It Happened in Hollywood

by Pauline Lampert


This video file is the result of a minor archival miracle! It is an illuminating and scarily prescient film strip that details the many injustices perpetrated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) against movie industry creatives. We have few details about the creative team involved in the creation of this strip, but the title card indicates that it was produced at the behest of the Hollywood Division of the Arts, Sciences and Professions Council as a means of combating the blacklisting of further writing, directing and acting talent. While there are no names of any specific blacklistees, the film does directly mention The Hollywood Ten and makes oblique references to specific testimonies, suggesting that this was made after 1951 but while the blacklist was still in full effect.

The audio files for this project had been accounted for, tucked away in the Dalton Trumbo Papers and made available on our website. The visual component, however, was gone and long thought lost. That is until 2020, when archivist, Mary Huelsbeck, unearthed the missing film strip in the Alvah Bessie Papers. Both Trumbo and Bessie were Hollywood screenwriters called before HUAC and held in contempt as “unfriendly witnesses.” They were imprisoned and fined in June 1950, and were subsequently unable to find work due to policies outline in the so-called “Waldorf Statement” which is a collective agreement by studio executives to bare all members of the Hollywood Ten from working within the entertainment industry.

The WCFTR had the film strip scanned earlier this summer, and very recently re-synced the audio and visual components using Premiere Pro editing software. The narration begins with a cheerful sing-songy patter which steps the listener through the movie-making process from initial story idea to the finished film’s release. The playful rhythm eventually gives way to a chilling chronicle of the systemic dismantling of First Amendment rights and the complicity of the movie studio executives who stood to benefit from the economic plight of its craftspeople. The strip ends with a grave, urgent call to action in which the narrator pleads with the viewer to take action against the powerful men perpetrating the blacklist by making their voices heard.

While the initial audio was itself fascinating, the storytelling is much more impactful with the inclusion of visual metaphors for various movie industry positions and perfectly rendered caricatures of various political figures and ideologies. We currently have no specifics about the exact date of the strip’s creation, nor do we known the intended audience. If you have any information that might help us fill in some of these details, please do reach out to us and let us know.