“Donald Trump is committing Treason against The United States of America,” tweeted director Rob Reiner a few months back. “He has turned the world’s oldest Democracy into a wholly owned subsidiary of Vladimir Putin.”
A beneficiary of Hollywood’s chronic nepotism, Reiner was one of scores of celebrities accusing Trump of colluding with Russia.
Bill Maher sometimes knows better. Not this time. In a burst of faux patriotism, he tweeted, “Trump can’t demand that everyone stand for the flag if he colluded with a foreign gov’t to subvert the very democracy that flag represents.”
It has not always been like this. Not too long ago Tinseltown celebrated Hollywood’s fellow travelers, the ones who defiantly colluded with the Russia of Josef Stalin.
In 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee held its first round of Hollywood hearings. The committee selected 45 industry people to query, most of whom were friendly, but 19 of whom were not.
Of those 19, eleven did testify but refused to answer questions, and Congress cited them for contempt. When playwright Bertolt Brecht fled to East Germany – who flees to East Germany? – the group passed into legend as the “Hollywood Ten.”
After two of the group, John Howard Lawson and Dalton Trumbo, were convicted, the others waived jury trials and were sentenced to up to a year in prison.
The “innocents” of Hollywood – Humphrey Bogart in the lead – were formed into a new “club.” This club, the Committee for the First Amendment, seemed fully unaware of who was doing the forming.
The Committee rallied to the cause of the Hollywood Ten, thinking the Ten mindless liberals like themselves.
When Bogart found out otherwise, he was appalled by his own activism on their behalf, calling it “ill-advised, impetuous and foolish.”
Playwright Lillian Hellman entertained no such qualms. She knew that the Ten – and many more – were Communist Party faithful.
Still, she wrote a predictably mendacious editorial in the magazine of the Screen Writers Guild that same year, claiming, “There has never been a single line or word of communism in any American picture at any time.”
Hellman called the HUAC hearings a “honky tonk show” and “sickening, sickening, immoral and degraded.”
For all her bluster, however, Hellman had little stomach for self-sacrifice. In July 1951, with the Soviets now in possession of the bomb and a war on in Korea, the atmosphere was colder than it had been in 1947 when one could still grandstand at communism.
Still, her commie beau Dashiell Hammett insisted on taking the Fifth Amendment before a grand jury in a communism-related trial. As a witness, this was a right he did not have, and the judge sentenced him to six months in prison.
When Hammett turned to Hellman for bail money, she lost her celebrated nerve. Not wanting to risk her career for an accused Communist, even her drunken lover, she made plans to leave the country.
Finally, an anonymous comrade put up the money for Hammett. Years later, in what biographer Joan Mellen calls “the most deplorably dishonest of her emendations,” Hellman made up a detailed story of how she tried to pawn her jewelry to raise the bail money.
The lies finally didn’t matter. Despite writer Mary McCarthy’s famed accusation – “Every word [Hellman] writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the'” – and the stream of new revelations emanating from the Soviet Union, Hellman and her progressive allies maintained a chokehold on the American cultural narrative.
In the year 2000, Little Brown issued a new edition of Hellman’s “Scoundrel Time.” In the freshly drafted foreword, actress Kathy Bates lauded Hellman’s “courage” and lamented the “scoundrels” who “deprived fellow Americans of the right to dissent.”
In the introduction, author Gary Wills remembered Hellman’s “undefended decency” and her “code of honor.”
In the way of postscript, the story did not end so happily for others involved in advancing Hellman’s career and her self-created biography.
Willi Munzenberg, the Comintern chief who first thought to colonize American culture, fell afoul of Stalin’s Great Terror. After two years of running, he was found dead, hanged at the edge of a French forest with a farmer’s baling wire.
Otto Katz, the “Christopher Columbus” of Hollywood and Hellman’s mentor, “confessed” to being a Zionist traitor during one of Stalin’s anti-Semitic purges, and he too was hanged.
As to Leon Trotsky, the antichrist of the Stalinist liturgy, an assassin put an ice ax through his skull in Mexico City in 1940.
Hellman had little to say about Katz’s death, and Hollywood had nothing to say about any of them. To this day, not one Hollywood movie has shown even a hint of Soviet brutalities.
Nor has any movie celebrated the life of a single Russian or Eastern European dissident who risked everything to “tear down that wall.”
Hollywood has instead invested its storytelling resources in its own progressive mythology. The power of that myth was on full display in October 1997 when the four major talent guilds staged “Hollywood Remembers the Black List.”
This multimedia celebration of the Hollywood Ten was hosted by Billy Crystal and featured scores of luminaries.
“It is fitting on this 50th anniversary,” said the guild presidents in their announcement, “that we pause to remember those who suffered through those horrific times to assure political despotism will never again be allowed to flourish in our nation.”
As for the despotism to which the Hollywood Ten paid homage, the despotism that starved millions of its own people, executed millions more without reason and found common cause with Nazi Germany, that was best left forgotten.
Besides, that is all pocket change compared to the villainy of Donald Trump. Tweeted vestigial diva Cher, “I Have Not, Nor Will I Change My Opinion Of trump, His Evil, Or His Ties To Russia. He Is up to his Neck in Crime & Corruption.”
Sang Cher in more innocent times, “They say we’re young and we don’t know.” Sorry, babe. You be old, and you still don’t know.