Sunday, September 07, 2003


I got interested in the Hollywood Blacklist when David Helpern, one of my best friends in Cambridge, was making a documentary about it, called "Hollywood on Trial." This was in the mid 1970s, and if you've seen a film of this title, it probably isn't this one. (To confuse things even more, the company called October Films in 1976 is, as far as I know, unrelated to the company called October Films in 2003.) I think it was the American Movie Channel that made a new documentary using that title in the late 1990s. But it is the one that was nominated for an Academy Award. (It lost out to "Harlan County USA," and David remembered that when he heard the first syllable of the winner announced, that "Ha-", his heart stopped.)

I got especially interested when I found out another friend, Buffy Offner, was the daughter of a blacklisted screenwriter and theatre director. I followed the process of David's movie pretty closely, and saw just about all the interview footage (of which a very small portion was used in the final film.) One of the most moving interviews, as well as visually the most beautiful, was with Buffy and her sister, Debbie Offner. Buffy at that time wasn't interested in politics or in a career in show business (though that changed), but Debbie was beginning a career as an actor, and so she became curious about her father's past. I believe she found the documents and photos in what her father had left when he died, that told them the story.

(None of the interview with Buffy and Debbie eventually appeared in the final film. Hey David, if you read this, I hope you saved that footage and transferred it to tape or DVD. Because I really want to see it, just once more...)

There were a number of children of blacklisted Hollywood people in Cambridge and Boston, and they became my special interest. (In fact, I'd worked with one for a year without quite realizing it, Jim Lardner, son of Ring, Jr.) I interviewed several, including the son of a man who named names.

I tried many times to get a story commissioned and printed. New Times (which had published a couple of my pieces, and would publish the original "The Malling of America" article) commissioned a piece but didn't print it. Esquire was interested, and then they weren't. New West was receptive to a piece centered on Mortimer Offner, but that fell through as well. It wasn't until I was the editor with the power of decision that an editor decided to print a piece, in Washington Newsworks, on the release of the feature film, "The Front," which was about the Blacklist, written and directed by blacklisted people, starring Zero Mostel who'd been blacklisted (and Woody Allen), with several children of Blacklist victims working in the production.

I think it was the New Times commission that got me on the set of The Front, where I interviewed director Martin Ritt during a break for a camera setup on the set (and at one point looked up from my notes to see that the entire crew was watching me, because they were ready for the next shot. Marty Ritt however hadn't betrayed any impatience or even sign that he'd noticed.) I got to see something that few people have experienced, especially since the 1950s: Zero Mostel alone on stage, doing bits, many from his old nightclub act. Woody Allen was also hanging around, and so I've got my own Woody Allen story. You'll have to ask me when you see me.

What follows is a combination of at least three articles. I also went through surviving notes of several interviews and added a few things. Almost all of the Newsworks piece is here, augmented by the stories of Dr. James Kahn about his father, and the story of Mortimer Offner, including what his daughters told me and showed me. As usual, I've tried to be as complete as possible, but there is even more interesting stuff than I was able to include in this long version.

Significant material new to me, concerning Mortimer Offner, appeared in Patrick McGilligan's 1991 biography of George Cukor (A Double Life, HarperPerennial.) Cukor and Offner were friends from before high school. I added information from this book, placing it between brackets, because this is the only information not from my 1970s research.

The present tense in the piece is the mid-1970s. A postscript that updates some of the principals follows the main text.

The 1970s saw the blacklist come into public light in various ways. On the screen, the first real ground-breaking references were in "The Way We Were." (1973) Lee Grant won best supporting actress for "Shampoo," in 1975 and mentioned in her Oscar speech that she'd been blacklisted, the first time this happened.

More recently there was the controversy over the special Oscar to Elia Kazan, who did name names, which resulted in protests and counter-protests outside and people who refused to applaud the award inside. The Kazan-Arthur Miller story was the topic of a recent American Masters program on PBS (2003). It seemed largely though not entirely accurate in its facts. It was also able to take a moral position made comfortable by distance in time. It honored complexity and fallibility and dilemma, showing that nobody had a corner on absolutely correct morality. It quoted Dalton Trumbo as saying that everyone was a victim of the Blacklist and there were no heroes. All of which is true enough, but isn't the whole truth. All actions during the Blacklist were not morally equivalent, and it seems to me this program skewed too far in the direction of saying they were. Complexity, even moral complexity, is not honored by asserting oversimplified equivalence. In any case, there are a number of compelling and conflicting views expressed in this article by participants and their children.

A different kind of revisionism was depicted in the Jim Carrey film, "The Majestic," in which the screenwriter hero makes a speech at his HUAC denouncing the Blacklist and leaves to the applause and support of all freedom-loving Americans. What a travesty! As if none of the highly articulate people summoned before the Committee tried to denounce it. Most were silenced by the Committee,its rules, its chairman and its sergeant-at-arms enforcers. Whenever they did speak with the kind of real eloquence noted in this article, it seldom made the newsreels or the newspapers. Nor was it applauded by the American public. The American people weren't showing much support for freedom of expression. They were either silent, or actively in favor of HUAC, Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover because they were responding to the Communist menace, and trampling on civil liberties was part of the price America had to pay. Sound familiar?

The Blacklist always seems to be relevant in one way or another. On my desk right now is a journal with an article about the stunning attacks on academic freedom in the wake of 9/11. It seems to me that the post 9/11 period as manipulated by the Bush administration, coupled with the ascendancy of an openly intolerant and abusive rabid right, makes this the most dangerous period in America since the fifties, easily eclipsing Watergate and even edging out the Vietnam war hysteria of the 60s. The reason is that not only is dissent rabidly and savagely attacked, but even views and plain old facts that were mainstream just a few years ago regularly meet with verbal violence, and real threats by those with influence and power within and outside the government.

This has terrible consequences for freedom, and for our country's ability to solve its problems and particularly to address the suffering of its people. But what this story about the Blacklist also shows, as just about any story of the Blacklist would, is the terrible human toll of this sort of violence. The Blacklist hurt people, mostly innocent people---not only innocent of anti-American activity (which includes just about all of the accused), but the spouses and especially the children of those persecuted, and of some of the others who were involved.

And just as there are large political lessons to learn and re-learn from the Blacklist, there are very personal ones. I think this is one of the reasons that many in the Vietnam War generation were so interested in the Blacklist, as this article indicates. Because both forced individuals to make significant moral decisions, and among young men facing the Vietnam draft, they were decisions that potentially could change the course of their lives. The Blacklist presented other moral dilemmas, and no equivalence is suggested. But this link between political decisions for the country, and personal moral decisions affecting individuals and families, was common to the two generations. In times of particular peril, the personal and the political are often both involved, and life is lived even more than usual (as the Haida say) on the edge of the knife.

This story of the Blacklist is divided into sections which I posted separately. Read from top to bottom as you normally would, and ignore the time checks. Thanks--BK

by William Severini Kowinski

On a lovely spring day in 1953, five year old Buffy Offner met the strangest looking woman she had ever seen. Buffy's father, Mortimer Offner, had taken her to a matinee of Room Service, a play he was directing on Broadway. It starred a new young actor in his first big role, named Jack Lemmon. The strange woman---the bony giant with the most peculiar, exciting voice, wearing a man's suit---was Katharine Hepburn. Mortimer Offner had co-written four of her pictures and she was probably congratulating him on the play's success.

That golden afternoon was never to be repeated, for Morty Offner or for either of his daughters. A month later he was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he refused to name names. He never worked in the theatre or the movies or any entertainment medium again.

Theatre and show business had been Morty Offner's life from childhood,[ when he dragged his good friend, George Cukor, into school musicals. Together they would play hooky and wait by the stage door to catch a glimpse of Isadora Duncan. They bought the cheapest tickets to see plays, sometimes two and three times if they liked it, so they could memorize the lines. Cukor spent more time at Offner's house than he did at his own.]

But Buffy and her younger sister Debbie grew up wondering why their father's busy, glittering life in television, theatre and film changed overnight to the strange quietude of a restless insurance agent---why his irrepressible sense of humor could only be exercised at home, and why they couldn't mention his show business successes to his new friends. To them the Blacklist is more than a relic of the 1950s: it is the unseen, amorphous but omnipresent nemesis of their childhood.

Hooray for Hollywood: Ginger Rodgers, sequined battleships, tap shoes and song, tough guy detectives, Bogart and Bacall. That's entertainment-all the thirties and forties dream factory products now washed with nostalgia and categorized as good clean fun-but there were other things happening in Hollywood, too. Films like The Informer, The Dreyfus Affair, The Grapes of Wrath. Films with some political impact that suddenly weren't being made anymore. Stars like John Garfield who disappeared from the screen. Successful writers like Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner, Jr. who suddenly took twenty year vacations. And the rarely revived, pathetically lifeless films that followed in the fifties and early sixties. Something was happening there but we didn't know what it was....It was the Blacklist.

Beginning with the first "Inquiry into Hollywood Communism" conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947, a period of intense political and cultural repression hit the dream factories: a time of fear, suspicion, doubt and injustice that did not end for nearly twenty years. It destroyed families, friendships, careers, lives. Before it was over it had taken from the screen such talents as Garfield, Lee Grant, Zero Mostel and hundreds of screenwriters, actors and directors whose names are now obscure---because the Blacklist destroyed them.

The Blacklist sucked the lifeblood from Hollywood, then itself died in the early sixties. For its last fifteen years it was a conspiracy of silence few Americans knew about.

Now [in 1976] it comes full circle to the screen it once attacked, in the form of two motion pictures that will at last hold the Blacklist up to full public view. One is a feature film, The Front---the first Hollywood product to really deal with the Blacklist, starring Woody Allen. The Front was written by Walter Bernstein and directed by Martin Ritt, both of whom had been blacklisted. It also stars Zero Mostel and Hershel Bernardi, also blacklisted.

The other new film is Hollywood On Trial, the first full length documentary on the Blacklist, made by a group of young filmmakers from Cambridge, Mass., and narrated by John Huston.

"You think I'm a shit, don't you?" How Hollywood Became A Dream Divided Against Itself

Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s was an exciting place. Movies were popular antidotes to the Depression and war-weariness, and so the glamour of Hollywood was somewhat self-satisfied, a kind of public service. But Hollywood was also a place of ideas. Expatriate writers and directors from war-torn Europe, including Jews and others fleeing the Nazis, encouraged this more serious culture. It was a time of political ideas and debate, responding to the Great Depression, the plight of the Okies in California, to the new union movement and the rise of fascism around the world.

The apotheosis of right-wing witch-hunting and the direct precursor of McCarthyism that outlived McCarthy, HUAC launched its 1947 inquiry with much fanfare, demanding to know the political affiliations and union membership of movie people suspected of having subversive ideas they might sneak onto the silver screen.

But Hollywood matched HUAC's flamboyance. The first ten who refused to answer the committee's questions on constitutional grounds were immediately charged with contempt of Congress. "The charges were correct," screenwriter Dalton Trumbo said later. "I did have contempt for that particular Congress."

The jokes and much of the bravado stopped when their Supreme Court appeal unexpectedly failed and the Hollywood Ten were sentenced to prison.

At first Hollywood was united in its resistance to the politicians' attempt to tarnish their American Dream factory. When HUAC's investigation was first announced, actor-director John Huston was among those who organized a galaxy of Hollywood luminaries such as Humphrey Bogart, Frederic March, Danny Kaye and Lucille Ball into the Committee for the First Amendment. They took to the radio with a program called "Hollywood Fights Back" and barnstormed cities between Los Angeles and Washington, protesting the HUAC hearings and asserting their first amendment right to a "free screen."

But when the Hollywood Ten was indicted, movie studio executives met at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York and issued the infamous Waldorf Statement, which declared that the Ten would not be permitted to work for any major studio again, and that the studios would be on the lookout for other similarly dangerous subversives. It was the official beginning of the Hollywood Blacklist.

It was the industry itself, not the committee, that changed all the rules. Now the careers of all dissidents were in jeopardy, and so Hollywood's united front crumbled. Some of the Ten had been too abrasive and defensive. Defending someone's right to be a Communist no longer seemed wholesome. Grumbling about mistaken strategy, some prominent members of the First Amendment Committee dropped out. One of those was Humphrey Bogart.

He was working on "Key Largo" at the time, directed by his friend, John Huston. They had a brief conversation on the subject during the filming that not only demonstrates the strain being put on relationships, but in its own way is a perfect illustration of how easily the Hollywood métier lends itself to black comedy. Bogart and Huston had hardly exchanged an unnecessary word during the filming, and now they were in a bar, drinking side by side in silence. Until Bogart said, "You think I'm a shit, don't you?" "Yep," Huston replied.

But even such tragicomedy wasn't possible for long. When movie people began testifying and naming their friends for having attended a meeting at which Communism was discussed, or being members of subversive organizations like the End Jim Crow in Baseball Committee, there were no illusions of unity left to defend. Hollywood had become a dream divided against itself, and it has never been the same.

The Blacklist soon spread to television, where the networks were actually paying people like Vincent Hartnett and his Red Channels scaresheet $5 for each name of an alleged Communist in the media. Behind Hartnett and other groups was the threat of organized boycotts of sponsors' products if the people they named weren't kept from working. As always the names included civil rights activists, pacifists and anyone who spoke up against the Blacklist itself-like John Henry Faulk, whose only subversive act was running for an Actors' Guild office, or Lee Grant, who was kept out of films and television for twelve years because of something she said in support of another Blacklisted actor, at his funeral. And the actress blacklisted because she said something in support of Lee Grant.

The cost of twenty years of the Blacklist was felt in personal terms: defeat, despair, and even suicide were not unknown, and alcoholism, divorce, breakdown and early death were not uncommon. Friends informing on friends led to lifelong suspicion and guilt.

The effects were inevitably felt throughout the culture and are still being felt, for behind much of the vapidness of today's movies is the job the Blacklist did in ridding Hollywood of an atmosphere in which ideas could grow and be respected. Writer-director Abraham Polonsky recalls the years when, thanks largely to the influx of European directors and the presence of writers like Aldous Huxley and William Faukner, Hollywood was actually a place of intellectual ferment. "I remember my conversations with my friends in the 40s. Hegel, Marx, Kant, Russell, Wittgenstein, all the modern writers, all the modern painters, were active names in the communal, social, personal dialogue in this town. Nowadays, I only hear those painters' names when I go to Sotheby's to listen to an auction."

The thrust of the Blacklist was to make unsafe any impulse in the entertainment community that did not contribute directly to making money for the studios and networks. Intellectual and political activity, unionization, and anything that threatened the authority of the status quo were the real targets of the Blacklist, not Communism. And so, the Blacklist succeeded.
"You know, it only takes one man"- Tales from The Front

Blacklisted screenwriter Gordon Kahn, exiled in Mexico to avoid going to jail, got a phone call from blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo in California. It was the night of the 1956 Academy Awards. The Oscar for Best Screenplay had just been awarded to Robert Rich, and accepted on his behalf by a Writer's Guild official. But Robert Rich was a front--Dalton Trumbo's, in fact. It was the name he put on his screenplay for The Brave Ones. Trumbo had become the first blacklisted writer to win an Oscar under another name. He wouldn't be the last.

"They talked for awhile on the phone," Gordon's son James Kahn remembered, "and then for a long time they just giggled."

There is something funny about the idea of fronts, which is one reason another blacklisted writer, Walter Bernstein, decided he could approach the whole subject of the Blacklist by writing a comedy about a man who lends his name to the screenplays of another.

That idea was becoming a film---a real Hollywood major studio movie---in the fall of 1975, ten years after Bernstein began planning the script, two years after he'd written it. Martin Ritt, who'd directed Berstein's script of Paris Blues (the 1961 movie about jazz and interracial relationships in Paris that starred Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier) and who'd acted in television shows Bernstein wrote before they were both blacklisted, managed to convince David Begelman, the new president of Columbia Pictures, to take a chance on a film about the Blacklist. Among Ritt's credits were "Sounder" and "The Spy Who Came in From the Cold."

He also convinced Woody Allen to star in it---his first dramatic role, and the first movie he's acted in that he hadn't written. Allen consistently explained this career departure the same way: "I admire the director, I like the script, and I think the subject matter is extremely important."

The Front's main story is about Alfred Miller, a fictional blacklisted writer played by Michael Murphy, who asks his best friend, Howard Prince (Woody Allen) to pass himself off as the author of Miller's script. Prince had never written a word in his life.

This is one kind of front: an actual, breathing person who could attend script meetings and otherwise put a face on the illusion to make it more convincing. Bernstein himself used fronts and tells funny stories about what may be the most tragically absurd phenomenon of the Blacklist. Bernstein used some friends. Writer Millard Lampell used a novelist who wanted to learn screenwriting. Dalton Trumbo even tried to use novelist Nelson Algren (Algren was willing but it never really happened.) The resulting problems are legendary: fronts who began to believe they'd really written the scripts, for example, and became critical of the actual writer's work if it wasn't up to the front's reputation.

Lampell tells the story of a blacklisted writer whose script won an award. His front accepted the plaque and met the writer after the ceremony to celebrate. Only nobody felt like celebrating. They had a few drinks in silence, staring at the award. The writer felt terrible because he was the only one who knew his work had won. The front felt terrible because his name was on an award he didn't deserve. They had a few more drinks and on the way home, they dropped the plaque into the nearest sewer.

Later the writers who used fronts were more or less an open secret in the industry. They still had to use them, but fronts became simply pseudonyms. Bernstein remembers that period, too. He experienced the usual humiliations. "Once I was watching an episode of 'You Are There' with my kids, and I let it slip that I'd written it. They wanted to know why somebody else's name was on it. I had to tell them not to say anything about it to anyone."

But there were also the converse absurdities. "Once I was complimented at a party for a script I didn't do," Bernstein said. "Someone said to me, 'hey, congratulations on your TV show last night.' 'Thanks,' I said, 'but that wasn't mine.' But he didn't believe me. 'Sure, I know you can't say, Walter, but I really liked it.' 'But I didn't write it---really.' 'It's okay, Walter, I understand.'"

Fronting became so much of an open secret that Bernstein received a card from a producer which ended, "By the way, give my regards to..." and listed four names, all of them fronts Bernstein had used for the producer's shows.

But finally fronts became like the Blacklist itself: a very cruel, very bad joke. It became common practice in Hollywood that when there was no money left in the screenwriting budget, the call would gout for blacklisted writers because they had to work cheap. But eventually they won so many awards-through fronts, naturally---that they became magic. They were the best. Lampell quotes a producer's outburst: "This script is terrible! Go get me a blacklisted writer!"

Most of The Front was shot in New York City, but a week was spent on location at a resort hotel in the Catskills. It was a bizarre shoot. Elderly denizens of the hotel, some of them visiting members of the National Hebrew Association and the Medical Center of Denver, mixed with the costumed extras from New York who were, at 7 a.m., dressed as a nightclub crowd in 1953. It looked like the last remains of the junior prom having breakfast at an old folk's home.

Few of the extras knew what the film is about, which isn't unusual, but fewer still knew about the Blacklist. One actress remembered that her aunt had belonged to the League of Women Shoppers, made famous by Walt Disney denouncing it before HUAC as a Commie front, after first confusing it with the League of Women Voters.

Meanwhile Zero Mostel (playing a blacklisted writer named Hecky Brown) was putting on a one-man show that got better with each take. He sang, told jokes, did sight gags and otherwise resurrected his 1950s nightclub act. He also made sure to do something different each time, so the audience of extras would really laugh. So we got to watch Zero Mostel top himself, take after take.

Later Mostel would play a scene in which the nightclub owner tells Hecky that the pay he was getting for his act---already a fraction of what he made before being blacklisted---was to be cut in half again. The same thing happened to Mostel at a different hotel, twenty years before.

Director Martin Ritt, clad in a floppy Navy blue jumpsuit, paused between takes to talk about the tone of The Front. It had begun as more of a comedy than it was shaping up to be. "As we began filming," Ritt told me, "the picture became tougher...This picture will be the toughest kind of picture on a moral level it can possibly be."

Ritt, whose own refusal to testify to HUAC ended his acting career (Paddy Chayefsky wrote "Marty" specifically for Marty Ritt to play) is forceful about the Blacklist's continued relevance. "The object of the Blacklist was to impose economic sanctions on those who disagreed with HUAC. The object of the hearings was to break the will of anyone who opposed them. They told me, 'name someone who's dead, we don't care. Just name somebody.'... If the committee had successfully broken the wills of those who were blacklisted, there just wouldn't have been a constituency left to fight Watergate. The behavior of those who resisted set an example, made people think."

But Ritt wasn't intending to make a political tract-he wants The Front to be entertaining, to succeed with audiences, for a number of reasons. "If it's successful it will mean a great deal towards the possibility of making serious films," Ritt said. "And since at my age I don't have too many more films to make, I want them to be serious."

Besides those participating in this film who had survived the Blacklist, there were several children of Hollywood people who had been blacklisted. John Garfield's daughter Julie had a small part as a waitress, and his son David was a production assistant.

David Garfield is a head taller, but otherwise is a very good likeness of his father, whose performances in films like Body and Soul and Force of Evil made him the quintessential dead-end kind with a heart of gold, and a major movie star. David speaks in the same rapid, unmistakable tones his father made famous, and he pulls no punches about the Blacklist.

"I was eight years old when my father died in 1952. But even afterwards my mother made us watch the McCarthy hearings on television," David Garfield remembered. "My father wasn't a leader in the thinking department, but he was curious. When he saw his best friends turn against him, it broke his heart. One minute he was a star, the next people were crossing the street to avoid him. I really believe he was killed by it."

John Garfield was in fact one of the most outrageously victimized. He was hounded and smeared for political associations which apparently amounted to little more than signing petitions and attending parties. He spent the last years of his life trying desperately to clear himself. At the time of his death in 1952, a non-show business friend commented, "John was guilty of two things: loving people and being naïve."

David Garfield believes it can happen all over again. "Sure---and it would happen in exactly the same way," he said. "Whatever the issue. The networks would line up as they did, the studios-everything. In this picture Woody has a line, he's speaking to a network exec. He says, 'you know, it only takes one man.' And he's right. And it only makes me admire my father more. It only takes one man to stand up against it. But it took a lot to stand up---and not many people can do it."

"My own children were adopted after this period," Martin Ritt said, "but I had blacklisted friends whose kids came home from school and asked them, 'why do you hate this country?' It was very hard on kids. You had to have some real conviction to take the static, but they were too young to understand."

"Can They Teach Us Something About How We Should Live?"

When Hollywood on Trial was shown at Cannes, Variety described it as being as much a regular feature as a documentary. And why not? After all, it stars Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney and Ginger Rodger's mother, as well as Millard Lampell, Richard Nixon, Ring Lardner, Jr. and Jack Warner. It's Hollywood!

It was this combination of politics and the movie business that first attracted HOT's director, David Helpern, Jr., to the subject of the Blacklist. He came upon a special issue of Film Culture as a student. Then after his first documentary, "I'm A Stranger Here Myself: A Portrait of Nicholas Ray" was successful enough to interest investors in his work, he set about the strange and large task of making a film about the Hollywood Blacklist. Helpern is 28.

One of Helpern's partners in October Films, James Gutman, agreed to produce. Neither Helpern nor Gutman is old enough to remember the Blacklist, but their own political involvements in the sixties drew them to it.

For Gutman, who had traveled to Chile during the election of Allende on another documentary project, the period is bound up with his own political education. "I come from a long line of gray flannel capitalists," Gutman he said. He first met children of Blacklist victims while at Harvard (it's worth mentioning that the Blacklist also had victims in academia), but their parents had mostly given up their politics and gone into safer businesses. It started him thinking about the lack of continuity between the radicalism of the thirties and that of the sixties, both in the lives of his friends whose parents had been radicals but weren't anymore, and in the culture in general. What caused the break?

"The answer, of course, is McCarthyism," Gutman said. " The Blacklist itself. That silenced it."

It was the children of the blacklisted that most haunted him. He wrote his first screenplay about a young sixties radical who discovers that his uncle, now a doctor, was a radical in the thirties.

HOT's writer, Arnie Riesman, also got involved partly because he knew children of blacklist victims. One friend in particular was Tony Kahn, screenwriter Gordon Kahn's younger son. Kahn's memories prompted Riesman to begin into the phenomenon, and since he was the editor of a weekly entertainment paper (Boston After Dark), he assigned himself to interview visiting movie stars, and usually wound up asking them all the same question: Where were you during the Blacklist?

He got some fascinating answers, but when he tried to put together a discussion program for public television in 1970, no one would agree to appear on it.

Then in 1974 Riesman edited a special issue on the fifties for The Real Paper in Cambridge, and received an article on the Hollywood Blacklist written by David Helpern. The issue never appeared, but the article resulted in Arnie's participation in Hollywood On Trial.

He got the chance to ask his questions when HOT interviewed principals of the period in California and New York. The first confirmed acceptance of an interview came from Ronald Reagan, who was one of the more or less official keepers of the Blacklist in Hollywood. Reagan, seated in his flag-flanked governor's chair, politely explained how he helped run an office where anyone in Hollywood who wasn't working could come to find out if he was really too tall for the part, or if he'd just been blacklisted.

They were a little surprised at how many interviews they obtained. They shot first on the East Coast and then in California, with several interviews shot almost incongruously against lush outdoor backgrounds. Even the first uncut interviews were fascinating: Dore Schary, a scenarist and playwright ("Sunrise at Campobello") who rose through the ranks to become a studio executive, seated in his rococo living room, a portrait of JFK on the piano, giving a classic chronicle of the liberal dilemma, beginning with his efforts organizing the Screen Writer's Guild and his gradual but complete cooption by the studio blacklisters. And by contrast, writer Millard Lampell at his rambling New Jersey home, describing how he watched in horror as fear crushed the minds of his Hollywood idols, only to find himself subpoenaed and blacklisted a few years later, while working on a television special on paranoia.

"Some of them went to considerable trouble to talk to us," David Helpern said. "Dalton Trumbo had been very ill---he had a heart attack a year ago. His daughter told us he was too sick, but he was eager to talk to us. He promised us an hour and gave us three." So he appeared, frail but dandyish in his black sweater, slumped in a huge red chair, struggling against his weak physical condition to tell his story.

But some people were still frightened to talk about the Blacklist. A writer for a famous comedy team declined because he was just getting on his feet again and was afraid of the unwanted notice an interview might give him. A movie character actor and respected acting teacher refused for the reason that many more of the blacklisteds used to give---what if it started up again?

In some cases, Helpern and associates opened channels of communication long closed by the animosity and paranoia the Blacklist nurtured. David talked about one incident involving Leo Townsend, a cooperative witness. "We found him living in a one-room cottage at Malibu, trying to sell a TV pilot, a sad and lonely man in his sixties. He was abandoned by both sides, a real casuality. He was worried about doing the interview with us. He wanted us to like him." Townsend mentioned that he'd written a long letter to Trumbo after reading his famous "only victims" statement, but never received a reply. "But I can understand that," he told them. Helpern and Reisman related the story to Trumbo, who said he had intended to answer Townsend's letter but had been too ill. They passed that information back to Townsend.

Riesman's, and Helpern's immersion in the lives of Blacklist veterans fascinated them both, and the liveliness of their interest shows in the film. Part of that interest was Helpern's curiosity about what those who'd lived through the Blacklist had to say to the generation that experienced their form of radicalizing in the sixties.

"In the sixties we were forced to make decisions," Helpern said. "They were all around us. But now [in the 70s] there's no mass movement to identify with-so what do we do now? So I look at people who thirty years ago made a certain commitment. Did they know what they were doing? Are they glad? Are they heroes? What do they regret? Can they teach us something about how we should live?"

Helpern talked about one interview, with actor Howard DeSilva. "I asked him if he had ever considered cooperating with the Committee." Cooperating is the polite term for naming names. "He just smiled. 'Never,' he said. Well, why didn't he? That's what I want to understand in this film...You have to understand events through people, what they thought about, what they felt. I trust film---I trust its ability to portray emotion."

Frank Galvin, the documentary's film editor, is slightly older than the others, with a slightly different perspective. In his late 30s, he'd already served in the Navy, as the photographer who films incoming planes landing on aircraft carriers---usually a safer job than it looks, unless the plane crashes. The very first plane that he filmed did exactly that.

Now Galvin edits newsreel footage of HUAC hearings while reliving some of it, since he is old enough to remember seeing it the first time around. "I don't remember much specifically, but I do remember the mood of watching it." From a family he characterizes as "white collar, middle class Boston Irish Catholic" he remembers his father watching the McCarthy hearings and saying, "If those guys have nothing to hide, why don't they talk?" Frank didn't disagree, then. Then came Vietnam. "I saw it coming in 1962. I felt sure it was going to be bad, but not as bad as it got. I'd been reading Bernard Fall, I read every issue of I.F. Stone, the New Republic and the Nation. When McNamara came to Harvard and when the State Department issued their white paper, it started a new round of obsession. I was in a state of fury over government policy and in daily agony over the war. I came out of it a socialist anarchist-and Democrat, still. The only two people I've voted for President in fifteen years of voting were Kennedy and McGovern."

Frank was David Helpern's documentary teacher at the Orson Welles Film School in Cambridge. "He showed up one day in a ten gallon hat, plunked himself down and stayed for five semesters...Now he's one of the few young filmmakers around who is really professional."

There was a kind of meeting of the generations on the set of The Front, when the October Films crew was there to capture a few minutes of it, and interview the principals for their film. Once David Helpern took advantage of a lull in Zero Mostel's act to direct an extra for the H.O.T. camera. The two crews-the huge and hugely equipped Columbia crew and the small October Films group---were getting along famously, mutually interested in each other's film. "For years nobody wanted to hear about the Blacklist," Walter Bernstein said. "I got a great deal of satisfaction from talking to the October Films people. They really wanted to know...I was teaching a senior seminar in screenwriting at NYU while I was writing 'The Front' and none of my students knew anything about the Blacklist."

There is a natural bond between these generations. A panel discussion on the Blacklist organized in Los Angeles by young members of the New American Movement Media Group heard blacklisted actress Karen Morely say, "I feel very close and very warm toward the generation that stopped the Vietnam war." Will Geer hardly spoke of the old days at all, using his time to endorse the senatorial aspirations of former movement hero Tom Hayden.

It may be that history will show that it was the sixties generation that finally rang down the curtain on HUAC itself. The first test of the student movement at Berkeley was the 1960 anti-HUAC demonstration at the San Francisco Court House, where police turned fire hoses on white students for the first time. Ironically, HUAC was finally destroyed by a political extract of something it labored to annihilate or at least co-opt:political theatre. When Jerry Rubin showed up to testify in an American Revolutionary War uniform, the committee's option was as good as cancelled.

After their visit to the set of the Front, the October Films group discussed their observations. They were impressed with Bernstein's quiet humor. "He's allowed himself to see that he learned something about himself from being blacklisted, "Helpern said. "As horrible as it was, it did do something positive, in a personal way. Like Millard (Lampell) when he said he might have been a much more glib, slick human being otherwise. Or when Zero Mostel said he might not have done Shakespeare..."

It doesn't surprise Arnie Reisman that they are the ones making this film, and not actual children of Blacklist victims. "I can spot them in a room," he observed. "They're the most apolitical people there. They went to politically active schools but they weren't political. I mean, I can understand their point of view---look what politics gets you. It's a lesson that has to affect you even if you're five years old..."

"They took their parents culture," David Helpern observed, "but not their politics."

At this point HOT is nearing final edit. Frank Galvin is cutting and splicing footage according to what he and David decided the day before. Then David views the results on the Steenbeck editing screen. Meanwhile, Arnie has come in from working at home on a new treatment. He tells everyone about the testimony before the Church subcommittee that he'd heard on the radio that morning. A retired FBI agent talked about Communists in the fifties and blamed antiwar protests in the sixties and seventies on Communist influence. As Arnie narrated it, Senator Tower of Texas heartily agreed. "He told them,' When I made a speech at Berkeley I was called a fascist pig. Nobody would call me that unless they'd been trained, and only Communists are trained to call people fascists.'"

The editing room is just big enough for the Steenbeck, a table to rewind the film on, shelves for the film cans, the telephone and three or four chairs. Two well-thumbed copies of Eric Bentley's Thirty Years of Treason sit within easy reach, like Bibles.

"So we have fifteen minutes of introduction," David said. "Then thirty minutes on the thirties, and ten minutes on the what do we have to get into the thirties? The Depression, the labor movement, the New Deal---"

"The recognition of the USSR," Frank said.

"Right. The Spanish Civil War, fear of fascism...and also the transition into talkies, bringing big name writers to Hollywood from the East. And then the European influx," David concluded. "All that while the Writers Guild is being organized."

"So how do we get out of the thirties?" Arnie inquired.

"By getting into the forties?" Frank suggested.

David is on the phone. Someone asks him if he wants coffee. "No, thanks-give me just cremora. I like to lick it off my hand."

"With tequila?" Frank asks.

Later David asked Arnie if it had occurred to him that part of the reason they were doing the film was that they were Jewish. Many of the people blacklisted were Jews, and anti-Semitism played a strong part in the entire HUAC-related frenzy. A particularly obvious example was committeeman John Rankin of Mississippi simply reading some well known names (Danny Kaye, June Havoc, Eddie Cantor) and then revealing their birth names (David Daniel Kamirsky, June Jovick, Edward Iskowitz) as all the evidence he needed to discredit their criticisms of HUAC's activities.

"I just thought about it today," David said. "It hadn't occurred to me before."

"No, I've been seeing it more as anti-intellectuals ganging up on intellectuals," Arnie said. "I wish I could find a really strong mind on the other side, but I can't. This really was the American Inquisition."

Something that they all discovered in the course of making their film was that the Blacklist is not really over. The fear is still there: several people refused to talk to them about their involvement. Others claimed continued harassment. And there is at least one documented case of the son of a Blacklist victim himself being blacklisted, not for anything he had done, but because of his father.

IV Sins of the Father

Gordon Kahn was a screenwriter, and the first of the "unfriendly nineteen" witnesses to announce his non-cooperation with HUAC in 1947. With a HUAC subpoena being served at the front door, Gordon Kahn escaped to Mexico literally out the back door. Nearly thirty years later his older son, Dr. James Kahn, found himself being pursued by the same bloodless hounds of inquisition, awakening new nightmares and changing the course of his medical career.

Gordon Kahn wound up in Cuernavaca, Mexico in 1947, where his family joined him, along with the families of other blacklisted writers such as Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler. It was an American community of political exiles that included "premature anti-fascists" (that is, people who opposed Franco, Mussolini and Hitler too soon) and veterans of the Spanish Civil War.

When the Kahns returned to the U.S. in 1956 there was still no work for Gordon in Hollywood, so they went to Mrs. Kahn's hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire. The Blacklist followed them. Barbara Kahn couldn't get a teaching job in the city's school system and eventually taught in another. While Gordon wrote for magazines (under pseudonyms) he was subjected to another investigation, spearheaded by the state attorney general. James Kahn later discovered the extent of that investigation: the Kahns had been wiretapped, their mail opened and police survelliance of their activities maintained.

"The state government decided to get in the act with its own Un-American Activities Committee," Kahn said. "We were really harassed then. The police watched our house---my brother and I saw them on our way home from school. We sort of harassed them back. We were kids so we could get away with it, but my father encouraged us. They went around asking our neighbors about us, which naturally made living there pretty strange. We were the neighborhood Commies."

When Jim Kahn got to Harvard he kept clear of politics. "I didn't participate in any political groups and certainly didn't sign any petitions," he said. "Somewhere in the back of my mind I was terrified," he said. But by the time he was a senior at Harvard, Vietnam was forcing itself into everyone's consciousness. Jim responded by declaring in an editorial for the yearbook that he would refuse induction into the army because of the war.

Gordon Kahn encouraged his son James to be a doctor, to build a career away from show business and the arts, "because he felt so vulnerable."

While a student at the Harvard Medical school Jim applied for a position with the Center for Disease Prevention of the U.S. Public Health Service, with particular interest in Central America. "It would be a good deal for me. I'd already worked in South America for six months during med school, and I liked it---it was exciting and challenging work. I had already decided I wanted to get involved in public health, and this was a way out of the draft, too."

Jim Kahn was judged to be the best in his class by the dean of the medical school. Thanks to his boyhood in Mexico and his travel and study in other Latin American countries, he was fluent in Spanish and Portuguese. By every measure he was the ideal candidate, and in the words of one of his teachers, exactly the kind of doctor the PHS wanted, and rarely got.

Kahn was commissioned in the Public Health Service during his fourth year at Harvard Med. His active duty was supposed to begin after a year's internship and a year's hospital residency. But just four months shy of his activation, Kahn got a call from the PHS personnel director requesting that he come to Washington. "Somehow I had the feeling right then that I knew what was going to happen. But I just didn't believe it. I asked him what it was about but he wouldn't tell me. Finally he admitted, unofficially, that it was a security check. My fears were coming true."

What happened next is very clear in Jim's mind, even though it happened in 1969. On a brilliant fall day in 1975, sitting on the sunporch of his new home in New Hampshire, in easy reach of his own actively perused files on the subject, he could recite from memory the day and the hour he went to Washington at the behest of H.E.W. He remembers what airline he flew and what time it left Boston. He remembers the vague fears that were about to become reality.

He flew to Washington at 7 a.m. on February 5, 1969. Hoping that it was some minor snag, perhaps having to do with his Yearbook editorial, he decided to trust the service he was about to enter and go to the interview without a lawyer or even a tape recorder.

He wandered through the Kafkaesque labyrinth of the HEW building to a small, bare room, furnished "in pure FBI décor---a desk, some chairs, an American flag, and a picture on the wall of J. Edgar Hoover." Though he was in the Health, Education and Welfare department, his two interrogators were ex-FBI, now employed by HEW security.

Immediately after the interview, Kahn sat in the HEW lobby and recorded his impressions. "The two investigators, Gulka and Sterbinsky, looked like two Eastern European freedom-fighter rejects. Gulka was about 4' 9", bald except for a tuft of hair where his frontal lobe should be. They were both too dumb to be personally malicious, just cogs in the security system. They didn't know what they were asking or why. They were truly monstrous in their stupidity."

They had a file marked "James Kahn" but there seemed to be nothing about James Kahn in it. There was however quite a lot about Gordon Kahn. The security men asked about Gordon Kahn's past political associations, his blacklisted friends and their present whereabouts. Jim answered one question about his father. Yes, he was dead. He died of a heart attack in 1962, shortly after he finally won his court case to prevent the New Hampshire Attorney-General from harassing him and his family.

After that, Jim refused to answer anything about his father or his father's associates, while making it clear he would answer questions about himself. The agents weren't interested.

Dr. James Kahn left the HEW Building still hoping that this had been a temporary aberration in procedure, that it would not affect his career. But his emotions, recorded at the time, told him differently. "I felt that my life was over."

Kahn's security status floating through the murky byways of government bureaucracy and it appears that it was never defined. The Harvard Medical School intervened on his behalf, but that was good enough only to get him stationed at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Kahn tried to get his case resolved for the next two years. He got a second security interview, but it turned out to be a replay of the first one (except this time he had a lawyer and a tape recorder with him.) It occurred a year later, almost to the day. He even faced the same two interrogators.

"They asked me if I was aware my father was a Communist in 1932. I told them that in 1932 I was ten years away from being born. They asked me if I knew Albert Maltz. I told them I knew him as the father of my playmates, Kathy and Peter. They asked me if I carried secret messages between my father and Maltz. I was nine years old."

The only difference about the second interview Kahn noted was that his file appeared to be an inch thicker. Still, the questions were about his father, not about him.

Kahn was passed over time and time again for assignments outside the United States, including short-term emergencies for which he was especially well suited. His superiors in Atlanta designated him as the best qualified of the available Public Health officers to go to Biafra, but he wasn't sent. He saw Latin American assignments go to doctors who couldn't speak Spanish, while doctors who requested duty in the United States were shipped out of the country. Kahn, who had been promised a foreign assignment when he joined, was never given one.

Meanwhile he began having nightmares."I dreamt that my father had come back to life. I screamed at him, 'Go away, Gordon! Leave me alone!'"

He initiated court cases, wrote to two Attorneys General, contacted Sam Ervin's Senate subcommittee on dossiers, all to no avail. Dr. James Kahn left the PHS in 1971. He went back to Boston for a few years to work at Beth-Israel and Massachusetts General hospitals, and to go into analysis to resolve his feelings about his father and himself. He now works in a small hospital in New Hampshire.

Dr. Kahn remembers the people in the Public Health Service who welcomed him effusively at first, and then retreated into a bureaucratic maze of avoidance. "They fawned all over me until the security problem arose. Then they were just...chickenshit."

Though he was a child when it happened, he says, "Any way you look at it, the Blacklist was the biggest thing that happened in my life."

It remains alive in his thoughts. "I'm still scared of it happening again. I feel strong enough and confident enough to handle it, but it could happen any day. If any of that kind of thing hits this country again, I know I'll be involved. Because I'm on file. So is my brother. And probably so is every kid of anybody who was blacklisted."

Jim Kahn's younger brother, Tony Kahn, also went into analysis to clear his mind of aspects of his father's legacy. Tony now lives in Cambridge, and makes his living writing and translating Russian. He also worked with Arnie Reisman, writing and performing for WGBH public television in Boston. Tony was six when his family went to Mexico, too young then to understand his parents' politics, but subject to the taunts of playmates. He remembers being called a Commie Jew Gringo in Mexico---and then a Commie Jew Mex back in Manchester.

Jim Kahn got into at least one monumental fistfight over such name-calling---Tony, who watched it, likens it to a classic movie western brawl, beginning in the back yard and ending up on the other side of the street. Jim sent his tormentor to the hospital. (The guy later turned out to be one of the men who kidnapped Frank Sinatra, Jr.) After the fight was over, their father, who had also been watching, came out with a cloth to treat Jim's cuts. "He encouraged us to fight back," Tony said.

At age six, Tony didn't know why he was in Mexico, why he had to leave the land of TV and the home of Superman comics. He didn't know why his mother was sad or would suddenly burst into tears. When he heard that his straight-laced New Englander aunt, also with them in Mexico, was called the Queen of the Reds by a Mexican newspaper, he assumed it meant she ran the "red zone," the strip of cantinas and whorehouses he walked through on his way to school.

Jim remembers a little more of what the adults were doing, about the incidences among his father's friends of alcohol and drug abuse, shattered families and suicides. "I saw people shattered, just shattered. One guy took his private plane out one day and just ditched in the ocean." Today former public health specialist Dr. James Kahn puts it this way: "The effects of the Blacklist on families was absolutely as uncontrollable as a disease."

Tony Kahn got into one political squabble in high school when the pro-HUAC film "Operation Abolition" (which characterized student demos against HUAC in San Francisco as Communist organized) was scheduled for a compulsory attendance assembly. Tony and a couple of friends proposed to the principal that either attendance be made voluntary or the opposing view be presented at another assembly. The principal responded by beginning a campaign to ferret out the Communist menace in Manchester High, as well as placing his version of the incident in their student records (along with, in Tony's case, the ever-present information about his father.) One of the students involved, a senior, didn't get into any of his chosen colleges as a result. Tony was a junior, and the furor had died by the next year.

At Harvard Tony rebelled against political ideology and involvement. "The only reason I'd done it before was because my father told me to." He began to feel that his father's politics had smothered his humanity as well as his career possibilities. "People said that he had an incredible sense of humor. But as a father, he was very much the Old Testament lawgiver, especially when it came to politics. He gave us precepts, but not their process. By the time I knew him, he didn't have a spontaneous bone in his body."

The Blacklist certainly smothered Gordon Kahn's career, and as a writer Tony is very aware of that. "Gordon had been a newspaperman in New York, a good friend of S.J. Perlman. It was an incredibly rich life. He went to Hollywood but later, after we came back to New Hampshire, he had real contempt for his work there. When any of his films came on television-always with his name blacked out of the credits---he literally held his nose in disdain." In fact, Gordon Kahn was highly and successfully prolific: wholly or partially, he wrote 4 movies released in 1939, 4 in 1942, 3 in 1944, 2 in 1946 and one or two most other years. Two were released in 1948, the year after he fled to Mexico. But pretty much all were minor genre pictures.

"But after the Blacklist he couldn't write at all," Tony continued, "except secretly, under another name. He wrote clever pieces on Hungarian food and Japanese movies for Holiday under the name of Hugh G. Foster. But he never had the right forum as a writer. He had a huge amount of general knowledge and a great style as an essayist. But because of the Blacklist, he never got a second chance."

Gordon Kahn had the second of a series of heart attacks in Mexico. He was seriously ill for the rest of his life. When he died in 1962 there was still one piece that he'd planned but never written. He wanted to call it, "How I Killed Hugh G. Foster."

Barbara Kahn, who retired from teaching last spring with a commencement address on the Blacklist, recalled the words she found in her husband's office after his death. Gordon Kahn had written, "I stood before the tribunal of my own mind." His sons admire that moral commitment, but aren't sure what it can mean today, or whether they can expect to see it in their generation. "I guess I don't expect to find that moral strength," Tony said. "I haven't seen anyone tested, really...Our moral issues seem much less significant, and much less clear-cut."

Gordon Kahn did try to pass on his politics, to define the enemy for his sons. "But I don't think it works any more for me, "Tony says. "I've learned not to line people up as good or bad guys, but deal with them as people."

His brother Jim feels the same way about the Hollywood people involved. "For awhile I was angry because Dalton and (Albert) Maltz went back and made their peace, but not now. I don't want to blame the people who had the situation forced on them, but the people who did the forcing."

"I'm not afraid of compromise any more, because I know my principles." Jim concluded, about his own life. "It takes a certain kind of person to recognize moral decision---something that's going to have long term effects on self. My father died not feeling guilty about anything he did."

Some of the children the Kahns had known in Mexico gathered around Mrs. Jean Butler's dining room table to be interviewed for Hollywood on Trial. Present were Dalton Trumbo's son Chris, and Michael and Becky Butler, two of the children of Hugo and Jean Butler (both "graylisted" screenwriters, who were never subpoenaed but never worked. Hugo Butler died at age 53.) They all talked about their childhood.

Chris Trumbo was seven when his father was indicted for contempt of Congress and sent to jail. He remembers visiting his father in prison, and being impressed by the train ride and the tall prison tower with the machine gun. He saw his father in the visitor's area, and was so disappointed in not seeing his cell that he cried.

After his father's release their family joined the Butlers and Kahns in Mexico, and returned to California with the Butlers. Their re-entry into American society was not painless. Chris remembers experiencing his first "duck and cover" atomic bomb drill, a popular nightmare for kids of the fifties, in ninth grade. He had no idea what was going on, and it scared him thoroughly. "All of a sudden everybody was climbing under their desks---even the teacher. I didn't know what was happening." Chris received other rude awakenings, including catcalls of Red, commie and Christ-killer. "I was the school commie," he said. "I also had a tough time explaining what my father did for a living. So it was very difficult to form friendships. Who do you trust?"

Though he was a class leader and a football player, Chris remembers never being invited to his classmates' homes and narrowly missing a school award, only to find out later that the decision went against him because of his family. Michael Butler remembers some similar problems. "I wasn't really accepted until, strangely enough, I started dating. The general feel was that if I was a Red I had to be a homo."

Later in the conversation a debate began over the moral questions of the Blacklist period, with marked differences even within this compatible company-even between Michael and Chris, who grew up together and now occasionally collaborate on screenplays.

Curiously, it is Michael Butler, not Chris Trumbo, who agrees with Dalton Trumbo's belief that there were "only victims" of the Blacklist. "I'm not into blame," Michael says simply. "The blame has to do with cowardice," Chris insists. "What we are is an expression of what we do. The question is, is it admissible for one person to destroy another's life?"

Becky Butler is only eighteen and has no real memories of the fifties, but she has heard her mother (whose point of view is close to Michael's) say that the Blacklist killed her father, and she has just recently seen the Eric Bentley play, with dialogue taken from HUAC testimony, "Are You Now or Have You Ever Been." "I'm very resentful about the friendly witnesses," she said. "I feel very bitter, even though I didn't go through the period. When I saw what Larry Parks and (Elia) Kazan did, I wanted to shout, 'Why can't you be strong? Why can't you stand up for your principles?'"

The children of friendly witnesses have their own legacy to deal with, and they ask the same questions. One of them, Conrad Bromberg, son of J. Edgar Bromberg, staged a play condemning his father's informing. But at least one other child of a HUAC cooperator has recently come to different conclusions about his father's culpability.

He spoke to me on condition that he and his father not be named. His father, now dead, admitted to the Committee that he had been a Communist and gave several names of other putative members. (He testified in 1953, naming perhaps seven people.) The facts of the story his son tells (most of which apparently came from his mother) are open to question, but his point of view is what is important. He spoke rapidly and forcefully, explaining that some of his anger was the result of his summing-up process on the verge of completing several years of psychiatric analysis. "My father was really pissed off at the Party for putting him in the position of either going to jail or being a squealer. When he joined the Party he thought the membership rolls would be made public, but instead they were secret. He felt double-crossed, as a result he was put in a double bind."

"At first he refused to testify, and his television show, which was the highest rated in the country, was cancelled. He didn't work for two years. I was five, so I didn't know anything, except that suddenly my father had an awful lot of free time to take us on trips." But later his father did testify; according to his mother, his father gave only names of people already named.

"He tried to ignore what he did," his son says. "He was a sad man after that, permanently wounded. If you look into any kind of torture, you understand that the rationale of torture is not to get information but to inflict guilt. My father knew that. He told me, 'all they wanted was to break people.' They succeeded with him."

He once derided his father, but now he's changed his mind. "At first I was really against him. I asked him once, 'why couldn't you be strong?' After he died I forgot about it, but I still blamed him. Now, in the last few months, when everybody's been talking about the Blacklist, I've been thinking about it. I don't blame him anymore. I had a healthy upbringing. He saw that I was taken care of, even in the lean times. At some point my father had to decide what was most important, his family or himself. You know, martyrdom can be egocentric. There are other people involved, after all---a family that was his responsibility. I think my father made his decision for his wife and kids. I think he did it for us."

He has turned his former bitterness away from his father, and pointed it towards his father's former friends who made him an enemy when he testified. "That hurt him the most. He couldn't believe that his closest friends didn't understand the human reasons why he did what he did. Why didn't they turn their hatred against Congress instead of attacking their friends? Hollywood became broken and bitter, when before it had a lot of creative love."

V Herein Fail Not

All Buffy and Debbie Offner know about their father's show business career is the little they remember from their childhood, and what they've learned from his memorabilia. Their interview for Hollywood on Trial resulted from a series of accidents---probably the only way it could have happened. Mortimer Offner wasn't well known outside the show business world, and because he wasn't called until 1953, his refusal to testify wasn't even newsworthy. Perhaps his one dubious distinction is that he was blacklisted out of film, television and the theatre (though New York theatre famously was not supposed to have a blacklist) one after the other, on both coasts. Like so many others caught in this American Inquisition, he came and went without attracting much notice. Which is precisely why his story is important.

The Offner sisters were interviewed in Debbie's upper West Side apartment-the same apartment where they grew up. The green shades of their dresses blending softly with the leaves of houseplants behind them, the sunlight through the window illuminating their hair, they sifted through what their father left: pictures he'd taken as a young portrait photographer of stars such as Sylvia Sidney and Tallulah Bankhead (he was Ethel Barrymore's favorite photographer, and the famous profile of her in the Barrymore Theatre is by Offner), clippings from his first Broadway hit ("Meet the People," wilth Jack Gilford). An ecstatic letter from the sponsor of his hit television series, "A Date with Judy," from 1951. Reviews of the Broadway revival of "Room Service" he directed (generally lauded and faulted only for its freneticism, with applaus for the new actor he introduced, Jack Lemmon). A congratulatory telegram to Offner at the Playhouse Theatre, dated April 6, 1953, from John Murray: "BRAVO YOU HAVE DONE A SPLENDID JOB AND MAY THIS BE THE FIRST STEP IN A BRILLIANT CAREER LONG OVERDUE.

And the HUAC subpoena, which, through several layers of absurd irony, is pink. He is to report to Room 110 of the Federal Building in New York at 10:30 a.m. on Monday, May 4, 1953. "Herein fail not," it says, "and make return of this summons."

Buffy was old enough to remember when his life changed. "He loved working in TV," she said. "He used to talk about it a lot. That was one year. The next year he had nothing."

Offner didn't talk to his daughters about what was happening to him. "We were very young," Buffy explains. "He kept it to himself. It hurt him very much...But he kept all this for us."

More: the painstaking draft of a letter to George Cukor, his boyhood friend and then a famous director, asking for money. A copy of a letter to "Lee" describing hearings in April 1953 (the month before Offner was to appear) in heartbreaking detail. And finally a 1955 letter of commendation to Offner from his new employer, an insurance company, for his good work and high sales record in 1954, with a year's free subscription to "The Insurance Salesman," "the popular magazine for life insurance agents," as a bonus.

Buffy and Debbie knew the Blacklist only as something silent and terrible that happened to their father and also to the parents of many of their playmates, for after the Offners moved into the building, other show people who later were blacklisted came to live there, including Waldo Salt and Lee Grant. "My memories of the Blacklist really are of this building," Debbie said. "The Blacklist was something that happened not just to my father but to the parents of kids I played with here."

Debbie remembers asking who Joe McCarthy was, and being told, "he's a man who tells lies." So she envisioned McCarthy as a man who stationed himself on their back porch, waiting for her to stray out there alone so he could grab her, put her on his lap and tell her lies, one after another.

From my own interviews with each Offner sister and from other sources, the outline of Mortimer Offner's life becomes a little clearer. [A number of details can be found in Patrick McGilligan's 1991 biography of George Cukor. As a teenager, Morty Offner lived on East Sixty-eighth Street in New York in 1913. "The Offners were an especially cultivated family," McGilligan writes, "up-to-date on trends in fashion, photography, art, literature, theater, and motion pictures." His mother subscribed to movie magazines and knew all about the latest films. Morty's older brother Richard was an expert on Florentine art, and was writing a book on pre-Renaissance Italian painting. Mortie's sister Olga was a schoolteacher. Mortie was "a slender, handsome youth with a shock of dark blond hair" and wanted to become a photographer.

Mortie attended De Witt Clinton high school at Fifty-ninth Street and Tenth Avenue, which graduated many distinguished New Yorkers, including Neil Simon, James Baldwin, Richard Rodgers, Richard Avedon and Fats Waller. One of his classmates and best friends was George Cukor. Cukor, Offner and Mortie's cousin Stella Bloch, were inseparable companions, sharing enthusiasms for the arts, particularly the performing arts. "Beginning with his teenage years," McGilligan writes, Cukor "said with candor more than once, they influenced him far more than his own family." The three shared a special passion for Isadora Duncan, but their tastes were unpredictable: they loved a Brazilian piano prodigy, and Vaudeville shows at the Palace, plays with Ethel Barrymore and the films of D.W. Griffith.

In their senior year, Cukor and Offner got jobs as extras for the Metropolitan Opera, where they could listen to Caruso from the wings. Together with Stella Bloch, they put together a skit and performed it at the Temple Beth-El, with Cukor directing. While Cukor wrote many intimate and playfully sexual letters to Stella Bloch, his real interest may have been Mortie. "Cukor's lifelong affection for Offner was to be a 'totally frustrating experience' for the film director, according to Bloch...Bloch had a feeling Cukor was more fervent about Offner than vice versa. For one thing, Offner, witty and striking, was a magnet to women, 'totally interested in women, and such a thing [as a homosexual relationship] would have been unthinkable to him," in Bloch's words."]

As a Columbia University student in the 1920s, Offner hung out in the Village when it was "a hotbed of political, artistic and sexual radicalism," as editor Louise Bernikow described it. "If ever we had a Bloomsbury in this country, (this) was it." [ Offner continued his friendship with Cukor, co-hosting a New Year's Eve party in 1925 that also celebrated Cukor's first Broadway play. By the time Offner followed Cukor to Hollywood in the early 1930s, he had a considerable reputation as a show business photographer (There are seven photos taken by Offner in New York and Hollywood used in the Cukor biography, plus a photo of him in their high school skit.)

After doing portraits of Katharine Hepburn and Irene Selznick (wife of mogul Davie Selznick), Offner began contributing to scripts, both credited and uncredited, for Hepburn and for Cukor: "The Little Minister," "Little Women," "Alice Adams," "Sylvia Scarlett", and "Quality Street." By 1937 he was busy enough to have two of his films open within a day of each other, both to good reviews.

Hollywood in the thirties was a lively place, artistically and politically. Unionizing began in the studios against stiff resistance. As Blacklist historian Stephan Kanfer wrote, "Given the absolute rule of the studio chieftans, given the global and local conditions of the thirties, it is astonishing not that so many were Marxists but that so few were political at all."

Despite the discord and violence, films with a political impact were being made. In 1935 John Ford's "The Informer" won the New York Film Critics Award. About this tale of Irish revolutionaries, New York Times critic Adre Senuwall wrote, " makes you understand why 'informer' is the ugliest word in an Irishman's vocabulary." Frank Capra's mildly socialistic "Mr Deeds Goes to Town" was a critical and popular success in 1936. In 1937, the Academy Award and critics award went to "The Life of Emile Zola," which concentrated mostly on the Dreyfus trial.

Offner went into the Army Special Services for the duration of World War II, working in service theatre (and rooming with Stanley Kramer.) [He worked on Let There Be Light an excellent documentary on the psychiatric treatment for stress, directed by John Huston.] He returned to Hollywood after the war, but Hollywood was a different place. Among things suddenly forbidden were interest in the Soviet Union (quite recently a U.S. ally) and such radical organizations as the End Jim Crow in Baseball Committee. HUAC showed up in 1947, the Hollywood Ten were indicted, and the writing was on all four walls.

After the birth of Elizabeth (Buffy), his first daughter, Offner returned to New York and managed to work in television and theatre for five more years until the Blacklist finally closed in. He must have seen the 11 page, single spaced letter describing the HUAC hearing of April 1953 before his in May. The letter was addressed to Lee, and signed Rosie. Debbie Offner read from it for the Hollywood on Trial camera, her older sister's protective arm behind her.

Rosie begins by saying that the "atmosphere of the hearings just completed was altogether different from the hearings in October, and it seems one must be more heroic with each succeeding bunch."

Her account was of a chaos of "friendly witnesses" (she called them "stool pigeons") exchanging oily compliments with the inquisitors, and a few stern and steadfast refusers like Jody Gilbert, who refused to answer on the basis of the Fifth Commandment. "Yes, I said Commandment. The one that reads, honor thy father and thy mother. And I take this to mean thy forefathers also. I cannot dishonor them by doing anything other than protecting the rights they gave us. Therefore, I stand on the Fifth. And I am not hiding behind it, I am standing in front of it, to protect it."

Between these were several obviously tortured souls, including a number of college professors. And there was human comedy to go with the tragedy, like the writer Rosie knew as a client when she had worked at an agency. "...we never sold one script of his, but all of a sudden he's a fine writer (according to him) who was thrown out of the industry because he quit the Communist Party! He named 27 people and talked so much even the Committee tired of him, and suggested several times that "we get on with it."

A woman, "dignified, calm, with a beautiful voice...told them, 'Christ said we cannot live by bread alone, and I hope this will be of some comfort to me now that I will no longer be able to feed my two sons.' They got her off fast." Another witness referred to the Committee as the "Unemployment Agency."

Screenwriter Ned Young thundered at the committee, shouting at the chairman, "do you really think you can ground truth into dust with that gavel?" When told he had been named as a Communist, he thundered, ' By whom, by whom? I dare you to confront me with the person whom you say named me.' They wouldn't tell him. 'I invoke and defend the Constitution with all conscience by refusing to answer your questions. You are leading America down the road to fascism." At this chairman Jackson shouted back, "I would rather go towards fascism than be a slave." When Ned confronted him with this he tried to deny it. 'Let the reporter read the record back!' Ned challenged him, and the audience applauded. After his testimony he asked his wife, "How'd I do, baby?"
"God, when they do the movie about this period of history," Rosie writes, "this is a day that must not be omitted."

But some time later, Ned Young's wife committed suicide.

Eventually, however, Nedrick Young would get some measure of triumph. Writing under the name of "Nathan Douglas," Young co-wrote the hit movie with the movie-perfect title, "The Defiant Ones," that looked like a frontrunner for the 1958 Academy Award. It would be the third year in a row, beginning with Dalton Trumbo's triumph in 1956, that a blacklisted writer took the Oscar, despite the Academy's official rule that no person who had refused to give evidence before a congressional committee was eligible for an Academy Award. When "The Defiant Ones" indeed won the New York Film Critics award, the Academy headed off more embarrassment and rescinded the rule. It was as close to an official end to the Blacklist as there would ever be. "The Defiant Ones" did win, and Ned Young---not Nathan Douglas-got the Oscar.

Rosie's letter goes on. Libby Burke, a dancer, "was so calm and so intelligent that the committee let her talk and talk. She said many wonderful things, pointing out to them that change is fundamental and eternal. Something that was considered radical at one time in history is now considered conservative. She also said, 'I may not agree with your opinions but I at least confer upon you the privilege of having those opinions. I feel you should show me the same consideration.' She explained to them the meaning of American and un-American as she saw it. She said you are taking from me my most basic right, the right to work."

"When she off the stand, the woman in front of me got up and began to shout, 'Dance for Molotov. Go ahead. Dance for Molotov. Who wants to see you dance here. Go dance for Molotov.' She followed Libby to the ladies room, shouting all the way. Nobody stopped her. When Libby was on the stand, [they] made her give her address several times. This resulted in a rock being thrown through her window that midnight."

And scrawled in handwriting at the end of the letter, perhaps a message to Offner: "It's most important to have as many of your friends as possible on hand."

The only record he left behind of his hearing was a wire service photo of him from a Cleveland newspaper, with the story: Mortimer Offner, television and theatrical director...refused to say whether he had been a Communist. He denounced Leo Townsend, a previous witness, who said that Offner was a sectional financial director of the Communist Party in 1947 and 1948. He testified on May 4, 1953. His Broadway show, "Room Service," closed on May 6. Except for a dinner theatre production in 1955, it would be his last moment in theatre or any aspect of show business or the arts.

Offner had probably already been feeling the effects of the Blacklist before his hearing date. He had first been named on September 19, 1951 by Leo Townsend. After producing some 60 TV shows in a year and a half, Offner hadn't worked much in 1952. But the Blacklist wasn't the only element of change. The movie and TV industries were changing as well in the mid fifties: TV shows were moving to LA, movie studios were retrenching because of TV. But in late 1952 Offner still had hopes---maybe the Patti Page Show at NBC, maybe a play he had acquired and was trying to raise money to produce. It was in December that he wrote his letter to Cukor, asking for the loan of $2500.

The draft he left behind is handwritten on yellow paper. It changes to white paper when he shifts from money to family news. He was writing on December 23, so he notes: "Buffy and Debbie's presents have arrived. The children of course do not know about them yet, so their parents loud thanks will have to do for now. I wish you could see the kids. They are really fine-totally different personalities---Buffy keen, spare, ever alert. Debbie soft, sure of herself, ever smiling."

When a reply hadn't arrived, he wrote a short follow-up on January 12, 1953. "Did you get my letter? Situation urgent. Will you be able to help? Anxiously awaiting word from you."


[According to his biographer, Cukor was frightened of the Blacklist and said little about it. But he was also being affected by changes in movies and the studio system, and though he was one of the better paid directors in Hollywood, his income had likely been reduced. This is not to make a judgment on his refusal, one way or the other. ]

So now with two young daughters and his wife ill with cancer, Offner made the decision to begin a different life. A friend who was an insurance counselor got him into the business. He took courses and got a job selling insurance, though as Buffy remembers, it was mostly paperwork that he did at home.

And it was a different life. The man whose forte was humor and emotion, who taught his young daughters how to mug and do double-takes, had to play the colorless role of an insurance man. He did it so well that at his memorial service in 1965, his insurance friends were amazed to learn he had ever been in show business.

"He took us to dinner at an insurance friend's house," Buffy recalled. "They were very nice people, but they were kind of dull, compared to his theatre friends. I'm sure he felt that way. We noticed it. But we weren't supposed to say anything to his new friends about any of his past."

He hadn't entirely given up either of his passions: entertainment or politics. He encouraged his daughters in their artistic interests (Debbie in acting, Buffy in dancing), he coached a few actor friends and did comedy routines for his children at home. But he gave up working in theatre altogether, afraid to call attention to the fact he was blacklisted which would endanger his insurance job. Even years later, when his daughters coaxed him to get back into theatre, he refused.

" He was older then, and perhaps by then he didn't like theatre people all that well," Buffy said. He also maintained a serious interest in politics but "it was a super-secret activity until the end," even with his children. He was in great pain, they realized, though he didn't say much about it at the time. At the very end, he said finally, "tell my daughters I was a Marxist." If they hadn't known that, they did know, as Buffy put it, "he believed and hoped for a better world."

Debbie Offner has herself acted in New York theatre-Variety called her recent performance in a new play "superb." Because her father was so private about what happened to him, she says, "when I found my voice about the Blacklist, I was scared. But then a kind of pride came out of it. Though her father's life gives her more of a sense of strength and heritage than fear of a similar fate, the scars are nevertheless there. "If it's left me with anything, it's left me with the feeling that I don't want to have political opinions I don't understand. I went to demonstrations when I was very young, but I was never serious about it, I didn't do the reading or anything. I guess I feel guilty about that. I find it difficult to be as political as I thought I would be when I was little."

Debbie feels there is much for her to understand about the period. "I just feel bad for everybody involved. I don't understand it and I want to understand it. I don't feel it's good guys and bad guys at any gut level, as I think Buffy does. I don't feel angry."

Debbie is proud of what her father did in refusing to testify and feels she would do the same, but she recoils from what politics did to his career. "When I think of what my father had to give up, I feel pain---but maybe I feel pain from knowing what he gave up, maybe that's the source of my pain. I feel very strongly about my art. I'm not going to let anything interfere with it."

Buffy, who left New York after her father's death and spent the anti-war years in the art-and-acid haven of Franconia College in New Hampshire, doesn't concern herself with politics. She rates it along with sports as simply uninteresting to her. But she remembers her father's hatred for stool pigeons, and now she sometimes judges people in terms of whether they might be the kind who would give names.

As the older of the two, Buffy remembers more of what her mother went through. She is conscientious, articulate and rational, with deep, unstated feelings that come to the surface quickly but infrequently. "People who are straightforward and honest are rare," she said in a quiet voice. "Not many people really stand up for what they believe. They just don't."

1975-76; 2003
Dedicated to the Memory of Buffy Offner


After "The Front" in 1976, Martin Ritt directed his most acclaimed film in 1979, "Norma Rae," which won the Oscar for Sally Field. He introduced Mary Steenbergen in the Jack Nicholson film "Cross Creek" in 1983. His last film was "Stanley and Iris" starring Jane Fonda and Robert DiNiro in 1990. He died that year.

Walter Bernstein's next film was "Semi-Tough." He wrote "The Betsy" (1978), "Yanks" (79) and several teleplays through 2000. He was interviewed on screen in the 2003 American Masters PBS program on Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and the Blacklist.

David Garfield acted in "The Rose" in 1979 and appeared in a few TV movies. His sister Julie Garfield appeared in Ritt's "Stanley and Iris," as well as "Good Fellas" and other movies and TV shows. She narrated "The John Garfield Story" in 2003.

I haven't been in touch with anyone in this story for many years. I knew David Helpern, Arnie Reisman and Jim Gutman until a few years after I left Boston in 1975. I saw David in Los Angeles some time in the mid 1980s. While working on "Hollywood On Trial" he and another mutual friend, Fred Barron, sold a story to director Joan Micklin Silver that became the feature film, "Between the Lines," famous for introducing a whole generation of actors: John Heard, Lindsay Crouse, Jeff Goldblum, Jill Eikenberry and Bruno Kirby, among others. The story (Fred also wrote the screenplay) was based on an alternative newspaper like the one Fred and I had worked for at the same time. (The guy who punches a hole in the wall? That was me.)

Then in 1979, David directed a feature film, "Something Short of Paradise" (aka "Perfect Love") starring Susan Sarandon and David Steinberg. It was a romantic comedy written by Fred Barron. I had a featured role in it. Well, I was an extra in several key scenes. Okay, so my back is in it for a second. Fred went on to write and produce successful sitcoms like "Kate and Allie" and "Caroline in the City," and executive produce "Seinfeld" and "The Larry Sanders Show." He got back into the movie business producing a little film called "Moulin Rouge!" I believe Fred was also on the set of "The Front" when I was, covering it for somebody. I remember that we drove back to Boston together. Last time I saw him was on the ferry to Martha's Vineyard, way before his major Hollywood creds. Doubt if I'd get past the phalanx of superstars blocking the door now.

Later David Helpern became an independent producer for movies and a studio executive, among other activities. He produced "Dead Heat" in 1988, and was executive producer of "Leave it To Beaver" in 1997. His father is the David Helpern of Joan and David shoes fame.

Arnie Reisman today is a successful writer as well as a performer for WGBH, public television in Boston. One of his partners in performance is Tony Kahn. Together with Nat Segaloff (who I also knew and worked with in Boston) and Dan Kinnel, Reisman has written a script about the notorious Waldorf Conference, during which movie moguls essentially established the Blacklist. They recently sold the script to Warner Brothers TV.

Tony Kahn has become a familiar voice to public radio listeners, and viewers of PBS. He was a host of NPR's "Morning Edition" and is special correspondent and alternate anchor for "The World" on BBC radio. He's done numerous voiceover narrations for television and theatrical documentaries. He produced a radio series on the Blacklist, and has written extensively about it, including memories of his father and his experiences as a child of the blacklist.

Deborah Offner continues an acting career that has included feature films ( Joan Silver's "Crossing Delancey," among many others), television and theatre. Her New York theatre credits include The Three Sisters, Don Juan, Merry Wives and Rebel Women for the New York Shakespeare Festival. In Los Angeles she's appeared in "The Normal Heart" and "Perestroika." In 1981 she appeared in "Ghost Story" with Fred Astaire and Ken Olin, who must have remembered her, because she had a role in "thirtysomething" in 1987---it looked like she would be a regular, except that the series was at its end. More recently, a reviewer called her performance in the San Jose Rep production of the Tony-winning play "Side Man" "powerful in a complex role." Her director was Michael Butler, another child of a Blacklist victim heard from in this article.

I'd met Buffy Offner when we lived in the same building in Cambridge for a year or two. Then I saw her a lot when she worked at the Orson Welles restaurant, and the Welles Complex was my second home. We maintained and strengthened our friendship after she moved to West Hollywood. I saw her as much time as possible whenever I was out there, and we talked regularly on the phone when I wasn't. We collaborated on a film story and started a script. Buffy worked as a secretary at William Morris, and it was through her that I got my first and only Hollywood Agent Lunch. Later she became a sound editor, and worked on "The Woman In Red." (1984)

Like her father, Elizabeth "Buffy" Offner was a terrific photographer. I used photos she took of David Helpern and other principals of "Hollywood On Trial" in my Newsworks piece. She's one of the few photographers who ever took a decent picture of me. I used one on the back of the new edition of The Malling of America, that she took when I was first working on that book. (Literally when I was working on our script---you can't see it in the cropped photo, but I'm at the typewriter at her apartment.)

This story doesn't have a happy ending. I remember that I'd just bought a new answering machine, and came home to hear its first message. It was from a cousin of Buffy's who I didn't know, saying that after a sudden and very brief illness, Buffy had died. It was November 1985. She was several years shy of forty.

There were two memorials for her, one in Los Angeles and one in New York. I was asked to be one of the speakers at the New York memorial, which was attended mostly by her family. Except for Debbie, I'd never met any of them before. It was clear how loved she was, and that others knew what a beautiful and extraordinary person she was. I uttered the cliché that day that she would always live in our memories. But I meant it, and finally completing this project is one expression of that intent, and that fact.