Jerry Lewis 0:00
[Academy Awards sound bite] Now there's a new trend in motion pictures nowadays, it's expense. Now War and Peace cost $9 million dollars. That's more than the real war cost. [laughter] [duck under]
Jacqueline Stewart 0:10
On March 27th, 1957, the 29th Annual Academy Awards were underway. Jerry Lewis was the host that year.
Jerry Lewis 0:18
[Academy Awards sound bite] Now the length of these pictures is fantastic. The other night, I went to see War and Peace. And of course, I didn't see all the picture because the kid in front of me grew up. [laughter]
Jacqueline Stewart 0:27
Overall, it was a somewhat unremarkable night, except for one moment that would spark a mystery, one that helped bring a dark period in American history to an end.
Howard Rodman 0:37
[original music] It was a very significant event in the history of the Hollywood blacklist. It was really the first kind of crack in the wall.
Jacqueline Stewart 0:49
Howard Rodman is a screenwriter, professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and former president of the Writers Guild of America West. We'll let him set the stage for that night at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood.
Howard Rodman 1:01
[Academy Awards sound bite: audience cheering] [duck under] Jerry Lewis, in white tie and long tails, sort of dances on stage and introduces Deborah Kerr.
Jerry Lewis 1:09
[Academy Awards sound bite] And now I'd like to say two of the most beautiful words in the motion picture industry, Deborah Kerr. [Academy Awards music and clapping]
Deborah Kerr 1:17
[Academy Awards sound bite] I am delighted to be able to present the writing awards.
Howard Rodman 1:20
And at that point in history, there were three writing awards, not two. There was Best Story, Best Original Screenplay and Best Adapted Screenplay. And the first award is for Best Story.
Deborah Kerr 1:31
[Academy Awards sound bite] Nominations for Best Motion Picture Story are: Robert Rich for The Brave One, Leo Katcher for The Eddy Duchin Story, Jean-Paul Sartre for The Proud and the Beautiful, and Cesare Zavattini for Umberto D. The envelope, please... The Brave One, Robert Rich. [cheering and applause]
Howard Rodman 1:51
So there's a, you know, a big shout out for Robert Rich, you know, beating out Jean-Paul Sartre. And then a guy gets up and everybody is assuming that this is Robert Rich come to get his award. And the guy steps to the microphone and Deborah Kerr introduces him and says-
Deborah Kerr 2:07
[Academy Awards sound bite] [music plays] Mr. Jesse Lasky Jr., Vice President of the Screenwriters Branch of the Writers Guild will accept the award for Mr. Rich. [audience gasps]
Howard Rodman 2:14
It's unusual to say the least. Generally people accept their own awards or they say accepting in New York will be - generally, you know, if you get an Oscar you show up. And in this case uh, who showed up was Jesse Lasky, Jr., uh son of Jesse Lasky, you know, one of the great founders of the Hollywood studio system at Paramount. And uh, he just says very simply,
Jesse Lasky, Jr. 2:37
[Academy Awards sound bite] [applause] On behalf of Robert Rich and his beautiful story, thank you very much. [audience gasps] [original music]
Howard Rodman 2:46
And it started a whole series of questions. Who is Robert Rich? Where was Robert Rich? Hedda Hopper, the gossip columnist, started immediately launching into who is Robert Rich? And Lasky, uh I gather, later either at a press conference after the Oscars or a couple days later, speaking to reporters, said that Robert Rich was with his wife who was in labor with their child, which is why he couldn't show up, which was a lie. And of course, as it turns out, uh you know, there is no Robert Rich, there was no Robert Rich, there never will be a Robert Rich, but there was Dalton Trumbo, a writer who couldn't write under his own name.
Jacqueline Stewart 3:30
Trumbo couldn't write under his own name because he was blacklisted. He'd spent 10 months in federal prison because of a contempt of Congress citation. That came for refusing to answer questions about his political views, and name names of people who are also current or former members of the Communist Party. After that, Trumbo couldn't work without using an alias or having another writer risk their own career and front for him, as Ian McLellan Hunter did for him for the 1953 film Roman Holiday. He also won an Oscar for that film.
Mitzi Trumbo 4:03
I don't remember. I was too young for the Roman Holiday award. But the Academy Awards in 1957 were kind of fabulous.
Jacqueline Stewart 4:13
Mitzi Trumbo, the youngest of Dalton and Cleo Trumbo's three children was watching the awards that night with her family when Robert Rich won. They were just a few miles east at their house in Highland Park.
Mitzi Trumbo 4:26
It was just so amazing when he won. And uh, apparently I stood up and said, "Oh, Daddy, let's go pick it up tomorrow!" [laughing] And, of course, they had to remind me that no, we couldn't do that.
Jacqueline Stewart 4:42
[Academy Museum theme music] I'm Jacqueline Stewart. Welcome to the Academy Museum Podcast. In each episode of this season, we're revisiting a specific Oscar ceremony. In this episode, the 1957 Academy Awards, the ceremony that led to the end of the Hollywood blacklist.
Mitzi Trumbo 5:04
The blacklist affected so many people. My, my father managed to get out of it, but so many others, whose careers were destroyed, families destroyed. It was profound.
Howard Rodman 5:16
The world in which these people had been allowed to write, direct, and act freely is, I think, a world with better films in it and better television and and a world which, sadly, we can only imagine. [end theme music]
Jacqueline Stewart 5:33
To really understand what happened at the 1957 Oscars, and why it is so significant, we have to first go back a decade earlier.
Randy Haberkamp 5:41
Coming out of World War II, the Russians had been our allies, and they were fighting fascism. So the idea of embracing or even being associated with communists wasn't quite the same thing that ended up being once the war was over.
Jacqueline Stewart 6:00
This is Randy Haberkamp, Senior Vice President of Preservation and Foundation Programs at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Randy Haberkamp 6:08
There was like a very quick shift in the way people were thinking about things. And so what may have been kind of an innocent exploration or an innocent meeting or you know, social gathering or whatever suddenly became, wait a minute, you were a communist. You know, maybe you're, you know, you should be drummed out of the business!
Jacqueline Stewart 6:29
Soon, Dalton Trumbo went from being sought after for his work as a screenwriter to being sought after by a congressional committee to answer for the fact that he joined the Communist Party in 1943. Trumbo was born in a small town in Colorado. After his father died and he moved to LA, he worked at night in a bakery for 10 years to help support his mom and two young sisters. He wrote novels and articles and eventually turned to screenwriting. He would go on to write many celebrated films including Roman Holiday, Spartacus, and Exodus. But before those movies were made, he was called before the House on American Activities Committee in 1947.
Unknown Speaker 7:10
[American Activities Commitee sound bite] The first witness Mr. Chairman will be, uh, Mr. Dalton Trumbo.
Jacqueline Stewart 7:17
Trumbo was part of what became known as the Hollywood Ten, a group of mostly screenwriters who were suspected of being members of the Communist Party.
Howard Rodman 7:25
They were Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Alvah Bessie, Edward Dmytryk, who later turned on his fellow leftists and testified and was thus able to have a directing career, John Howard Lawson, Sam Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Albert Maltz, Herbert Biberman and Ring Lardner Jr.
Jacqueline Stewart 7:44
The contentious hearings, including Trumbo's were recorded.
[Trumbo hearing sound bite] [Chairman] Are you a member of the screenwriters guild?
[Dalton Trumbo] Mr. Chairman, this question is designed to a specific purpose. Do you need to identify me with the Screenwriters Guild? Secondly, to seek to identify me with the Communist Party and thereby destroy that guild? [loud striking of gavel]
[Chairman] Are you refusing to answer the question?
[Trumbo] I will refuse to answer none of your questions, sir.
[Chairman] Well, you're refusing to answer this question.
[Trumbo] I am indeed not within -
[Chairman] Then, I'm gonna ask you the question.
[Trumbo] Ask me.
[Chairman] Are you a member of the Screenwriters Guild?
[Trumbo] I repeat - [audience moans] [striking of gavel]
[Chairman] Excuse the witness.
[end Trumbo hearing sound bite]
The committee's concern was that communists and leftists were infusing films with subversive messages. There was also anti-union sentiment at play and rivalries between labor groups, leading to accusations that communist elements were trying to control the unions from within.
Randy Haberkamp 8:42
You have this inquisition into Hollywood and you have the Hollywood Ten, most of whom are screenwriters. Well, you also have to remember what was the first union to form in Hollywood? It was the Writers Guild. Who were some of the people that formed the union? They ended up being in the Hollywood Ten. So was this also a union/management motivated thing? Well, it's a little bit too coincidental to be an accident.
Jacqueline Stewart 9:14
There was also the fact that many of the artists caught up in the blacklist were Jewish. Six of the Hollywood Ten were Jews.
Jacqueline Stewart 9:21
[to Howard Rodman] I want to ask you about two groups of artists that seem to have been particularly targeted and suffering the consequences of blacklisting. Writers as a group, and Jewish artists also really being an area of focus during this this time, and I wonder if you could sort of, you know, help us to understand why these groups were held particularly under suspicion for having ties to communism.
Howard Rodman 9:50
I mean, I think there's, you know, the sort of simple answer, which was, you know, a lot of writers and a lot of Jews were commies, you know [laughing] um but I think there are more complex answers as well. Even to this very day, the Writers Guild is the most militant among all of the Hollywood trade unions. And in terms of dues in Hollywood, well, I think as chosen people, and I think that phrase, you know, brutally cuts both ways. When you have been exiled from your native country because of Nazism, it tends to give you a sense of both the precarity of your position, and the necessity to fight for stuff. Jews in Hollywood, many of whom came to America, looking for the promise of democracy and looking for the promise of equality. And I think when you do that, you probably end up on the left side of the spectrum.
Jacqueline Stewart 10:46
When it came to the Hollywood Ten, all were found in contempt of Congress for their refusal to cooperate with the committee's questioning. They were fined and sentenced to up to a year in prison. On top of that, they were fired and publicly denounced by the top studio chiefs who made up the Motion Picture Association. After that they couldn't get work. Neither could people who had nothing to do with the committee, but were named as suspected communists and publications, like Red Channels. The Hollywood blacklist had begun. [soft music plays]
Mitzi Trumbo 11:21
We moved to Mexico when I was five years old.
Jacqueline Stewart 11:24
Again, here's Mitzi Trumbo.
Mitzi Trumbo 11:26
My father had just spent a year in jail. And uh, when he came out, I think the idea was, we'll go to Mexico, it'll be easier to get work somehow from there and it'll be cheaper to live. As my parents always said, we were pretty broke. That was the word they [laughing] used. So uh, we went with some friends, um then stayed in Mexico for two years.
Jacqueline Stewart 11:51
The friends they went with had also been blacklisted. Screenwriter Hugo Butler, and actress and writer, Jean Rouverol Butler, had also been subpoenaed by the House on American Activities Committee in 1951. Instead of testifying, they moved to Mexico with their four children, and the Trumbo family.
Jacqueline Stewart 12:08
[to Mitzi Trumbo] It sounds like you were surrounded by family and close friends. So that you had a kind of, yeah, like a protection there. Because it seems like that could also be a real culture shock for someone at the age of five to move to Mexico. Did you speak Spanish? [laughing]
Mitzi Trumbo 12:25
Well, it's kind of interesting. We, we all had to learn Spanish. And I learned it the fastest because I was, you know, so young. And one of my most fond memories of that was my father didn't learn it at all. He always said, I spent my whole life learning English, I am not interested in learning another [laughing] language. So I was his little translator, and I've never had so much power over my father in my life. [laughing] You would have to uh, he would have to bend down and ask me what somebody said, then I'd have to keep the conversation going. That was kind of fun.
Jacqueline Stewart 13:03
It was in Mexico that Dalton Trumbo wrote the first version of The Brave One. At that time, it was called The Boy and His Bull.
Howard Rodman 13:11
The Brave One was not only a kind of personal work for him, but I think a work that prefigures many of his themes and echoes many of the themes of his life up until that point. [music from The Brave One] [duck under]
The Brave One is about a young boy in Mexico, works on a farm, has a favorite bull and loses the favorite bull because he's a young boy. Young boys don't own bulls, and tries to track the bull down and finds that the afternoon that he finally finds out where the bull is going to be, the bull is about to go into a corrida with a very famous Matador named Fermin Rivera. [Brave One sound bite of bull fight] [duck under]
And basically um, his favorite bull is about to be killed.
[Brave One sound bite of bull fight] [audience cheering with excitement] Bull doesn't seem to tire! [clapping]
And he goes to the bullfight. And as Fermin Rivera in his suit of lights with his cape is doing his moves, he stands up and yells "Indulto!" which is you know, a cry for indulgence, indulge, spare the life of the bull. [Brave One sound bite of a man repeating "Indulto!"] [duck under]
And other people in the stadium start seeing the nobility of the bull, sensing the emotion behind his cry, start standing up and saying "Indulto! Indulto! Indulto!" until the whole stadium is standing up and begging for mercy for the bull. And the bull's life is saved. Because I have not a dry eye in my house as I tell this story. But if you think of Spartacus, and that extraordinary scene where "I am Spartacus!" [Spartacus sound bite of "I am Spartacus" scene] [duck under] and then two people say, "I am Spartacus!" and then four and then 8, 16, 32, on and on. [Spartacus sound bite of "I am Spartacus!" repeated over and over]
Something Trumbo strongly believed in all of his life was not only the power of one person to change enormous things, but the power of a collective to change things. And so I think that's, in in some ways, The Brave One sort of is um, you know, it it it's a kind of fractal miniature of his whole life and career. But also, I think it set the stage for his ability to become public.
Jacqueline Stewart 15:32
While Trumbo couldn't have known he would win the Oscar for The Brave One, the choice to use a fictitious name was part of his plan to shed light on the blacklist and the hypocrisy of the open secret culture that was making it possible. After the Oscar win, Mitzi Trumbo says it felt like there was some momentum.
Mitzi Trumbo 15:33
I think we were optimistic simply because he he just went into high gear. He was pretty much always in high gear. But [laughing] uh, he was working all the time, just constantly, and plotting ways to make it seem like this was an insane situation.
Jacqueline Stewart 16:12
To be watching with him at home must have been an interesting experience.
Mitzi Trumbo 16:15
Yeah, it was. It worked well for his plan to destroy the blacklist. Because now, there was this Oscar. So he proceeded to try to get other people work, to work more himself, to make the blacklist look ridiculous.
Jacqueline Stewart 16:37
[to Howard Rodman] How important would you say that win was for Robert Rich, in terms of what was happening to writers in Hollywood at that time?
Howard Rodman 16:51
It was a very significant event in the history of the Hollywood blacklist. It was really the first kind of crack in the wall. Because even though he couldn't accept under his own name, it started a much larger conversation. And he kind of created a really big underground press campaign about you know, who was Robert Rich? Who was Robert Rich? Well, it could be this one, could be that one. When you sort of kick sand over something, sometimes you're drawing attention to it rather than away from it. And so that's what happened here. By accepting under the name of Robert Rich and making a mystery out of who Robert Rich was, the conversation turned to the Hollywood blacklist.
Jacqueline Stewart 17:31
The Robert Rich win wasn't the only blacklist related incident that night. In another writing category, Best Adapted Screenplay, a writer named Michael Wilson had been nominated for writing the film, Friendly Persuasion, but he was ultimately taken off the ballot.
Howard Rodman 17:46
It is the only American studio film that I know that was released without any writing credits at all. Uh, because he didn't want to do it under somebody else's name. He didn't want to use a pseudonym.
Jacqueline Stewart 17:58
In 1956, Wilson's name was taken out of the film's credits by its distributor. According to film historian Robert Osborne, in 85 Years of the Oscar, an agreement reached with the Screenwriters Guild allowed studios to delete screen credits for people who hadn't cleared their names after being accused of being communists.
Howard Rodman 18:18
So Michael Wilson was initially nominated in that category Best Adapted, but by the time the ballots went out, the Academy Board of Governors met and took his name off of the ballot so that he couldn't be voted for.
Jacqueline Stewart 18:31
[original music] In 1957, the Board of Governors made a new bylaw, stipulating that anyone who was admitted communist or who refused to testify before a congressional committee wouldn't be eligible for an Oscar. This action is featured in the Academy Awards history timeline at the Academy Museum, where we can see how intense and oppressive and controversial anti-communist sentiment had become within the film industry by the late 1950s. The timeline from this period lists other writers who won Oscars but had to use fronts or pseudonyms. In 1959, the Academy repealed this eligibility policy as quote, unworkable. And that same year, the producers of The Brave One and Dalton Trumbo himself, publicly acknowledged that the story by credit for the film belonged to Trumbo. In an interview with CBS news journalist Bill Stout in January 1959, Trumbo showed versions of the script as proof.
[sound bite from interview with Bill Stout]
[Trumbo] There is no problem about proving authorship. The problem in Hollywood has been to admit authorship.
[Bill Stout] The Motion Picture Academy has just repealed its rule barring from awards, communists or any uncooperative witnesses. In light of that I asked Trumbo if he will claim the Robert Rich Oscar.
[Trumbo] Well, you you don't ask the Academy for award. The Academy is a private institution that confers awards. I must say that the whole uproar over Robert Rich two years ago was really not the Academy's fault. They voted the award. They had it on hand physically, uh they tried to present it. They tried to find someone to give it to. And I didn't arrive. I, I assume they still have it. And and I imagine that if they considered me qualified that they in their time and in their way will make arrangements to confer it.
[Bill Stout] If you receive the Oscar, what do you intend to do with it?
[Trumbo] Well... I have a, I have a daughter, 13 years old. I've been blacklisted since she was three. She's known the title of every motion picture I've written in this study. And she's kept that title secret. I uh think I will give this Oscar if I get it, to that girl. [end sound bite]
[original music] In the same interview, Trumbo said he'd no longer write under pseudonyms, and the following year, he found filmmaking partners willing to take the risk and work with him.
Mitzi Trumbo 21:25
In 1960, his name appeared for the first time in 13 years on two major films. In in January 1960, Otto Preminger announced that, that he would put Dalton Trumbo's name on Exodus, and then several months later, Kirk Douglas announced as well that his name would be on Spartacus, and um, it was kind of a banner year. I know my father was extraordinarily pleased uh, that this, this happened. Um, but there was still work to do. It, he was the only one. Other people were blacklisted still. And it was a long slog for a lot of people to even get any semblance of their jobs back.
Jacqueline Stewart 22:16
When it came to Trumbo's Oscar for The Brave One, it would take 16 more years for him to hold it in his hands.
Randy Haberkamp 22:23
The irony was in the 70s, they had had this Oscar that nobody had ever picked up in the vaults. And Walter Mirisch was president at the time said, you know, enough of this. I'm gonna take this over to uh, Dalton Trumbo and give him his Oscar. [laughing] Because it's like, what what are we? What are we doing here? And by that time, you know, it was had been depoliticized. And it was just really finally, a a an acknowledgement of what really happened.
Jacqueline Stewart 22:55
[to Mitzi Trumbo] Do you have any memories of your dad finally being awarded his Oscar for The Brave One?
Mitzi Trumbo 23:03
Yeah, it was 1976 and Walter Mirisch uh, came from the Academy, came to our house, and uh, and gave him the Oscar. There's a photograph of that somewhere. He brought a photographer, but my father was very ill and died several months later. So it was pretty poignant that it took so long for him to be able to, you know, to actually have it. I'm not sure why they decided to do that, actually um, to give it to him, except that they all knew how ill he was. It, to me as his daughter, it seemed like, a little late.
Jacqueline Stewart 23:47
It was definitely late. [laughing softly] And it must have been, yeah, I mean, I don't even know that bittersweet is the right word for it given the many years of struggle, and uh you know, and secrecy that you all had to live with. I mean, do you, do you think that there are ways that your dad was trying to shield you from any of this? Or was that just not even possible?
Mitzi Trumbo 24:17
No, I we uh hmm. I don't, I never felt we needed any shielding or anything. We were, we were, we were fine, really. It was. It was just the way it was. That's your life. I don't know what another life would have been like. I think it made us well, we were a very close family. Maybe that helped make us as close as we were. We all stayed politically engaged our whole lives, which uh I think was kind of wonderful. Our values, our approach to life, what we cared about and what we believed in. All were taught by our parents really.
Jacqueline Stewart 24:58
Where are his Oscars now and what do they mean to you now, when you reflect upon your dad's life and his career?
Mitzi Trumbo 25:08
When my mom died, uh she left the Oscars to my daughters. So our daughter Samantha has the Roman Holiday Oscar and our daughter Molly has The Brave One Oscar. We we bring them out for the Oscar ceremonies, let them watch. [laughing]
Jacqueline Stewart 25:26
I love it.
Mitzi Trumbo 25:28
But um, I don't revere them. Um, um, I wish he'd had them in his own lifetime. They were his, not mine. [original music]
Jacqueline Stewart 25:39
In 1970, when Trumbo was presented with the Laurel Award by the Writers Guild, he said that in looking back on the blacklist, "It will do no good to search for villains or heroes, or saints or devils. Because there were none. There were only victims." In the following years, the Writers Guild and the Academy set to work determining who really should be credited for films that were released during that era and correcting credits. Not undoing the damage, of course, but setting the record straight. Coming up, how the story of the blacklist has been told in Hollywood, including by artists who were blacklisted themselves.
[music out] [break]
In 2015, nearly 60 years after the Robert Rich incident, Dalton Trumbo's story was brought to the big screen with a critically acclaimed movie, Trumbo. It was adapted from the book by Bruce Cook.
Bryan Cranston 26:42
[sound bite from Trumbo] I know the blacklist that produced Robert Rich. I've seen its horror, cruelty, hideous waste of life as I've walked in the long line of its anonymous.
Jacqueline Stewart 27:01
Bryan Cranston played Dalton Trumbo and got an Oscar nomination for the role. And Mitzi and Niki Trumbo consulted with Director Jay Roach on the film. And blacklisted filmmakers themselves have also made films about the era.
Howard Rodman 27:14
My dad was a commie, as was my mom, as was my uncle. I mean, that's my family heritage. I was brought up in the bosom of Stalinist Brooklyn. But my father wasn't blacklisted.
Jacqueline Stewart 27:28
Again, that's screenwriter and USC Professor, Howard Rodman. His father also named Howard, served as a front for a writer who was blacklisted, Walter Bernstein. Bernstein wasn't one of the Hollywood Ten, but he was blacklisted when he was named as a suspected communist in a publication called Red Channels.
Howard Rodman 27:45
As Walter Bernstein later told me, your dad was a very good man and a very good progressive, he just never got caught up in Red Channels. So Walter use my dad as a front.
Jacqueline Stewart 28:00
Years later, after Bernstein was able to write under his own name again, he wrote a movie about the blacklist called The Front. It earned him an Oscar nomination in 1977.
Howard Rodman 28:12
One of the things uh, that's great about The Front was that it was made by a whole bunch of people who were at one point or another blacklisted. Zero Mostel, Lloyd Gough, Walter, a whole bunch of other people.
[sound bite from The Front] [two men speaking] What, ya- you're not sick are ya?
Yeah, but you feel okay.
I feel terrible.
But you're healthy. I mean, besides your ulcer.
Howard, they won't buy my scripts.
Jacqueline Stewart 28:37
In the film, Woody Allen's character, Howard Prince, works as a front for blacklisted screenwriters, first to help a friend and then as a way to make money, but he comes under suspicion himself.
Howard Rodman 28:50
In some ways, The Front is a comedy of manners. In some ways, it is a very bold and daring political statement about what the blacklist did to so many lives.
Jacqueline Stewart 29:07
Through the tragic character of Hecky Brown, played by Zero Mostel, the film shows how blacklisted writers, in a certain sense, were luckier than directors or actors, especially.
Howard Rodman 29:19
Because their face, their presence, their name and their work were so closely aligned, you know, you can't hire Zero Mostel without hiring Zero Mostel, you know, you can't do it under under, you know, the name of Fuzzy Finkelstein, you know.
Jacqueline Stewart 29:36
[laughing] With a lot of prosthetics or something, right?
Howard Rodman 29:38
Jacqueline Stewart 29:40
Walter received an Academy Award nomination for that screenplay. Did he ever talk about what it meant to him to be nominated, what it was like to go to the Academy Awards as a nominee after having to work, you know, underground for so long?
Howard Rodman 29:58
We talked about that briefly, um, but Walter, who was a life long man of the left, and whose politics never really changed, and I say that in the most, I, I think in the most admirable sense, not out of stubbornness, but out of principle. When somebody takes your life away from you and then gives half of it back, I don't think he regarded that as a triumph. He was not a collector of injustices. Unlike many people I have met from that era. He did not live in the past. But for Walter, the injuries to him and to the people who were forced to abandon their country, their families, their native language, their culture, in some cases didn't survive. He didn't forget about those people. It was always with him.
Jacqueline Stewart 30:52
Another Oscar nominee at the Academy Awards in 1977 was film producer Irwin Winkler. He and Robert Chartoff won the Best Picture Oscar that night for Rocky. Jack Nicholson presented the award.
Jack Nicholson 31:05
[Academy Awards sound bite] And the winner is - Rocky. Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, producers. [cheering, applause, music]
Jacqueline Stewart 31:16
In the following years, Winkler went on to produce Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, and Goodfellas, and in 1991, he made his directorial debut with a film about the blacklist that he also wrote. In Guilty by Suspicion, Robert De Niro plays a character named David Merrill, an in-demand director who's suspected of being a communist sympathizer.
[Guilty by Suspicion sound bite - David Merrill] Wait a minute, wait a minute, I'm no communist. You know, I went to a couple of meetings 10 to 12 years ago. That's it. That, that's it!
Yes, we know that. That's exactly our problem, David. [end sound bite]
Winkler started producing films in the mid 60s. But he says he didn't learn about the blacklist until 1985, when he made a film called Round Midnight.
Irwin Winkler 31:57
We hired as an actor, a blacklisted director that was living in Paris. And he told me about the blacklist. And that's where we got started. We just started chatting, we're hanging around the set, and I said, how did you, why are you living in France? Why aren't you working in Hollywood? And then he told me about his own experiences with the blacklist and how he fled Hollywood when literally, an FBI agent came to the door of his house where he was living, and knocked on the door and said, Is John Berry here? And his wife said sure he's upstairs. And he jumped out of the window in the back of the house and started running. And he kept running until he got to Paris.
Jacqueline Stewart 32:39
Wow, wow, how did he -
Irwin Winkler 32:42
By the way, he divor- he divorced his wife because she should never have let the FBI guy know that he was upstairs.
Jacqueline Stewart 32:48
Yeah. Sounds like they weren't on the same page.
Irwin Winkler 32:51
Yeah. They were not in tune with each other. [Jacqueline laughing]
Jacqueline Stewart 32:54
When he talked about it, do you remember, you know, was he emotional about it, was he -
Irwin Winkler 33:00
No, he was, by then he was, it was a comedy to him. He really was very different from a Polonsky who I met afterwards, uh who took it really, really was, had spent his life being upset about it. Uh, John, kind of just at that point, had gone through it and wanted it all behind him. And wasn't mad at anybody at that point, except his wife.
Jacqueline Stewart 33:27
[laughing] What made you want to make the film Guilty by Suspicion? How did that project come together?
Irwin Winkler 33:34
Well, what would happen is when John started telling me about the stories of blacklist, I got intrigued with it. I've always kind of uh, somebody told me that most of my films really about people who are in some kind of crisis and how they handle it. And so my instinct was when I heard the stories, everything in in my career has always been will it make a movie? If I read a story in the newspaper, will it make a movie? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. So I started thinking about it. And I thought that was kind of kind of interesting. What would somebody do if they got caught up in a blacklist? How would they react? And I asked myself, really the most, for me the vital question was, would I stand up and say, I'm not going to name names? Or would I take the other way out and say, well look, all these people have been named anyhow, I can name 'em. Uh and uh, I can go on with my life. So whatever you did, once you were named, or once they started investigating, you couldn't win. You had to lose some way.
Jacqueline Stewart 34:39
Producer and studio executive Darryl Zanuck plays a big role in the film. And of course, he played a big role in Hollywood. And then in the story of the blacklist, and I understand that you were friends with his son Richard and consulted with him.
Irwin Winkler 34:54
Yeah, Richard. Richard was a was a very, very good friend of mine, very good friend of mine, and I didn't want to portray his father without uh, his uh you know, blessing, and he was very cooperative. And his father was one of those that was caught up in the blacklist, because he wanted to protect the artists. But under the pressure of a studio, couldn't. But he what he did do is send some of the filmmakers that he admired and worked with and felt close to, would send them overseas for a job in Europe. And don't forget, he also, during that period made Gentleman's Agreement, which was the first film about anti-semitism that was on a big commercial level, starring you know, Gregory Peck. He made Pinky. So Zanuck was a man who really took a lot of chances at making different kind of films. So I was very careful not to uh criticize him as much as I would have if if there was another character. At one time, I was thinking of using Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer, uh as the studio head, and I realized that that was too easy. I liked the idea that it was uh somebody who didn't believe in the blacklist and thought it was a really a terrible thing that was happening, but still, how was he going to respond to it? And I think that's generally what the film was about. How do you respond to this blacklist, as I say, I don't know what I would have done. It's great for me to sit here in Beverly Hills and say, oh, you know what? I wouldn't have given nothing. I wouldn't have said a word to them. I would have told 'em to go to hell. I don't know that I really would have done that. I don't really know.
Jacqueline Stewart 36:30
Mmm. Mmm. Wow. There are other characters in the film that are closely based on real life. People like the character that Martin Scorsese plays, who's based on the blacklisted director, Joseph Losey.
Irwin Winkler 36:44
Yeah, as a matter of fact, his name in the in the movie is Joe Lesser. [Jacqueline laughing] So I used that and as matter of fact, the film that's being edited in the editing room when he tells De Niro that he's leaving, was The Boy With the Green Hair. By the way, somebody who was ostracized because they're different. I chose it for that particular reason. And it was directed by Joe Losey.
Jacqueline Stewart 37:07
Mmm hmm. Were there um other real life people that you wanted to incorporate into the film?
Irwin Winkler 37:14
Oh sure. Sam Wanamaker, who was a blacklisted actor, played a lawyer, based on a lawyer who was basically working for the studios, but was trying to preserve some sensibility between the government and the individual. And I had Sam Wanamaker who was blacklisted play that part.
Jacqueline Stewart 37:33
And relatives too, right, of blacklisted artists?
Irwin Winkler 37:37
Jacqueline Stewart 37:37
Yeah. Why was it important to you to incorporate folks like that?
Irwin Winkler 37:40
Well, look. There was one actor that came to me for a small part, and uh told me that his father was blacklisted. And I said, where's your, where's your father now? Because I'd love to give him a part. And he said, Oh, my father committed suicide from the blacklist because he couldn't get any work.
Jacqueline Stewart 38:00
Wow. The damage is real.
Irwin Winkler 38:02
Jacqueline Stewart 38:03
And there were so few films about this topic, when you made Guilty by Suspicion.
Irwin Winkler 38:10
There hasn't been many more made since then, by the way, very few.
Jacqueline Stewart 38:14
What impact do you think this film had on people in terms of educating them about the blacklist and this kind of moral dilemma?
Irwin Winkler 38:20
[original music] You know, I don't know if it made any difference. It made a difference in my life. I don't know what it did for other people. Uh, it was not a great commercial success in America, it didn't get widely seen, was not a popular subject in in American life. Still isn't. As I said, was a very, very black chapter in American history. But not that right now, it's not one, like many others, uh that is really not on the forefront of people's thinking. [music out]
Jacqueline Stewart 39:01
So what lesson should we take away from the blacklist era? I put that question to Howard Rodman.
Jacqueline Stewart 39:08
[to Howard Rodman] Given the amount of research that you've done on the blacklist, you've taught courses on the blacklist, you know, you've reflected on this through your family history. What is most surprising to you about the way that the blacklist worked, or its legacy today?
Howard Rodman 39:28
One of them is the cowardice of our institutions. And I'm talking about major motion picture studios, and I'm talking about talent agencies, and I'm talking about our guilds and unions, which are supposed to represent us. And sadly, I'm speaking of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. From this vantage, it seems how easily they were cowed. How easily people compromise themselves. How casually people went along with something they knew was wrong. And so I think my understanding of the larger political sphere has been informed by thinking about the blacklist and thinking about how many small failures of nerve and conscience add up to a large social calamity resulting in untold consequences.
[original music] And the second thing that pops out to me is just how when a couple of people decided to open their mouths and stick their necks out, whether it be Kirk Douglas, whether it be some of the blacklisted writers themselves, and then you find out that what you had thought was an edifice for the ages, really, you touch it here, you touch it there, you touch it there and it crumbles. And so I think there's a lesson in that too, which is speaking truth to power can be far more powerful than I think most of the time we realize or let ourselves realize.
Jacqueline Stewart 41:21
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