Edward Dmytryk: Paying His Dues

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One of the charges lodged at Hollywood communists who voluntarily revealed their politics to Congress during the blacklist period was that said volunteers did it to avoid jail or get back on the studio payroll, or both.

Director Edward Dymytrk has always been hard for them to spin. Originally one of the Hollywood Ten, the first set of communists in 1947 to testify, or in their case, not to testify by refusing to answer direct questions from Congress, Dmytryk, although having left the Communist Party two years before, nevertheless went to jail with the other 9 in order to prove that his future cooperation with Congress would not be to avoid jail time. Although not agreeing with the Ten’s legal strategy of refusing to directly answer questions from Congress but appearing to, Dymtryk closed ranks with them.

Dymtryk, along with his close friend Adrian Scott, had been kicked out of the Hollywood Party by its head, John Howard Lawson, because the pair had fired a communist screenwriter from a film because of a poor script.

Despite his disagreements with the American Communist Party he had mentally left behind, he still believed during the Ten’s testimony that the Soviets wanted peace and that the American Party was no threat.

The Korean War changed all of that. While in prison, he got into a heated argument with fellow Ten member Albert Maltz over the Korean War. Dymtryk agreed with the majority of the country that North Korea began the war by invading the South. Maltz disagreed, stating that the South and the United States invaded the North and that he was supportive of the North. Now more than ever, he regarded Communists like Maltz as hypocrites:

“You know they preach freedom of speech but censor unorthodox opinions; you know they talk democracy but prepare the way for the most inhuman autocracy in modern history.”

After serving his sentence, Dymtryk could no longer stomach “protecting them and the brutal principles they” stand for. In 1951, he reappeared before HUAC, including among his reasons for testifying the revelation that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs spied against their country. By encouraging such espionage, Dymtryk denounced the Communist Party he once belonged to as “treasonable.”

To make public his break, Dmytryk allowed an anticommunist writer named Richard English to tell his story in the Saturday Evening Post.

The response from the Party faithful was typically swift and vicious. Despite being a best man at Dymtryk’s wedding, fellow prisoner Albert Maltz paid for an open letter to appear in Hollywood trade papers. In the article, Maltz did not address Dymtryk’s reasons for standing with the Ten and going to jail with them, he instead accused Dymtryk’s supposed anticommunism as merely a way to avoid another prison term and get back on the studio payroll. In short, Dmytryk was “without principle,” a liar, and a “commodity for hire.”

Maltz proved Dymtryk’s point for him: that the Ten did not tolerate other opinions.

Ron Capshaw is a Senior Contributor to The Liberty Conservative from Midlothian, Va. His work has appeared in National Review, The Weekly Standard, and the American Spectator.