The warm weather hasn’t stopped the wind from blowing or the foliage from turning gold and red and orange. As the leaves fall, and the trick-or-treaters prepare to make their rounds, here in Baltimore it’s also “Pumpkin Papers” season. Recalling this fascinating chapter of the Cold War is as much a part of an anticommunist’s autumn as little kids dressed like ghosts or storefronts decorated with dried cornstalks and hay bales.
On a movie set many years ago, actress Geraldine Page found herself seated between actor Ward Bond, an enforcer of the blacklist of communists then raging in Hollywood, and his friend, the conservative actor John Wayne. Page was only accustomed to being around her fellow show business liberals, so she listened to the two men’s conservative views with a sense of “horror.” But as the conversation went on, she developed a marginally more favorable view of Wayne, whom she called a “reactionary for all sorts of non-reactionary reasons.”
The college students we keep hearing about aren’t in the new book by Andrew Burt, but they sure meet the definition of American Hysteria: The Untold Story of Mass Political Extremism in the United States. Burt, a journalist and lawyer who writes for Slate, El País, and other left-of-center publications, in fact may not want to study the hypersensitivities that are spreading from campus to campus, from coast to coast—like when that Yalie confronted one of the faculty with: “It is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students who live in Silliman. . . . It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not!”
On publicity junkets for Trumbo, star Bryan Cranston has repeated the line, “Everyone has the right to be wrong.” Cranston claims this quote came from Dalton Trumbo himself, and shows that the blacklisted screenwriter supported and defended everyone’s right to free speech.
The real Trumbo didn’t. The movie is frank about his membership in the American Communist Party, but its makers (director Jay Roach, screenwriter John McNamara) give us not a hint of what that entailed, or how roundly contradicted is Trumbo-the-free-speech-avatar by Trumbo the actual person.
Once on a British talk show in the early 1970s, anticommunist actor John Wayne startled the host by acknowledging that there was indeed a Hollywood blacklist. Wayne's follow-up, however, made the host's jaw drop even farther; the blacklist, he stated, wasn't wielded by industry anticommunists against Communist Party members, but by the reverse. It was for this reason, Wayne stated, that he enlisted in the anticommunist fight in order to defend conservative screenwriters and get them back on the payroll. Wayne, regarded by the Old and New Left, as a fascist, was in actuality more of a rebel against the establishment…