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Hollywood's Blacklists

A Political and Cultural History

Reynold Humphries

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'Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?' That question was to be repeated endlessly during the anti-Communist investigations carried out by the House Committee on un-American Activities (HUAC) in the early 1950s. The refusal of ten members of the film industry to answer the question in 1947 led to the decision by studio bosses to fire them and never to hire known Communists in the future. The Hearings led to scores of actors, writers and directors being named as Communists or sympathisers. All were blacklisted and fired.

Hollywood's Blacklists is a history of the political and cultural factors relevant to understanding the why and the how of the various investigations of the alleged Communist infiltration of Hollywood. What was HUAC? What propaganda role did films play during World War II and the Cold War? What values were at stake in the confrontation between Left and Right that saw the former so resoundingly defeated and expelled from Hollywood? Answers to these and other questions are offered via analyses of the motives of the various players and of the tactics deployed by HUAC to reward collaboration and punish dissent.

Key themes include:

  • Trade unionism in Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s
  • Anti-Semitism and Nazism, Hollywood anti-Nazi propaganda films and the patriotic war effort
  • The Cold War and concomitant hostility to all dissidence
  • The consequences for Hollywood: the collapse of the liberal-Communist consensus; naming names; exile for many and the use of 'fronts' by blacklisted writers.


PART I: Drawing up the Battle Lines
1. Hollywood and the Union Question
2. The War Years, 1939-1945
3. Hollywood Strikes, the Right Strikes Back
PART II: From the hot war to the Cold War
4. The Hearings of 1947
5. None Shall Escape: the Hearings of 1951-1953
6. The anti-Communist Crusade on the Screen
7. Life (and death) on the Blacklist

About the Author

Reynold Humphries is a former Professor of Film Studies at the University of Lille and author of 'Fritz Lang: Genre and Representation in his American Films' (1989).


The book is written with passion and insight, based on solid research and a strong understanding of film. It is all a reader can ask.
- Gregory D. Black, University of Missouri-Kansas City, American Studies Journal
The finest overview currently in print of the blacklist era.
- M. D. Whitlatch, Buena Vista University, Choice