In 1947, actor Humphrey Bogart, who had just signed with Warner Brothers the most lucrative contract in the history of motion pictures, awoke to see his picture on the front page of the Daily Worker praising him as a fighter for the Communist Party.
An FDR liberal, Bogart had as little sympathy for communism, he once stated, as J.Edgar Hoover. What prompted his photo on the flagship paper of the American Communist Party was Bogart, along with his new wife, Lauren Bacall, organizing the Committee for the First Amendment, a group of liberals formed to defend ten industry figures subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify under oath about any communist affiliations.
The group was overwhelmingly composed of liberal Democratic actors such as Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Judy Garland, and Myrna Loy, many of whom went to Washington to support the ten.
Before the gavel hit, the Committee believed they were defending ten fellow industry figures whose only crime was being liberals. Obviously, Bogart had taken his street-savvy Hollywood roles to heart, for he stated that he personally vetted not only his Committee members but also those about to be questioned. “Before we left Hollywood, we carefully screened every performer so that no red or pink could infiltrate or sabotage our purpose.”
But Bogart, who as private eye Sam Spade once told his treacherous lover that he “wouldn’t play the sap” for her, was in fact used by communists masquerading as liberals. Of the Ten, only two were not card-carrying Party members (producer Adrian Scott, and director Edward Dmytryk, who were actually kicked out of the Party by the monstrously sectarian John Howard Lawson, another member of the Ten). Dalton Trumbo, Edward Biberman, and the aforementioned Lawson were hard-line Stalinists who not only defended every twist and turn of Soviet foreign policy, but bragged of keeping anti-communist movies from being adapted in Hollywood.
The first indication that Bogart and company had been duped was provided by the self-serving and bombastic behavior of the Ten before Congress. All of the Ten had agreed on the strategy of appearing to answer the questions put to them by Congress without actually giving HUAC what the lawmakers wanted. Appalled by this behavior, which was designed not to make an idealistic liberal stand against thought control but to keep the closet communists out of jail, liberals in the audience were coming to the conclusion that the Ten had something to hide.
Had they studied Lenin, the Hollywood liberals might have realized sooner that the Ten were following the Bolshevik leader’s maxim of using the tools of capitalist society against it—in this case, the “tools” being deluded Hollywood liberals.
But it wasn’t just the manner of how the Ten testified, acting as if they had something to hide, which they did (CPUSA membership), but also in how they railed against HUAC as fascists and Hitlerites. Moreover, HUAC had done their homework, confronting the hostile witnesses and the press with membership cards, meeting lists, and worse, the Ten’s own public stances in favor of Stalin. A case in point was the evidence HUAC presented against CPUSA member Dalton Trumbo: his membership card number and 39 citations with communist organizations. All of these presentations were true.
Bogart and Bacall were livid. On a morose flight home, Bogart, now aware he was being used, accused his fellow First Amendment members like Danny Kaye as duping him: ““You f—ers sold me out!”
Bacall herself, considered much more liberal than Bogart, came to the same realization. “We didn’t realize until much later,” she admitted, “that we were being used to some degree by the Unfriendly Ten.”
With Bogart, the CPUSA believed they had an A-List star on their side and ran a picture of a fedora-wearing Bogart on the cover of the Daily Worker. Suddenly all Bogart had worked for–his stardom, his lucrative contract–were jeopardized because he had been duped by American Stalinists.
If the Ten had expected Bogart to behave like a good fellow-traveling liberal and keep defending them, they were soon disabused. Disgusted, Bogart went public, denouncing the Ten, and in a case of self-deprecation rare in Hollywood even in the 1940s, himself.
The statement he issued read, “I am not a communist” or “a communist sympathizer. I detest communism just as any decent American does,” wrote Bogie. “I’m about as much in favor of communism as J. Edgar Hoover.” Of his participation in the Washington visit, he said it “was ill-advised, even foolish,” and that he and his fellow liberals had permitted “ourselves to be used as dupes by commie organizations.”
Today such self-deprecation and embarrassment doesn’t exist in Hollywood. No matter how ill-formed or just plain stupid the statements Hollywood celebrities make, they never have the sense to realize they have more money than brains. The very act of speaking out is so praised by their co-thinkers that they are embarrassment proof because “their hearts are in the right place.”
But once upon a time actors like Bogart, although duped, could admit their stupidity and be wised up in the process.