Vera Caspary: Leaving The Communist Fold

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In the genre of film noir, the movie Laura (1944) looms large. In 1999, the Library of Congress chose the film for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
The American Film Institute ranked Laura 73 on their 100 years…100 Thrills. As a film noir, it is ranked no. 4 on the best mysteries of all time.

Despite the political orientation of its main stars, Dana Andrews (who was the lead in the radio series, I was a Communist for the FBI), and Gene Tierney (a Republican who campaigned for Nixon in 1960), the author who wrote the book the movie was based on, was a card-carrying Communist.

Vera Caspary joined the American Communist Party under the pseudonym Lucy Sheridan in the depths of the Depression. A feminist, who given the latent maleness of the Nazis supported the Party because of its anti-fascist stance. Unlike many in the Party, Caspary/Sheridan steered clear of writing a proletarian novel and preferred to focus on women’s search for identity.

Based on her Party activities, Caspary was never a believer and confined herself to fund-raisers. The Party’s secrecy grated on her nerves as she wanted to write truthful novels about feminist women. Whatever faith she had in the Party and Stalin began to disintegrate after what she personally witnessed on a trip to Russian in 1939. Months later, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, in which both countries formed a military partnership, finished off her commitment to communism. Of her break, she wrote:

“Loss of faith is a slow process, and painful. A last desperate effort to cling to belief attacks the nerves. I became irritable, disliked my friends, slept badly, lost tolerance. Haunted by ghosts of deeds and statements. I felt filthy.”

Caspary was obviously valued by the Party, evidenced by their refusal to let her resign. Told she couldn’t leave voluntarily and had to be expelled, Caspary adopted politically incorrect stances. Although they eventually let her go, they wanted it be a “temporary leave of absence.” This was unique for the Party, for they usually expelled on such trivial matters as a member reading Arthur Koeslter. That same year she moved to Hollywood and became a screenwriter

Her disgust with the Party didn’t cease her contribtions to anti-fascist causes during World War II; she continued serving in the communist-dominated American Writers’ League and the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League. In the post-war period, as the Cold War heated up, Caspary was named a communist and rather than testify before HUAC she fled to Europe. While abroad, she learned that she had been grey-listed by MGM. Still, she was clearly of value to them as they merely asked her to write a clearance letter admitting the meetings she attended; ironically they never demanded an answer to whether she was an actual member.

Caspary warrants study, and not just for writing Laura. She was unique among Party members and studio writers. She never was a proslyteizer and her faith was always feeble, easily disintegrated well before her “Kronstadt” moment with the Pact. Moreover, both organizations she belonged to regarded her as too valuable to let go. Unique among apostates, the Party uncharacteristically was lax in its discipline. As a screenwriter in the blacklist period, the studio was equally lenient, not demanding her to name names or even admit membership in the Party.

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.