"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" was the $64,000 question posed by the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the US House of Representatives.
Between the late 1940s and 1950s, the Second Red Scare was an era marked by great fear that Communism was on the rise in America. Led by the Republican SenatorJoseph McCarthy, government officials accused hundreds of Americans of being members of the Communist Party or of sympathizing with the cause. Most of those accused of treason and/or subversion were union workers, government employees, prominent intellectuals and Hollywood artists.
Among those in the last category, here are some of the famous faces who were blacklisted in Hollywood and spied on during the Cold War era of McCarthyism:
The FBI referred to itCharlie Chaplinas a "salon Boschevik" and believed he was a communist sympathizer and a possible security risk to the country. Although Chaplin denied being a communist, he was FBI directorJ.Edgar Hooverwas determined to deport the actor and worked with immigration officials to prevent him from re-entering the States after he flew to London to promote one of his films.
Hoover even had Chaplin spied on by MI5, but in the end the foreign agency concluded he posed no security risk and instead believed he was merely a left-leaning progressive.
Despite this, Chaplin was banned from the United States. Rather than fight to re-enter the country, Chaplin decided to settle in Switzerland and released a statement about his experience:
"...Since the end of the last world war I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, through their influence and with the help of the American tabloids, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions, it is virtually impossible for me to continue my film work, and that is why I have given up my residency in the United States."
Harlem Renaissance poetLangston Hugheswas known for his support of communist groups in the US and even once traveled to the Soviet Union to make a film, but he always denied being a member.
Along with his affinity for Marxist ideas, Hughes' leftist views were reflected in some of his poetry, which was widely published by communist newspapers in the United States. For all these reasons, Congress asked him to testify.
When asked why he never became a member of the Community Party, Hughes wrote: "It was based on strict discipline and an acceptance of guidelines that, as a writer, I didn't want to accept."
In 1953, during his public hearing before McCarthy and the HUAC committee, he added: "I have never read the theoretical books of socialism or communism or the Democratic or Republican parties, and hence my interest in anything that can be considered political , has been non-theoretical, non-sectarian, and largely emotional, arising out of my own need to find a way to think about this whole problem of myself.
After testifying before Congress, Hughes shed his associations with Communism and also became less political in his poetry.
READ MORE: Langston Hughes' influence on the Harlem Renaissance
As a director, actor and authorOrson Welleswas at the peak of his career when the US government began investigating him as a possible secret communist. His 1941 filmCitizen Kane, whose protagonist begins as an idealistic social worker and grows into a power-hungry, manipulative capitalist, was considered by the FBI to prove the film was nothing more than a smear campaign orchestrated by the Community Party. He was considered such a threat that the government put him on a list of people to be arrested in the event of a national emergency.
Knowing he was being targeted by the FBI, Welles left the States in 1948 and moved to Europe, where he lived for the next eight years. A decade later, he found his way to express his dislike of the Red Terror through film noirtouch of evil, depicting corrupt law enforcement agencies who abuse their power by conducting witch hunts instead of protecting their fellow citizens.
"I am not now and never will be a member of the Communist Party," the famous composer and conductor vowedLeonhard Bernsteinon an affidavit. Still, the FBI was convinced he was a dangerous political disruptor and spied on him for the next three decades, even blacklisting him on CBS and denying his application for a passport renewal.
After supporting the Vietnam protesters and Black Panthers activities, Bernstein came under the watchful eye of Hoover, who was determined to ruin his reputation, particularly for supporting the Panthers. Like many other prominent figures in the entertainment industry, Bernstein was featured in the anti-communist right-wing publication TheRed Channels.
Despite her talent, beauty and fame in Hollywood, singer and actressLena HornRacism and discrimination were no strangers to him. Her experience inspired her to become politically active, and many of the organizations she attended had members who were radical leftists and communists.
The FBI took notice and blacklisted her from Hollywood, forcing her to tour as a nightclub singer for a few years to earn a living. Determined to get her life and career back on track, Horne publicly denied her affiliation with the Communist Party and wrote a series of letters to Hollywood VIPs denouncing her ideology. Eventually she was able to return to film and television and also produced hit records. Still, her political sense was not easily intimidated. As the civil rights movement of the 1960s emerged, Horne was a prominent supporter of the cause.
screenwriterDalton Trumboswrote the Oscar-winning filmsPistolCrazy(1950),roman vacation(1953) andThe brave(1956), but failed to gain recognition because of its blacklisted status. Instead, he had to sell his screenplays under different pseudonyms.
But unlike many of his Hollywood peers, Trumbo was once a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. However, when questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) about his political connections, he defiantly refused to answer their questions and was subsequently held in contempt, thrown in federal prison for a year and banned from the industry.
It wasn't until 1960 that Trumbo officially returned to Hollywood, and that was thanks to colleagues like the actorKirk Douglasand director Otto Preminger, who insisted he be given credit for his workSpartacusAndExodus.
One of the funniest writers of her time, biting poet and criticDorothy Parkergot a real taste of activism when she was arrested in 1927 at a political rally in support of Italian anarchists Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, who were being tried and convicted of murder on dubious evidence.
Parker's arrest inspired her to continue fighting for a variety of political and activist causes, including the Screenwriters Guild and the Anti-Nazi League, which the FBI considered "communist fronts." Although Parker was never a member of the Communist Party, she was known to be sympathetic to its ideology and had no qualms about joining local organizations.
When McCarthyism was in full swing, Parker was at the height of her writing career. With her name blacklisted, she was still able to find work but felt her services were not in high demand.
When FBI agents came to her house and asked her if she was undermining the government, she promptly replied, "Look, I can't even get my dog to stay down. Do I look to you like someone who could overthrow the government?”
Parker was in her 60s when the FBI finally decided she did not pose a potential threat to national security.