Scene4 Magazine: Arthur Meiselman

Arthur Meiselman

The Blacklist

    ‘A blacklist is a roster of names maintained by those with the power to affect hiring and firing. To be blacklisted is to be denied employment for political reasons unconnected to job-performance. The word does not now, and never has had, any other meaning.’ 
    Christopher Hitchens (Why Orwell Matters, Basic Books 2002)

In his autobiography, Hollywood Red, Lester Cole, a prolific screenwriter, one of the Hollywood Ten and a founder of the Screen Writers Guild, wrote:

    "In October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) cited ten Hollywood writers and directors for contempt of Congress. ... A short time after that, the Motion Picture Producers Association met in New York City and produced what became known as the Waldorf Astoria Decision. This document was a "white paper" formally instituting the blacklist in Hollywood."

The visage of that horrific and unresolved period in American history is now in revival in the current film, Trumbo, a biography of sorts of Dalton Trumbo, another member of the Hollywood Ten, a prolific award-winning screenwriter who continuously embarassed the Hollywood establishment, and a close friend and colleague of Lester Cole, until their irreconcilable differences breached their relationship forever.

Both Cole and Trumbo suffered greatly from the HUAC and later McCarthy witchhunts. But there were hundreds, thousands of others whose careers and lives were destroyed, whose minds were shattered, who committed suicide, who melted away into the homogenous and blackened fabric of the American Dream.

The HUAC and McCarthy scourge was not a new chancre on the skin of the Home of the Brave. It was rooted in the Dies Committee burning-cross hearings of the 1930's which owed its genes to the Red Scare of 1919: U.S. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer and his young protege, J. Edgar Hoover hounded "reds" Inquisition style and deported hundreds of "undesirables". Forget about warrants, and due process and civil rights. It was a mind-set and a core focus of Hoover and the FBI he created for the next 53 years until last breath in 1972.

One of the great ironies of Lester Cole's trials and pain was his encounter with Parnell Thomas, the chairman of the HUAC that lashed him. Thomas was a cruel bully, a harsh no-nothingist, a prototype 'Foxnewser' similar to some current congressional chairmen and chairwomen and chairflunkies. And he was a petty thief who was caught pilfering funds from his witch-hunting committee and sent to the very same prison at the very same time as the men he condemned. It became a twisted joke.

The closest I ever came to The Blacklist, other than my friendship with Cole during his last years, was in 1970 when I was directing an upstart theatre company in San Francisco. We had announced that we were going to produce a "Living Newspaper", a form that was developed by Orson Welles and others in the 1930's under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project. It was more than controversial—it brought down the wrath of Dies and Hoover and a bag-load of Washington politicians.

One day, after our announcement, I received a phone call from a woman who quietly whispered: "Don't do it, Be a smart young man. Don't do it. They will come for you." After some conversation, I got her address and went to visit her. She was small, wrinkled and gray as was her husband and a few of their friends who joined us. She had been a successful script coordinator and associate producer in Hollywood until HUAC and Red Line and the Producer's Association shattered her life and painted her and her husband red with black stripes and forced her (and many of her friends and colleagues) out of Hollywood, out of the business, out of their lives. Her family turned away from them, old friends shunned them, and she believed that the anxiety and "shame" drove her son into alcoholism and a self-inflicted death. It wasn't easy to listen to these people, to look at their clippings amd mementoes, to absorb their unmitigated pain.

We didn't do the onstage "Newspaper" until we moved the company to Chicago the next year. And when we did, we received the same warnings, the same threats. We were even shut down for a time and berated by the Mayor's office as disloyal, radical troublemakers.

The Blacklist really never ended. It changed Hollywood (and other creative areas) forever. It unleashed an inherent strain of paranoia, xenophobia and bigotry that mutated and embedded into the dumbed-down agenda of the Reagan regime, was elucidated during the Clinton era, penknife-carved into the desks of the Bush White House/Pentagon, and afforded a broad sleight-of-hand in the current mystery that is the Obama administration. The Blacklist's modus, the operendi, the means, the ends thrive in 21st century America.

Hitchens nailed it: To be blacklisted is to be denied employment for political reasons unconnected to job-performance. The word does not now, and never has had, any other meaning. 

Why do we care? Why should you care? Why should the millions of narcissistic, selfie-stick wielding consumers care? They don't. They don't know about it, and they don't know why they should know. Unfortunately, no one tells them why, not even Trumbo.


For an excerpt from Hollywood Red in this issue, click here.

Hollywood Red: The Autobiography of Lester Cole
is published by AviarPress.

Post Your Comments
On This Article Here

Share This Page

View other readers’ comments in Letters to the Editor

Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4. He also directs the Talos Ensemble and
produces for Aemagefilms.
Read his Blog.
For more of his commentary and articles,
Check the Archives:

Search Arthur Meiselman

©2015 Arthur Meiselman
©2015 Publication Scene4 Magazine




December 2015

Cover | This Issue | inView | inFocus | inSight | Perspectives | Comments | Blogs | Contact Us | Recent Issues | Special Issues | Masthead | Contacts&Links | Submissions | Advertising | Subscribe | Books | Your Support | Privacy | Terms | Archives


Search This ISSUE

Search This Issue


Search The Archives

 Share This Page


Share in Facebook



Scene4 (ISSN 1932-3603), published monthly by Scene4 Magazine - International Magazine of Arts and Media. Copyright © 2000-2015 AVIAR-DKA LTD - AVIAR MEDIA LLC. All rights reserved. Now in our 16th year of publication with Worldwide Readership in 126 Countries and comprehensive archives of 8500 pages.

Scientific American -
Taos New Mexico
Penguin Books-USA
Character Flaws by Les Marcott at
Bookends by Carla Maria-Verdino Süllwold - Scene4 Magazine -
Thai Airways at Scene4 Magazine