Paul V. Coates – Confidential File, Jan. 4, 1960
January 4, 2010 | 2:00 pm
'Blacklist' Charge Brings an Answer
The controversy over Hollywood's real or fancied "blacklist" has had more than a decade to smolder down to embers, but it's still burning.
The issue is kept alive by extremists. But occasionally, it's fed by innocent by-standers who have been, or feel they have been, badly damaged by the industry's so-called secret ban on actors, writers, directors and producers suspected of, or guilty of,un-American activities.
The cry on one side is "Commie." The other, "witch hunt."
A couple of weeks ago, Louis Pollock, writer of "The Jackie Robinson Story" and many other motion picture and television scripts, charged that the secret blacklist cost him five productive years of his life.
Hollywood, he insisted, banned him after mistaking him for a man with a similar name (Louis Pollack), who had invoked the Fifth Amendment in refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Pollock wasn't the first to cry out. Many others have. All claimed that they were up against an "unseen enemy, impossible to fight."
Industry representatives always, in recent years, have been ready for their denials, but never, until today, have I heard a key industry figure explain satisfactorily his "side" of the blacklist controversy.
I got it today in a letter from B.B. Kahane, vice president of Columbia Pictures. His letter, in part:
"First, let me state emphatically and definitely that so far as Columbia is concerned, there is no so-called 'blacklist.'
"We at Columbia check on writers, actors and others before employing them. We started doing so in 1947 when the 'Unfriendly Ten' appeared before the House Un -American Committee and shocked the country with the attitude they took and the intemperate statements they made which resulted in prison sentences for contempt of Congress . . .
"With a desire to protect our large financial investment in films and yet to avoid doing anyone an injustice, we decided to engage a reputable firm of public relations men who could investigate cases that arose and report to us all facts and available information . . .
"I at Columbia as the vice president personally handled practically all cases . . .
"If we checked on a writer or actor, the report we received was not that he was on a blacklist or any kind of list, but a report setting forth the facts and information our public relations firm was able to collate. Such a report, for example, would state that there was no information that was found which linked him with the Communist Party or any 'front organization' designated by the U.S. Attorney General as subversive.
"In other instances, the report would state that the person was identified as a member of the party or was involved in some way with suspect organizations. They would specify full details in the report.
"We would then examine the reports.
"In most instances we would discuss the report with the person's agent, who would in turn discuss the matter with his client. In the majority of cases, we would receive a letter or affidavit negativing or explaining the alleged connection with the party or party front organizations . . .
"We have kept a file of all . . . reports. If that can be considered a 'blacklist' we are guilty. Such files are not given out to other companies. We have not exchanged information with any of the other companies, but have proceeded entirely on our own. And when there has been any lapse of time we have re-checked to make sure that there has been no change in status . . .
Some Bitter Battles
"We at Columbia and executives of other studios have cleared a very large number of alleged Communist sympathizers and we have had some rather bitter battles with so-called anti-Communist groups who saw a Commie behind every tree and at times were extremely narrow and unfair in their appraisal of a situation.
"The climate has now changed and only rarely do we find it necessary to check on persons so far as theatrical pictures are concerned.
"With our knowledge and the files we have developed we know who the Communist Party members are and the persons who have not recanted or changed their position . . ."
It's the first answer I've ever heard to the charges of blacklisting. And it's an answer that, to me, certainly sounds reasonable.