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What Was the Hollywood Blacklist?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Hollywood Blacklist was a list of professionals who were not allowed to participate in the entertainment industry due to their suspected or confirmed political beliefs. As you might imagine, it had a profound and far-reaching impact on the entertainment history in the middle of the 20th century, and it continues to be a topic of discussion and debate. Sadly for many of the people included on the blacklist, this largely unofficial blacklist ended the careers of many entertainment professionals, and seriously damaged the reputations of many more.

It would be more accurate to term the Hollywood Blacklist the “entertainment industry blacklist,” because it didn't just have an impact on Hollywood, although the home of the American film industry was certainly hard hit. The roots of the Blacklist can be found in the 1930s, when a fear of communism began to arise in America, and the government responded. In 1947, the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), which was charged with finding and dealing with communists in the United States, summoned several entertainment professionals to testify.

The “Hollywood 10,” as they came to be known, refused to testify, igniting the American government and leading to an official statement from the film industry which came to be known as the Waldorf Statement. The signatories of the statement announced that they were firing the Hollywood 10, and indicated a desire to eliminate subversives from the entertainment industry, bringing about the Hollywood Blacklist, which would dominate the industry for over a decade.

Many people think of high profile performers like Charlie Chaplin when they visualize the Hollywood Blacklist. However, it also affected screenwriters, technicians, authors, musicians, lesser actors, and an assortment of other entertainers. To be listed on the blacklist was to see the potential end of one's career, often on the basis of questionable and unverifiable information.

Many people on the Hollywood Blacklist were suspected communists or communist sympathizers. A large number of them were official members of the American Communist Party, making them easy targets, but others were blacklisted merely on the basis of association with known communists or public statements. Others were blacklisted for their involvement in liberal causes, ranging from the animal rights movement to humanitarian organizations.

The names on the Hollywood Blacklist were not made explicit, and it was intermittently enforced, but it attracted a great deal of public attention at the time and continues to do so. A number of famous and high profile people were blacklisted, much to the interest of their biographers, and some people have also been intrigued by the cases of lesser individuals on the Blacklist, looking at their fates once their careers were destroyed. The collapse of the Hollywood Blacklist started on television in the late 1950s, when blacklisted individuals were hired by sympathetic people like Alfred Hitchcock and Betty Hutton, and from there it snowballed, rapidly becoming untenable.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon927863 — On Jan 26, 2014

Listen to Metallica's song "Shortest Straw." The song is about this subject.

By anon340899 — On Jul 06, 2013

My high school journalism teacher was fired; he was accused anonymously of being a Communist. He was a Catholic and attended Mass at the church my family attended.

My parents always stopped to visit with him and his wife, and they never believed any of the accusations. That is what McCarthy did to people in the '50's. He was an alcoholic and a demagogue, until a Naval officer asked him the question: "Have you no decency?" And that ended his despicable career. Anonymous accusers have no decency or courage. They ruined lives in the '50's and they will ruin lives again, if we let them. Public, over the hill actors are no better. Torture happened in Iraq. Deal with it.

By anon264015 — On Apr 26, 2012

I think it is a great thing that they blacklisted people like this. Very smart. It's a great thing to learn about and help contain the marginalized groups.

By trela — On Feb 22, 2010

The problem with the blacklist was not the ideology behind it. Yes, it is right to investigate possible dangers to our country. However, when these people are being accused on little to no evidence and then having their future destroyed, it becomes a problem.

Many of the blacklisted Hollywood workers were completely innocent. They were scapegoats. Citizens were scared, but that still doesn't justify ignoring people's constitutional rights.

By Foofie — On Apr 10, 2009

Sort of a non-sequitor, if one is concerned about the Red Menace and living in the 1950's. Let us not forget that the blacklisted folk were in the entertainment business. Oh dear, how important is that to the nation?

If one's talents revolves around writing, acting, directing, etc., then I guess the world could be entertained in other ways. Entertainment, and an individual's talent in that field, is not trumped by national security, in my opinion.

It must have been entertainment that won WWII for the Allies.

By anon29883 — On Apr 10, 2009

You know if everyone thought like Foofie we would have no democracy or freedom.

A man is more than his job.

We are not on earth just to make money, but to be men good and true.

If Foofie has never found anything he believes in, enough perhaps to live, or even die for, he is unfortunate .


John Knowles

By anon29644 — On Apr 06, 2009

Communism arose in great part as a response to the injustices and inequalities of the late 19th and early 20th century industrial revolutions_ 7 day, 14-16 hour per day factory shifts, hazardous work conditions, abusive quasi-criminal behavior by owners to name a few_ which was very attractive to intellectuals and university students. Coupled with what we now know to be a coordinated worldwide propaganda effort by the Soviets, socialist and communist affiliation was popular in the 20's and 30's. The Soviets alliance with the Allies during WW II, Stalin was referred as "Uncle Joe", contributed to this popularity. Sadly, in the age of McCarthy and fear of the post WW II era, these previously innocent dalliances by many, became mortal sins.

By Foofie — On Apr 05, 2009

When people get downsized today, many are advised to get retrained, go back to school, etc. Would that not have been the advice voiced from anyone concerned about those that were blacklisted then? Sure, these blacklisted folks were talented, but if they chose to be involved with causes that turned out to be Communist fronts, then maybe the lesson is to not play Don Quixote for the world's problems, and use one's talents for one's career. And, if they made the mistake (resulting in being labeled left-wing) then just get retrained, and that would be that. Let us not forget that children were having A-bomb drills in school, crouching under their desks during these times. The Soviets were perceived as a real threat. Hindsight is always 20-20 vision; however, let us remember the actual historical context.

By anon29599 — On Apr 05, 2009

Weren't there Communists in Hollywood and in the U.S. government? Should people who supported the people who sought to overthrow the U.S. government not have been investigated?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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