Once upon a time, Hollywood conservatives did not hide in the closet, recoiling at pro-Communist influence in Hollywood but keeping their criticisms private. Instead they organized and publicly proclaimed their allegiance to the Constitution.
Their organization was called The Motion Picture Alliance for The Preservation of American Ideals, founded seventy years ago. The tide was against them, and was as formidable as the one today that drives conservatives underground.
1943 was the high tide of communist influence in Hollywood owing to the Soviet Union being an ally of the United States against Hitler. Films glorifying the Stalin regime such as Mission to Moscow (which supported the Purge Trials), Song of Russia (dancing in the Soviet streets), and the North Star (which studio head Sam Goldwyn joked as painting such a rosy picture of the Soviet Union that “Stalin watched it when he was depressed”) were onscreen.
Individually, conservatives could do little, for communists were in more powerful positions. And the Party used this power ruthlessly, implementing their own blacklist system. Dalton Trumbo, who would argue so eloquently against the blacklist, bragged of how he exercised his own:
We have produced a few fine films in Hollywood, a great many of which were vulgar and opportunistic and a few downright vicious. If you tell me Hollywood, in contrast with the novel and the theater, has produced nothing so provocative or so progressive as Freedom Road or Deep Are the Roots, I will grant you the point, but I may also add that neither has Hollywood produced anything so untrue or so reactionary as The Yogi and the Commissar, Out of the Night, Report on the Russians, There Shall Be No Night, or Adventures of a Young Man. Nor does Hollywood’s forthcoming schedule include such tempting items as James T. Farrell Bernard Clare, Victor A. Kravchenko I Chose Freedom, or the so-called biography of Stalin by Leon Trotsky.
As editor of the Hollywood-based Screenwriter magazine, Trumbo was quite open about his view of civil liberties when he rejected an article criticizing the Party in Hollywood by screenwriter Richard MacCauley:
“It is difficult to support your belief in the inalienable right of man’s mind to be exposed to any thought whatever, however intolerable that thought might be to anyone else. Frequently such a right encroaches upon the right of others to live their lives. It was this inalienable right in Fascist countries which directly resulted in the slaughter of five million Jews.”
Sam Wood, who ironically directed a reasonably sympathetic adaptation of the pro-Loyalist For Whom the Bell Tolls, described in more detail this process of how Hollywood reds obstructed politically incorrect material:
For instance, a man gets a key position in the studio and has charge of the writers. When you, as a director or a producer, are ready for a writer you ask for a list and this man shows you a list. Well, if he is following the Party line his pets are on top or the other people aren’t on it at all. If there is a particular man in there that has been opposing them they will leave his name off the list. Then if that man isn’t employed for about two months they go to the head of the studio and say, “Nobody wants this man.” The head is perfectly honest about it and says, “Nobody wants to use him, let him go.” So a good American is let out. But it doesn’t stop there. They point that out as an example and say, “You better fall in line, play ball, or else.” And they go down the line on it.
With no other option, tinseltown anticommunists played against type and organized. Born was the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. Immediately characterized by the Left as fascist, the MPA’s statement of principles was hardly the stuff of Martin Boorman:
We believe in, and like, the American way of life: the liberty and freedom which generations before us have fought to create and preserve; the freedom to speak, to think, to live, to worship, to work, and to govern ourselves as individuals, as free men; the right to succeed or fail as free men, according to the measure of our ability and our strength.
The members—among them, Walt Disney, John Wayne, Morrie Ryskind—all had personal run-ins with Party members. Disney’s life was actually threatened by picketing Party members at his studio. Wayne attended Party meetings with director Edward Dymtryk and was shocked at how Hollywood communists defended the repressive policies of Stalin.
Unlike the CPUSA, the MPA had a reasonably big tent. Wayne, at that time, and Ryskind, all voted for FDR four times, while Wood was one of the few Republicans in the organization. Against charges that the organization was fascist, anti-Semitic and pro-Franco, there was Ryskind, a Jew who was a member of The Committee to Protest Franco.
The MPA did provide the bulk of friendly testimony during the HUAC hearings in Hollywood. Although some wanted to restrict free speech, others such as Hollywood Labor Leader and MPA member Roy Brewster sought to alleviate the blacklist’s effects by meeting with some of those under it. However, the MPA, for all its paranoia and policing during the blacklist, did start off as a democratic organization. The same could not be said of the Hollywood Party.
(It says something of the navel-watching aspect of Hollywood Reds at the time that an imprisoned Albert Matlz, surveying the landscape of 1951, with its UN police actions, Soviet A-bombs and Klaus Fuchs, that he regarded the era as “a victory of the MPA.”)
Then and now, Hollywood leftists promoted a two-period thesis for tinsel-town n World War II. During the war, when Hollywood communists had significant influence, democracy reigned. After the war, repression was enacted with the blacklist.
But the story of the MPAA complicates this simplistic portrait. During the war, they were blacklisted. After the war, they gained influence. Thus, there was a blacklist in Hollywood earlier than presented; only the victims of it changed.
The MPAA also shows how timid Hollywood conservatives have become in the age of Obama. Buffetted by the same atmosphere Hollywood has today, 40s conservatives did not duck their heads in the sand, but proudly organized.