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This Day In History: Congressional Committee Opens Red Scare Investigation In Hollywood

October 20, 2016

This day in history, October 20, 1947, The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) of the U.S. Congress opens its investigation into communist infiltration of the American movie industry in Hollywood.

Prior to the investigation into Hollywood, conservatives worked to out communists in government.

The movie industry was known for having many liberals and in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) grilled a number of prominent witnesses, asking them “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

Chaired by Congressman Parnell Thomas, the subsequent hearings focused on identifying political subversives among Hollywood actors and actresses, writers, and directors. A number of witnesses, including studio owners Walt Disney and Jack Warner, and movie stars Robert Taylor and Gary Cooper, gave statements decrying the communist influence in the film industry. These people gave the committee names of people they believed to be communist.

A small group known as the “Hollywood Ten” resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights. They all received jail terms for obstructing the investigation.

The Hollywood industry then created a blacklist policy banning the work of about 325 screenwriters, actors and directors who had not been cleared by the committee. Some of those that were on the list were composer Aaron Copland, playwright Arthur Miller and actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.