropologists, students of ritual, ceremony, and symbolism, of the meaning of deviance, the visiting of stigma, and the persistence of social evil. For the lesson of Kimple, Silver, et al. is surely that whatever the practical consequences of the naming of names, the ritual's real significance was symbolic. That this was sensed by many participants in the process may be gathered from the quality of the calculus which the informer Richard Collins reports he undertook with the informer Meta Rosenberg. When they limited the names they would turn over to the Committee into three categories--the dead, the already called, and the long-time ex-Communists--they persuaded themselves they would do minimal damage. Yet if Collins was under no illusion that he was supplying the Committee with important information, did it occur to him that he was supplying it with something more central to its purposes--a body, an instrument without which it could not have carried out its ritual, its degradation ceremony?

The HUAC hearings were degradation ceremonies. Their job was not to legislate or even to discover subversives (that had already been done by the intelligence agencies and their informants) so much as it was to stigmatize.

For a degradation ceremony to work it needs a denouncer. And the most credible denouncer, with the most impeccable credentials, is the one who has been there himself. The ex-Communists constituted a steady supply of denouncers.

A successful status-degradation ceremony must be fueled by moral indignation. The anti-Communist hysteria of the cold war provided an ideal environment.

What makes the degradation ceremony so serious an occasion is the nature of the public denunciation. As Harold Garfinkel, a UCLA sociologist who has written an important article on degradation rites, describes the process, the public, through its agent, delivers a curse which says in effect, "I call upon all men to bear witness that he [the denounced person] is not as he appears but is otherwise and in essence of a lower species." The target becomes in the eyes of his condemners literally "different," "a new person." It is not that new attributes are added to the old identity. He is not changed; he is, rather, reconstituted, transformed. "The man at whose hands a neighbor suffered death becomes a 'murderer.'" The former identity, at best, is seen as something of a sham appearance. The new identity is the "basic reality."

Scholars who undertook to challenge the work of the congressional committees during the cold war years focused for the most part on rights rather than rites. But of course most scholarship of the period divorced itself from concern with the content of actions. In literature the New Critics focused on form over contents in philosophy the positivists were preoccupied with the verifiable rather than the meaningful, in psychology the behaviorists rejected Gestalt analysis in favor of stimulus-response studies. Even in the relatively new discipline of sociology, whose subject was largely contemporary society, confrontation with McCarthy, the man or the ism, took the form of esoteric studies in conformity. But perhaps there is some sort of unwritten law on the inevitability of relevance, which says that contemporary moral, political, and social issues are inescapable. At any rate, one of the more obscure developments in the sociology of the 1950s turns out to offer perhaps the most useful framework for understanding the politics of that time--namely, the study of "the deviant," by which was usually meant a juvenile delinquent, a mental patient, or a religious fanatic. Thus the sociologist Kai Erikson's description of a community's decision to bring what he calls "deviant sanctions" against one of its members turns out to be a description of the elements of the sort of status-degradation ceremony I have been talking about:

To begin with, the community's decision to bring deviant sanctions against one of its members is not a simple act of censure. It is an intricate rite of transition, at once moving the individual out of his ordinary place in society and transferring him into a special deviant position. The ceremonies which mark this change of status generally have a number of related phases. They supply a formal stage on which the deviant and his community can confront one another [as in a HUAC hearing]; they make an announcement about the nature of his deviancy [the witness is named as a Communist or former Communist]; and they place him in a particular role which is thought to neutralize the harmful effects of his misconduct [he is put on a blacklist which renders him unemployable]. These commitment ceremonies tend to be occasions of wide public interest and ordinarily take place in a highly dramatic setting [the HUAC hearings, frequently televised, often made page one]....

Now an important feature of these ceremonies in our own culture is that they are almost irreversible. Most provisional roles conferred by society--those of the student or conscripted soldier, for example--include some kind of terminal ceremony to mark the individual's movement back out of the role once its temporary advantages have been exhausted. But the roles allotted the deviant seldom make allowance for this type of passage. He is ushered into the deviant position by a decisive and often dramatic ceremony, yet is retired from it with scarcely a word of public notice. And as a result, the deviant often returns home with no proper license to resume a normal life in the community. Nothing has happened to cancel out the stigmas imposed upon him by earlier commitment ceremonies; nothing has happened to revoke the verdict or diagnosis pronounced upon him at that time. It should not be surprising, then, that the people of the community are apt to greet the returning deviant with a considerable degree of apprehension and distrust, for in a very real sense they are not at all sure who he is.

The congressional degradation ceremonies served the purposes of too many constituencies to be easily discarded. From the perspective of the state, it functioned to reinforce group solidarity. The apparent willingness of former Communists to engage in wholesale denunciations of their former comrades confirmed the state in its conviction that the ceremonies were warranted. The process of stigmatizing individuals as subversives, as agents of a foreign power, as conspirators, as having rejected the American heritage, reassured middle Americans of their own patriotism.

Americans have always defined themselves largely by what they are against: America is for Americans; go back to where you came from; the foreign, the different, the strange, the subversive should get out of town. From the perspective of the Committee, the ceremonies not only brought publicity but alerted the freelance blacklisters, who functioned as the enforcement arm. Those who were denounced at HUAC had broken no law, and under the American system where there is no crime the state visits no punishment. But the ceremonies enabled the Committee to perpetrate the fiction that the mere publicizing and publication of names--in the form of testimony, indexes, supplements, and cumulative indexes, in effect blacklist deskbooks--was no punishment. No one asked, "Why are you turning out these interminable lists with the taxpayers' money?" The ritual masked the fact that these lists were never intended to help Congress pass any laws.

From the perspective of the free-lance enforcers, the degradation ceremonies promised a continuous generation and supply of the raw material of their trade. The hearings were free advertising, a preview of coming attractions, and an identification of the next round of targets.

From the perspective of the informers, the hearings insulated them from direct contact with the moral dilemmas of betrayal. The anthropologist Ernest Becker has described the age-old dynamic of sacrificial scapegoating as "the sadistic formula par excellence: break the bones and spill the blood of the victim in service of some 'higher truth' that the sacrificers alone possess." But the ceremonies shielded the informers from the consequences of their action. By pronouncing a particular set of former friends as Communists (or unrepentant ex-Communists), as deviants, unclean, foreign, they were by definition absolving themselves of moral responsibility: The "subversives" had the same opportunity as the informers did to "come clean," to "purge" themselves; if they chose not to do so, that was not the informer's responsibility. And of course on a more mundane level the hearings generally provided the informers with a ticket back to employment, simultaneously exonerating the witness who wished to go back to work and the employer who wished to employ him. It was a form of stigma transfer--from namer to namee. For some, the very act of denouncing was a form of assimilation, of status elevation. Some critics called Lillian Hellman a snob for speculating in her memoir, Scoundrel Time, that "The children of timid immigrants are often remarkable people: energetic, intelligent, hardworking; and often they make it so good that they are determined to keep it at any cost." But the truth was that by denouncing fellow immigrants (or children of immigrants) before HUAC, one consolidated one's identification with the dominant society. The practice came with the prestige of the state conferred upon it; it legitimated betrayal.

The degradation ceremonies satisfied the needs of the mass media, which were either incapable of, or uninterested in, exposing the ways in which the ritual distorted truth when it lent itself so elegantly to reproduction on radio and television. And the degradation ceremonies exploited the peculiar vulnerability of mass media to the pseudo-event. The phrase "pseudo-event" was, appropriately enough, introduced into the language by Daniel J. Boorstin, now Librarian of Congress, distinguished historian, and participant in the degradation ceremonies of 1953, when he named five of his former Harvard colleagues before the Committee. In his elegantly written book called The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream (1961), Boorstin offered a four-part definition of the term "pseudo-event":

1. It is not spontaneous, but comes about because someone has planned, planted, or incited it. Typically, it is not a train wreck or an earthquake, but an interview.

2. It is planted primarily (not always exclusively) for the immediate purpose of being reported or reproduced. Therefore, its occurrence is arranged for the convenience of the reporting or reproducing media. Its success is measured by how widely it is reported.... The question "Is it real?" is less important than, "Is it newsworthy?"

3. Its relation to the underlying reality of the situation is ambiguous. Its interest arises largely from this very ambiguity.... While the news interest in a train wreck is in what happened and in the real consequences, the interest in an interview is always, in a sense, in whether it really happened and in what might have been the motives. Did the statement really mean what it said?

4. Usually it is intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pseudo-events are staged to give people something to talk about. They become a test for being informed. "Once we have tasted the charm of pseudo-events," Boorstin observed, "we are tempted to believe they are the only important events. Our progress poisons the sources of our experience. And the poison tastes so sweet that it spoils our appetite for plain fact."

The degradation ceremony used the press to promote the ritual, the message, the Committee, the myth, the image of the Communist as conspirator. It repackaged for home entertainment the trivial and sometimes dull, boring, and meaningless experiences of misspent youth into melodramatic morality plays for a national audience. Yet one cannot but believe that, consciously or otherwise, Boorstin's formulation was informed by his own experience as a public denouncer.

The degradation ceremony complemented the status needs of certain former Communists, socialists, and others of the liberal left who were, as we have already seen, caught in the net of the red hunters of the day. To the extent that the ritual public denunciations succeeded in stigmatizing Communists and unrepentant former Communists, by implication they exonerated from intimations of guilt other members of the anti-Communist left. The degree of trahison of these particular clercs may be measured in terms of their willingness to participate in the degradation ceremonies of the day. It is true that there was a small minority of non-Communist liberals who saw McCarthyism and domestic repression as the enemy and thought it counterproductive to participate in any way. For their troubles they were dismissed by cold war liberals as fellow travelers. There was also a tiny minority of anti-Stalinist socialists who fought the persecution of Communists at every step. Their journal was Dissent, and their message was that while Stalinism was an unqualified social evil, domestic Communists were entitled to the same rights and presumptions as the rest of our citizens. They denounced the congressional hearings and their adjuncts as intrusions on individual liberty.

But the majority of center-liberals lived in the penumbra of the degradation ceremony and reinforced it by playing its game. McCarthy and McCarthyism were to be feared not because they represented a threat to individual rights so much as because they represented an interference in the fight against Communism. The degradation ceremony was deficient only to the extent that it confused an occasional "innocent" (anti-Stalinist) with the "guilty" (those unwilling to denounce Communism). But as long as it succeeded in delivering up bona fide reds the ceremony was to be supported.

The extent to which the center liberal had internalized the assumptions underlying and the myths advanced by the degradation ceremonies may be gathered from an article written in 1954 in Commentary by Alan Westin, later editor of the Civil Liberties Review. In assessing the effect of the Army-McCarthy hearings on American opinion, Westin considered the message of a 25--pamphlet called "McCarthy on Trial," which itself used the degradation ceremony as a device by "trying" McCarthy in "the court of public opinion."

By this time most readers will have recognized "McCarthy on Trial" for what it is--a full-strength dose of Communist propaganda peddled under the label of anti-McCarthyism. It is probably unnecessary to name the booklet's editor as Albert E. Kahn (The Great Conspiracy against Russia); to note that the "jury" had such tradeunion affiliations as the Fur and Leather Workers, the Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, and the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers; to learn that the chief prosecution counsel was president of the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild; or to go deeply into the political character of witnesses like Howard Fast, Mrs. Paul Robeson, and James Aronson (the executive editor of the National Guardian). Actually, the reader can get his bearings simply by looking at the books advertised by the same publisher (Cameron & Kahn) on the back cover of the pamphlet: Eyewitness in Indochina by Joseph Starobin, "the only American newspaperman yet to travel behind the Viet Minh lines, to interview Ho Chi Minh . . ." (and who just happens to be foreign correspondent for the Daily Worker); or The Truth about Julius and Ethel Rosenberg by John Wexley (also author of They Shall Not Die and The Last Mile). Nor is it difficult to see the book's conclusion for what it really is--an attempt by the Communists and Communist collaborators to slip back into respectability through the door of a new "popular front" against McCarthyism, and to exploit the fight against that unsavory and sinister politician solely in their own equally unsavory and sinister interest.

What is at issue here is not the accuracy of Westin's analysis, but the genesis of his standards and assumptions. His assumptions about the National Lawyers Guild were informed by the attorney general's list, which although arbitrarily assembled had been legitimized partly through incessant invocation at countless investigative sessions as evidence that the deviant witnesses belonged to deviant organizations, Communist fronts. (Eventually the Lawyers Guild fought its way off the lists.) His assumptions about Angus Cameron (of Cameron & Kahn), one of America's most distinguished book editors, were informed by the fact that he was forced out of his job as editor-in-chief of Little, Brown less because of the undeniable political coloration of his list, than because of his well-known leftist politics and his refusal to ratify the rituals of the various committees which subpoenaed him. Where Westin is not assuming, he is playing the Committee's own game of intimation, as in his references to James Aronson and John Wexley. Thus did a committed libertarian, accepting the labels and definitions and symbols of the cold war, use them to degrade those men whose rights one would have thought he would defend. Even when taking action against the cold war ceremonies, liberals could not always resist imitating them, so deeply had the rituals been internalized. We have already seen how James Wechsler chose to try to beat McCarthy at his own game, attempting to use his ritual against him and to play the unfriendly informer. The extraordinarily perceptive and talented journalist Richard Rovere, himself a former Young Communist Leaguer, provides a more poignant example of the same tactic.

Rovere was sitting in the press gallery one day when he heard Senator McCarthy begin to describe his latest case. A good listener with a better memory, Rovere quickly recognized that the suspect was someone whom he had reason to believe was actually an unconfessed former Communist. "I had the feeling, sitting there and listening to McCarthy harangue a practically nonexistent audience, that he might be on the point of enjoying his first real success."

Rovere saw a way of depriving the senator of his victory. As he wrote about it:

Reluctantly--for it involved an intervention in politics which is something that, as a correspondent, I had always sought to avoid--I took it upon myself to go to an official of X's agency and tell him my story.... I made my point. And it turned out that X, in the course of the various security and loyalty checks he had been through, had chosen to conceal his Communist past--a choice that might allow any one of several moral judgments, but one that, to his misfortune, exposed him to charges of perjury. He was advised that it would be necessary to reopen the case. Within a few days, he quit the government."
As John Caughey of UCLA later asked: "How does one explain a man, much opposed to McCarthy, acting to deny the senator a possible triumph but taking in stride that the means employed were pure McCarthyism? The king was dead, but his kingdom was well institutionalized on the conscious and unconscious levels. McCarthyism marched on."'

With the years the blacklist passed. Its death was symbolized in publications, credits, prizes, honors, speeches, ceremonies. In 1952 the ACLU sponsored Merle Miller's The Judges and the Judged, an expose of blacklisting in television, although his unhappy findings caused, as we have seen, a split in the ACLU's board of directors and a criticism by one ACLU board member for failing to give equal time to blacklisting by the left. In 1954 Frontier magazine published its blacklist expose, "The Hollywood Story" by Elizabeth Poe Kerby, and in 1956 the Fund for the Republic's two-volume Report on Blacklisting appeared (which confirmed the earlier findings of Miller and Frontier); this prompted Congress to investigate not blacklisting but the fund and the authors of the report on what Chairman Walter called "so-called blacklisting."

In 1955 at the Cannes Film Festival, the blacklisted director Jules Dassin won an award for Rififi as a French entry. When an interviewer commented, "Quelle belle revanche," Dassin said, "The truth is, it made me sad." In 1956 the Academy Award for the best motion-picture story went to one "Robert Rich" for The Brave One, and when he failed to show up to accept it (those in attendance were told he was at the bedside of his wife who was about to give birth to their first baby), rumors spread that Rich also traveled under the name of Dalton Trumbo. (See an essay about blacklisting for frequent references to Trumbo.)

In 1957 the Oscar for best screenplay went to Pierre Boulle for The Bridge On the River Kwai, even though it was an open secret that the true screenwriters were the blacklisted Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson.

In 1958 an Academy Award was won by "Nathan E. Douglas" and Harold Jacob Smith for their joint screenplay of The Defiant Ones. Douglas turned out to be the blacklisted Ned Young (who, in an inside joke, appeared on the screen while the Douglas credit appeared).

In 1959 the Motion Picture Academy rescinded its bylaw prohibiting awards to those who refused to cooperate with HUAC. In 1960 Otto Preminger announced (and The New York Times reported on its front page) that Dalton Trumbo had written his upcoming United Artists release Exodus. Later in the same year Frank Sinatra declared in an ad in Variety that he had hired the blacklisted Albert Maltz to write the screenplay for The Execution of Private Slovik, although public pressure from the American Legion, the Catholic War Veterans, and the Hearst press (plus, it was rumored, a private request from presidential candidate John F. Kennedy's father) caused Sinatra to reneg. And shortly after his election, the president-elect and his brother Robert crossed American Legion picket lines to see Spartacus, whose screenplay was openly credited to Trumbo. (For more on Kennedy and the cold war, see this and this.)

In 1962 John Henry Faulk was awarded $3.5 million (later reduced to $550,000) in his six-year libel suit against his blacklisters--the fanatical Lawrence A. Johnson, owner of a chain of supermarkets in Syracuse, New York, who had mounted a campaign based largely on material from Counterattack and aimed directly at sponsors, agencies, and networks to prevent them from employing Faulk and other of "Stalin's little agents." Since about 60 percent of television advertising revenue came from goods sold in supermarkets, Johnson's campaign was effective. Other defendants in Faulk's suit were the professional anti-Communist Vincent Hartnett and his Aware, Inc., the organization which cleared for a fee the performers it exposed.

In 1963 CBS Television presented a special drama entitled "Blacklist" on its long-running series The Defenders, by Ernest Kinoy, about a blacklisted actor in the 1950s. In 1965, Inquisition in Eden, Alvah Bessie's combative memoir on life under the blacklist and in prison was published by Macmillan. That same year Millard Lampell, accepting an Emmy for his Hallmark television drama "Eagle in a Cage," said simply, "I think I ought to mention I was blacklisted for ten years," and received a roaring ovation. In 1968 the blacklisted writer Waldo Salt won an Oscar for the screenplay of Midnight Cowboy, and the next year Ring Lardner, Jr., won for M.A.S.H. In 1969 the winner of Hollywood's coveted Laurel Award (given by the Screen Writers Guild) was the blacklisted director Carl Foreman, of whom his introducer said, "Those of us who lived through the era of fear in Hollywood have some slight conception of the guts it took for one man to stand up and risk his livelihood and his future in defense of a principle; to face exile from the country of his birth rather than compromise what he felt was his honor. It was six long and troubled years after he won the guild's award for his screenplay of High Noon before his name again appeared officially among the screen credits of a motion picture . . . and unlike the rest of us, he couldn't blame his agent." The next year the Laurel Award went to Dalton Trumbo.

By 1975 CBS-TV and Xerox had won nationwide press coverage for David Rintels' special dramatization of "Fear on Trial," the story of how CBS Radio and Aware, Inc., ganged up on John Henry Faulk. And then there was that evening in 1976 when the Screen Writers Guild chose Foreman to present the Laurel Award to Michael Wilson, and he proposed that they jointly send a letter to Pierre Boulle, the French author of Bridge over the River Kwai, credited with the screenplay they had written: "Dear Pierre. Hello there, how are you? We are fine, and hope you are the same. Say, by the way, do you think you might send us our Oscar, COD, and we will work out the custody for same between us. Thanking you in advance, yours truly, Mike and Carl."'

That same year saw the release of The Front, starring Woody Allen. The film was written by the blacklisted Walter Bernstein, produced and directed by the blacklisted Martin Ritt, and in the credits after each actor's name--Zero Mostel, John Randolph, Lloyd Gough, Joshua Shelley, Herschel Bernardi--appeared the date on which he was blacklisted. And the Motion Picture Academy amidst cheers and tears honored Lillian Hellman, whose just published memoir, Scoundrel Time--entitled partly for the informers whom the author felt should have known better--was a best-seller.

The sociologists of deviance, then, proved only partially correct prophets. These particular deviants, the blacklistees, reversed the "irreversible." They returned home and eventually resumed a "normal" life in their abnormal Hollywood. They invented their own rituals of return. They turned the tables. Events conspired to make having been a blacklistee something of a status symbol. They shed their stigma, transformed it into a badge of honor.

But the degradation ceremony had done its work too well. Even as the blacklistees reentered polite society, the myth of the informer as hero, the informer as patriot, passed from our culture. And when that happened, the denouncers themselves became victims of the ceremonies they had made possible. Now society at large began to see them the way their victims saw them--not as heroes but as villains, not as patriots but as betrayers. The stigmatizers became the stigmatized. If it was no longer possible to regard a Trumbo or a Lardner as an agent of a foreign power, it was all too easy to regard Parks or Kazan or Collins as informers "in essence." The denouncers rather than the denounced were stuck with their new identity. It was the informer who was now seen as "what he was all along." The sociologist Harold Garfinkel has explained that the paradigm of moral indignation is public denunciation. Remember the curse: "I call upon all men to bear witness that he is not as he appears but is otherwise and in essence of a lower species." As he elaborates in a footnote, "The person who passes on information to enemies is really, i.e. 'in essence,' 'in the first place,' 'all along,' 'in the final analysis,' 'originally,' an informer."'

They named the names because they thought nobody would remember, but it turned out to be the one thing that nobody can forget.


Document URL:
Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:42:07 EDT