On October 20, 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began interviewing film industry titans in an attempt to ferret out communists working within the film industry.
Many big stars were named as potential communists or communist sympathizers—and even more refused to speak to the panel. Humphrey Bogart, Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and others abstained from the hearing and created the Committee for the First Amendment in protest of the investigation.
Others, like Ronald Reagan (then the president of the Screen Actors Guild) and Walt Disney chose to testify. On October 24, Disney began his testimony, naming many of his former employees whom he believed were communists. Most of these men were simply trying to unionize.
The men Disney discussed were cleared of formal communist charges, but many were unofficially blacklisted from the industry. A group of 10 men, called the Hollywood Ten, were not cleared and were called to HUAC to either give names or declare their Communist Party membership. They refused to speak, citing their Fifth Amendment rights. Eventually, the Hollywood Ten would each be sentenced to jail for contempt of the proceedings and were not allowed to work in Hollywood for a number of years afterwards. Some never did again.
Each of the Ten was, in fact, at one point or another, a member of the Communist Party. Nevertheless, HUAC’s actions are now viewed as an ignoble chapter in American history, one fueled by the redbaiting scare tactics and misinformation campaigns made famous by Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy.
You can see some clips of Disney’s testimony about communism in Hollywood in this video. For more information, consider listening to the You Must Remember This episode on Walt Disney during and after World War II.
Feature photo: Wikimedia Commons