To the Editor:
Arguments about the Hollywood blacklist inevitably return to certain crucial facts, so obviously it is important to get those facts right, however pedantic it might seem to point them out. Mark Falcoff’s otherwise fine review of Behind the Blacklist by Allis and Ronald Radosh [November 2005] contains two errors, one minor and one rather less so.
To begin with the minor: Mr. Falcoff—either following the authors or simply making his own mistake—states that the 1944 film Song of Russia was written by [Lillian] Hellman herself,” and goes on to quote the Radoshes’ description of the film as “a thriving collective farm of healthy, happy Soviet peasants, all of whom look and act like Americans, and who frequently and spontaneously burst into silly songs.” In fact, this is a description of the film North Star, which was indeed written by Hellman and filled with Aaron Copland songs. Song of Russia was written by Richard Collins and Paul Jarrico (who was later blacklisted himself and went on independently to produce that darling of left-wing agitprop films, Salt of the Earth). Perhaps the word “song” in the title misled Falcoff; but in Song of Russia, we are presented with Robert Taylor as an American orchestra conductor who finds artistic fulfillment and true love in Stalin’s Moscow. Revealingly, the film is awash in the music of Tchaikovsky rather than of Shostakovich.
The second error is more serious. Mr. Falcoff says that the Hollywood Ten, “following Communist-party instructions to appear before the [House Un-American Activities] committee and make a spectacle of themselves by invoking the Fifth Amendment, ended up serving prison sentences for contempt of Congress.” In fact, the Ten invoked the First Amendment, claiming that their political opinions were protected as free speech and hence (in a touching paradox) a strictly private matter. It was only after the Supreme Court ruled that they were not protected under the First Amendment that later unfriendly witnesses invoked the Fifth, which kept them out of jail though not free of the blacklist.
Small distinctions, perhaps, but when wading through such treacherous waters as the blacklist era, it helps to have at least a few firm stones to step upon.
Whitestone, New York
Mark Falcoff writes:
I stand corrected on both counts.