From the Belly of the HUAC: The Red Probes of Hollywood, 1947-1952
Meeks, Jack Duane
Beasley, Maurine H
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ABSTRACT Title of Document: FROM THE BELLY OF THE HUAC: THE RED PROBES OF HOLLYWOOD, 1947–1952 Jack D. Meeks, Doctor of Philosophy, 2009 Directed By: Dr. Maurine Beasley, Journalism The House Un–American Activities Committee, popularly known as the HUAC, conducted two investigations of the movie industry, in 1947 and again in 1951–1952. The goal was to determine the extent of communist infiltration in Hollywood and whether communist propaganda had made it into American movies. The spotlight that the HUAC shone on Tinsel Town led to the blacklisting of approximately 300 Hollywood professionals. This, along with the HUAC’s insistence that witnesses testifying under oath identify others that they knew to be communists, contributed to the Committee’s notoriety. Until now, historians have concentrated on offering accounts of the HUAC’s practice of naming names, its scrutiny of movies for propaganda, and its intervention in Hollywood union disputes. The HUAC’s sealed files were first opened to scholars in 2001. This study is the first to draw extensively on these newly available documents in an effort to reevaluate the HUAC’s Hollywood probes. This study assesses four areas in which the new evidence indicates significant, fresh findings. First, a detailed analysis of the Committee’s investigatory methods reveals that most of the HUAC’s information came from a careful, on–going analysis of the communist press, rather than techniques such as surveillance, wiretaps and other cloak and dagger activities. Second, the evidence shows the crucial role played by two brothers, both German communists living as refugees in America during World War II, in motivating the Committee to launch its first Hollywood probe. Third, an examination of the HUAC’s practice of requiring witnesses to name names shows this to be an on–going exercise of data triangulation. Finally, the documents in the HUAC archives reveal an overriding concern with exposing the activities and practices of communist front organizations, which the Committee viewed as powerfully effective venues for communist propaganda. In summary, the newly available archival evidence, upon which this dissertation uniquely draws, indicates the HUAC operated in a less sinister manner than previously supposed and, thus, revises previous scholarship on the HUAC.