The ProsenPeople

Martin Gang

Friday, February 10, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Glenn Frankel introduced MGM producer Dore Schary among the overwhelmingly Jewish history of the Hollywood Blacklist, the subject of his new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Glenn is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


As I discovered in researching my book on the Hollywood blacklist and the making of High Noon, the blacklist tore Hollywood apart: it ruined careers, destroyed trust, and set families and friends against each other. Those who were identified as Communists, fellow travelers, or even as liberal activists had few choices. If called to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), they could either invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination—a strategy that ensured they would be blacklisted from further employment—or denounce their left-wing views and betray their fellow activists by naming names. Those willing to do so needed a lawyer to help them navigate the process. And none was better at it than Martin Gang.

A pillar of the Los Angeles Jewish community, Gang wound up representing more informers than any other Hollywood lawyer—by his own estimate, some twenty movie people and thirty more in other professions. His justification was simple: he was helping worthy but misguided people stay out of prison and keep their jobs. He claimed that his clients never initiated naming anyone, but simply confirmed names that the Committee already had obtained. His own duty, he solemnly declared, was to his clients.

Gang’s parents were Eastern European Jews who came to the United States in the 1890s, and he himself was born in Passaic, New Jersey, in 1901. After graduating from Harvard, he spent part of the 1920s studying economics in Weimar Germany. He watched the systematic destruction of the German middle class by inflation and open street warfare between Fascists and Communists. It made him suspicious of extremists of both political stripes and determined to appease the powers that be. When he returned to America, he earned a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and made his way to Hollywood, where he eventually launched his own entertainment law firm. His list of celebrity clients included Bob Hope, George Burns, Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, Lucille Ball, and Myrna Loy. He put up with their tantrums and their quirks. “Movie people are like everybody else, only more so,” he liked to say.

His first big blacklist case involved Sterling Hayden, a rising young star who had joined the American Communist Party for a brief spell after serving in World War II. Hayden was called to testify before HUAC in April 1951. Under Gang’s careful guidance, Hayden gave a full-throated condemnation of the party, praised the committee for its courageous work and named as Communists five people, including his former mistress. Years later, he expressed deep regret for his testimony. “I (felt) like a bear led on a chain by the lawyer,” he wrote.

After his success with Hayden, Gang began to serve as a bridge between the gentiles of HUAC and the Jews of Hollywood. He didn’t believe the Committee members themselves were antisemitic, but he knew there were plenty of irresponsible people compiling lists and making allegations about Jews. “I didn’t like the committee but I worked with it, because I had a responsibility to my clients and their lives,” he recalled.

Members of the Communist Party and those who sympathized often expressed contempt for Martin Gang. Rumor had it that Gang and his law firm made large fees off their political clients. (In fact, Gang plausibly claimed that his partners were not happy with his taking on these controversial cases, saying they made more enemies than friends and cost the firm between $50,000 and $100,000 in lost legal fees).

Gang was a man of great charm and bluster, but he sometimes lost patience with clients who refused to see the light. When screenwriter Carl Foreman resisted naming names, Gang warned that the government was preparing to reopen the concentration camp at Tule Lake, California, that had been built to detain Japanese Americans during World War II. Only this time, Gang warned, the detainees would be Leftists like Foreman. “He had set out to frighten me, and he did,” Foreman recalled.

(Still, Foreman refused to cooperate and hired a different lawyer.)

As usual in Jewish history, individual Jews responded in various and conflicting ways to the repression they faced. One response was Martin Gang’s: give the despot what he demands. Another was Carl Foreman’s, resisting for the sake of principle even at the cost of one’s own livelihood. What I love about studying history is that it always poses the same uncomfortable question to all of us: If faced with a similar terrible dilemma, what would we have done?

Glenn Frankel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, university professor, and author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic and The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Dore Schary

Wednesday, February 08, 2017 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Glenn Frankel considered the overwhelmingly Jewish history of the Hollywood Blacklist, the subject of his new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic. Glenn is guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.

While most of Hollywood’s founding fathers were Jewish, they weren’t exactly the kind of proud, high-profile American Jews we know and celebrate today. Most were immigrants or first-generation Americans, and they generally tended to hide their Jewish identity (and their politics) out of personal embarrassment or fear.

One notable exception, as I found out while researching and writing my new book, High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic, was Dore Schary, an outspoken liberal Democrat and ardent Zionist. Schary interested me because he attempted to navigate a middle course in perilous times: although he was an anti-Communist himself, he he fought the Hollywood inquisition out of firm belief in civil liberties.

Born in Newark to Russian Jewish immigrants, Schary had risen from waiting tables at his family’s run-down resort hotel to writing and acting in floor shows in the Borscht Belt and later on Broadway. He arrived in Hollywood in 1932 at age 27 and was an immediate success at writing screenplays and producing films. In 1947 he became head of RKO, a small, feisty studio, promising to make socially meaningful pictures for modern post-war audiences. He quickly commissioned the noir-ish Crossfire (1947), one of the first mainstream films to focus on antisemitism, despite warnings from establishment groups like the American Jewish Committee that the film would only inflame religious hatred. (Instead, the film made a sizeable profit and garnered five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.) Later that year, when the House Un-American Activities Committee staged its first public hearings into alleged Communist infiltration of Hollywood, Schary was the only studio head to publicly defend employing leftist screenwriters, actors and directors. Unless they advocated the violent overthrow of the government, Schary testified, people should be hired and fired based on their qualifications and not their politics.

But politicians in both parties fanned public fears about waves of Soviet agents and secret subversives who were undermining America. After Congress issued contempt citations against ten witnesses who refused to cooperate in answering the Committee’s questions, Schary’s fellow studio heads and their lawyers met secretly and issued a statement pledging to fire anyone found to be a Communist. Schary opposed the idea but was outvoted and ultimately felt compelled to go along: he wound up firing the director and producer who had made Crossfire, despite his great admiration for them both. And when he moved to head of production at MGM the following year, Schary faithfully enforced the new rules to the letter, requiring employees to sign loyalty oaths or lose their jobs.

Still, Schary found himself branded as Commie sympathizer. In a 1947 FBI memo, a confidential informant reported that “Mr. Schary in all respects has been a follower of the Communist Party line for many years.” Three years later, in a meeting with the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, Schary pledged to cooperate wholeheartedly with the bureau. He even made an anti-Communist propaganda film for the government.

After he was fired by MGM in 1956, Schary moved to New York, where he became National Chairman of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and wrote the hit play Sunrise at Campobello, about Franklin Roosevelt’s triumph over polio. It was his ode to enlightened liberal leadership. But the Red Scare had defeated well-meaning liberals like Schary. His last word on the Hollywood blacklist in his memoirs was one of deep regret: “A heavy cost in courage was paid by the industry, and a dreadful price was paid by those we could not protect.”

Glenn Frankel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, university professor, and author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic and The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Related Content:

The Jews of the Blacklist

Monday, February 06, 2017 | Permalink

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Frankel’s new book High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic hits the shelves this week. Finding the subject more relevant now than he could have expected, Glenn will be guest blogging for the Jewish Book Council all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series here on The ProsenPeople.


I knew I would be running into more than a few Jews three years ago when I started researching a book about the Hollywood blacklist and the making of the classic Western film High Noon. As Neal Gabler chronicles in his landmark book, An Empire of Their Own (1988), most of the moguls who invented Hollywood were Jewish immigrants or the sons of. So were the three filmmakers most responsible for creating High Noon. And at least half the people accused of Communist Party membership or leftist sympathies by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) during its probe of alleged Communist infiltration of the film industry from 1947 to the mid-1950s were of Jewish origin. As I quickly discovered, Jews weren’t just a sub-theme: they were at the heart of my story.

We are 70 years away from when that story began, but the parallels with our own turbulent political times are impossible to ignore. After laying low during much of the New Deal and the struggle against fascism in World War II, the American Right rose up with a vengeance in 1946, sweeping Republicans into power in both houses of Congress and pledging to claw back our country from the traitors and outsiders who had supposedly usurped our government and our culture. The main targets were Communists, liberals, and Jews. With their roots in social democratic movements in Russia, Poland, and other parts of Eastern Europe, many Jews fit snugly into the various segments of the American Left and were easy scapegoats for the new Red Scare.

Jews reacted in all kinds of ways to the HUAC inquisition. Faced with the loss of their careers and incomes and alienated from their former comrades in the American Communist Party, large numbers signed loyalty oaths and denounced the party, praising the Committee for its investigative work and naming names of purported Communists past and present. The studio moguls, fearful of being accused of Communist sympathies, aided and abetted those who cooperated and set up the blacklist process to punish those who refused.

But the majority of those called to testify refused to cooperate, and many of them spent a decade or more without meaningful work in Hollywood. Six of the original Hollywood Ten who were imprisoned for defying the Committee during the 1947 hearings were of Jewish origin—yet so were 10 of the 15 movie producers who signed a public statement condemning the Ten and establishing the blacklist; indeed, the chairman of the Committee that drafted the statement was Mendel Silverberg, an entertainment lawyer and the unofficial leader of Hollywood’s Jewish community.

Screenwriter Carl Foreman, the Chicago-born son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was called to testify about his ties to the Communist Party during HUAC’s second round of public hearings in 1951. A gifted writer who had recently been nominated for two Oscars for his screenplays, Foreman was in the middle of finishing the final draft of High Noon. He turned his script into an allegory about the Red Scare and the Hollywood blacklist, seeing himself as the lone marshal and the HUAC inquisitors as the gang coming to town to kill him while cowardly community leaders abandon him to meet his fate alone. In the end, Foreman refused to name names, was blacklisted and forced to seek work in England, where he lived for 25 years in a form of political exile.

The blacklist did huge damage to families, friendships and careers, and left wounds that remain unhealed three generations later. It is hard to make moral judgments about the men and women who faced the inquisition, but there is no question that the blacklist was in many ways a Jewish affair and a challenge to Jewish community’s conscience, which may soon be called upon again.

Glenn Frankel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, university professor, and author of High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic and The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend, a New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller.

Related Content: