The best books about the Hollywood blacklist

Who am I?

As a film studies scholar from a working-class background (which is pretty rare in UK academia!), I’ve long been fascinated by the Hollywood Left and the prospect of what they could have achieved had they not been expunged from the scene. Many of the social justice causes they embraced—anti-fascism, anti-racism, workers’ rights, etc.resonate very strongly with contemporary concerns. The persecution of these creative workers also serves as an ever-timely warning from history about the importance of maintaining vigilance in the face of totalitarian thinking and systems of oppression. 


I wrote...

'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

By Frank Krutnik, Steve Neale, Brian Neve, Peter Stanfield

Book cover of 'Un-American' Hollywood: Politics and Film in the Blacklist Era

What is my book about?

Crucial to the political rhetoric of the early Cold War era, the concept of “Un-Americanism” was zealously pursued by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) as it sought to root out (generally left-leaning) ‘subversives’ within US institutions – including Hollywood. Focussing on the early blacklist era, between the HUAC interrogations of 1947 and 1951, this collection of essays reopens the intense critical debate on the aesthetic and political work of the Hollywood Left. In a series of fresh case studies focusing on contexts of production and reception, and scrutinizing a range of filmmakers, films, and genres, the contributors offer exciting and original perspectives on the role of progressive politics within a capitalist media industry. 

The books I picked & why

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The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-60

By Larry Ceplair, Steven Englund,

Book cover of The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-60

Why this book?

Originally published in 1979, Ceplair and Englund’s magisterial book examines the development and repression of left-wing radicalism within Hollywood from the early Depression era to the final years of the blacklist. Over more than 500 pages, this rigorously researched and illuminating study details the political battles that led to the establishment of the blacklist after World War 2, inspired especially by the formation of the Screen Writers Guild by progressive activists in the 1930s. With most of the Hollywood Ten being writers as well as current or former Communists, the authors regard the blacklist as “an institutionalized, politicized mechanism for imposing censorship and weakening dissent in Cold War America,” arguing that “it weakened the United States far more than it has been alleged Hollywood Communists did or could have.”

The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-60

By Larry Ceplair, Steven Englund,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Inquisition in Hollywood as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The history of political struggle in Hollywood back to the formation of the Screen Writers Guild in 1933 with the culmination of the blacklists of the House Un-American Activites Commmitee. The definitive work on the blacklist ear.


Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

By Brian Neve,

Book cover of Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

Why this book?

An editor of my book, Brian Neve has written extensively on the Hollywood Left, with many books, articles, and chapters devoted to filmmakers such as Cy Endfield, Elia Kazan, Robert Rossen, and Joseph Losey, or more broadly to politics and American cinema. A useful complement to the Ceplair & Englund volume, this astute, engaging, and empirically-grounded study explores how a generational cohort of radical and liberal creative practitioners—including Kazan, Losey, Rossen, Abraham Polonsky, Jules Dassin, John Huston, and Orson Welles—were energized by the political culture of the Depression era and sought, in different ways, to navigate the industrial and commercial constraints of Hollywood to produce socially-engaged films. This project was brutally stifled by the blacklist, with many filmmakers forced to choose between exile or collaboration. 

Film and Politics in America: A Social Tradition

By Brian Neve,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Film and Politics in America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In A Social Cinema: Film-making and Politics in America, Brian Neve presents a study of the social and political nature of American film by concentrating on a generation of writers from the thirties who directed films in Hollywood in the 1940's. He discusses how they negotiated their roles in relation to the studio system, itself undergoing change, and to what extent their experience in the political and theatre movements of thirties New York was to be reflected in their later films.
Focusing in particular on Orson Welles, Elia Kazan, Jules Dassin, Abraham Polonsky, Nicholas Ray, Robert Rossen and Joseph Losey,…


Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture

By Rebecca Prime,

Book cover of Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture

Why this book?

Rebecca Prime is one of the contributors to my book and her book is a fascinating sequel to that volume. It covers the careers of several blacklisted filmmakers who fled Hollywood and America, seeking to find new work and life opportunities in Europe. Impeccably researched and elegantly written, Prime’s study tells the story of a generation of creative workers that was lost to the USA but which made a vital contribution to European and British cinemas. As she details, many of the exiled filmmakers faced almighty personal and professional struggles to adjust to their new circumstances, and while a few (e.g. Joseph Losey and Jules Dassin) would eventually achieve fabulous success, many other exiles found it difficult to secure regular and fulfilling work opportunities or personal happiness.

Hollywood Exiles in Europe: The Blacklist and Cold War Film Culture

By Rebecca Prime,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hollywood Exiles in Europe as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rebecca Prime documents the untold story of the American directors, screenwriters, and actors who exiled themselves to Europe as a result of the Hollywood blacklist. During the 1950s and 1960s, these Hollywood emigres directed, wrote, or starred in almost one hundred European productions, their contributions ranging from crime film masterpieces like Du rififi chez les hommes (1955, Jules Dassin, director) to international blockbusters like The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, screenwriters) and acclaimed art films like The Servant (1963, Joseph Losey, director).
At once a lively portrait of a lesser-known American "lost generation" and…


The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate

By Norma Barzman,

Book cover of The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate

Why this book?

Many victims of the blacklist have written memoirs of their experiences, including Lester Cole, Ring Lardner, Jr., Bernard Gordon, and Walter Bernstein. But we are also fortunate to have excellent books from two articulate and talented women writers—Norma Barzman and Jean Rouverol (Refugees from Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years, 2000)—who offer emotionally nuanced accounts of the personal and professional consequences of political persecution and exile. As wives and mothers, their reminiscences inevitably have a very different centre of gravity than those of male blacklistees. Barzman is unrepentant about the progressive causes embraced by the American Communist Party while also critiquing the misogyny of many male comrades. This is a witty and insightful book by an engaging, clear-sighted, and forward-thinking survivor.

The Red and the Blacklist: The Intimate Memoir of a Hollywood Expatriate

By Norma Barzman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Red and the Blacklist as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Norma Barzman's extraordinary memoir, The Red and the Blacklist, fizzes with the wit and energy of the classic Hollywood comedies of the forties. But it is also laced with the fear and claustrophobia found in the forties film noirs, as Norma and her husband Ben Barzman are driven from Hollywoodduring the postwar McCarthyite witch huntinto an emotionally difficult 30-year exile in France. While their hair-raising and amusing adventures continue, Ben battles depression as he attempts to rehabilitate his career, while frustrating Norma's own aspirations as a writer. She seeks solace in a string of affairs, one of them ending in…


Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

By Patrick McGilligan, Paul Buhle,

Book cover of Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

Why this book?

Co-edited by prolific historian of the Left, Paul Buhle. author of several books on the Hollywood blacklist, Tender Comrades features 35 interviews with various writers, directors, and performers whose lives and careers were damaged by the HUAC inquisition. These include members of the Hollywood Ten (Alvah Bessie, Ring Lardner, Jr.), directors such as Abraham Polonsky and Jules Dassin, and lesser-known victims of the blacklist such as actors Karen Morley and Marsha Hunt. This highly readable and informative oral history allows the voices of these intelligent and engaging HUAC survivors to speak to us of their contrasting experiences before, during, and after their blacklisting, discussing their attraction to radical causes or movements, the personal costs of losing work, and their disappointment when close friends collaborated with the persecutors and betrayed them.

Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist

By Patrick McGilligan, Paul Buhle,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tender Comrades as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This text offers an account of the McCarthy era in Hollywood. Using oral history techniques, the authors involve 30 of those who were suppressed and unable to talk at the time, owing to the prevailing anti-Communist witch-hunt.


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