This Day in History: June 8th- The Report

This Day In History: June 8, 1949

red-scareOn June 8, 1949, hugely popular screen idols, including Edward G. Robinson, John Garfield and Frederic March, were called out as Commies by the US Government. They based their conclusion on accusations by “confidential informants” coupled with some imaginative analysis.

The first breadcrumb on the trail to Tinseltown was the Communist Party in the United States (supposedly) boasting that it had “been successful in using well-known Hollywood personalities to further Communist Party aims.” Busted!

Oscar winner Frederic March came under suspicion because he had the unpatriotic nerve to question America’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal. (Helen Keller and Danny Kaye also shared this dangerous viewpoint.) He also campaigned to provide relief to war-torn Russia – and that was, of course, a no-no.

The Communist witch hunt had begun in 1946. The Attorney General gave FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover the go-ahead to put together a list of Americans with questionable loyalty who should possibly be detained during a period of national crisis. In 1947, Congress, during the course of their witch hunt, cited ten Hollywood directors and writers for contempt because they would not reveal their political affiliations, or point the finger at others that may be Communists.

This group became known as “The Hollywood Ten”, and all of them were convicted and sent to prison. One of the ten, Edward Dmytryk, ultimately decided to give names and as a result, his prison sentence was shortened and he was removed from the Hollywood blacklist.

Edward J. Robinson, everyone’s favorite movie gangster, found all this completely outrageous and wasn’t afraid to say so (though maybe he should have been, considering the political climate):

These rantings, ravings, accusations, smearing, and character assassinations can only emanate from sick, diseased minds of people who rush to the press with indictments of good American citizens. I have played many parts in my life, but no part have I played better or been more proud of than that of being an American citizen.

One blacklisted individual, Lionel Stander, wasn’t afraid to point out the hypocrisy of the Congressional Committee to their faces, stating:

I know of a group of fanatics who are desperately trying to undermine the Constitution of the United States by depriving artists and others of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness without due process of law…. I can tell names and cite instances and I am one of the first victims of it…. These people are engaged in a conspiracy outside all the legal processes to undermine the very fundamental American concepts upon which our entire system of democracy exists.

Nevertheless, this all continued for some time. In fact, at the start of the Korean War in 1950, Hoover submitted a plan to President Truman to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and round up and detain the 12,000 or so citizens suspected of un-American activity by the FBI. (One wonders if that would have meant they’d need to round themselves up?) Luckily, President Truman turned him down.

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