Victor S. Navasky discusses blacklisting of entertainers
BROADCAST: Dec. 1980 | DURATION: 00:57:22
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Studs Terkel One of the most moving books I've read in years, and the word 'moving' may be a strange adjective to describe "Naming Names" by Victor Navasky. It's published by Viking, and it's a book about a certain period in our history, and "Naming Names" is probably revelatory itself. It's about informing specifically the time of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation of Hollywood people, notably the Hollywood Ten writers. But it's more than that. There are a number of books on that subject. What Mr. Navasky has done is find as many people involved as possible, those who defied the committee and those have cooperated, though in short, those who informed. The effect on their lives, that of the community and, indeed, the effect on us, all of us today, some 30 or so years later. So delighted. Victor Navasky my guest in a moment. [pause] So Victor, where do we begin with "Naming Names"? In the very beginning there's something you say, the very beginning, and it's a quest of character and not of evidence. You speak of a certain moment that was called, what's it, degrading-?
Victor Navasky Degradation
Studs Terkel Degradation ceremony. The headlines and all of the time. Start with that.
Victor Navasky Yeah, well, I, you know, in the Hollywood Ten were called in 1947, and the committee made a lot of hearings by investigating these glamorous they they made a lot of headlines by investigating these glamorous Hollywood types. But in 1955, eight years later, they called a man who whose testimony was unreported in the press at the time. His name was William Ward Kimple, and he, it turned out, had been serving as membership secretary of the Communist Party in the Los Angeles area during all the years that they were investigating. And simultaneously he was working as an undercover agent for the L.A. Police Department. And he married his assistant. So they were turning over all of the names that the committee was asking for to the Los Angeles police, who were sharing them with the FBI and with the Un-American Activities Committee. So the committee had all of the names all along. So there are two legitimate functions for a committee of the Congress: one is to gather information to pass legislation, the other is to serve as a watchdog over the executive branch, as in the Watergate hearings. Well, this committee was doing something else. Since it had the names it was asking for, what I conclude is that it was a ritual they were asking people to go through, and the anthropologists call that kind of ritual a 'degradation ceremony,' because they were calling up people and asking you, as a test of your citizenship, and of your civic virtue, to betray your friends, to name them as former communists, because once they were named they then were stigmatized, they couldn't work in the industry unless and until they themselves appeared before the committee and denounced themselves, and then named others who had been in the party. And I call that a degradation ceremony.
Studs Terkel Yeah, and the word 'stigma' applies, and so there's something ironic here. Some 30 years or so have elapsed since the hearings, roughly. Those who refused to talk, then, did not cooperate, invoked either the Fifth Amendment or the First Amendment, are now, always have been, talking about it several years in since then about the nature of the event, and what happened to them, and why they did what they did. Whereas those who did talk, that is those who cooperated and informed have been sort of silent. It's a reversal of the stigma, is it not?
Studs Terkel And that's your story.
Victor Navasky That's right. I mean, that's the great irony because people like Lillian Hellman, who said that great thing back then, you know, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit the fashions of the times," she went and, a few years ago, wrote a book about why she did it, why she said it, and what she felt about those who named the names, called "Scoundrel Time." But people like Elia Kazan, who not only appeared before the committee then, and named the names that they asked them to name, but took an ad in The New York Times urging others to do likewise. When you ask him now, about it now, what he does is he takes what I think of as a retrospective Fifth Amendment. He says, "I'll write about it in my own time, my own way, but it's too complicated to talk about. If you could understand all of the factors, you'd understand that what I did was was not an indecent thing." But they really, as a as a class, have preferred not to talk about it. Now I have to say I did find people like Lee J. Cobb, Budd Schulberg, and a group of others who were willing, for the first time, to talk about it for "Naming Names."
Studs Terkel Well, let's talk about them, the informer, because this is what you've done of it no one quite has done yet. Ask them, some have rationalized, some have felt this overwhelming guilt. A woman named Isobel Lennart, quite moving as a matter of fact, and a woman named Sylvia Richards, and the role the 60s played on so the young-
Victor Navasky Right.
Studs Terkel that were not scared [unintelligible] if you were not scared. But let's go back to the beginnings, the informer. And you, your book deals with reflections on the early informer, whether it be Judas, or or whether it be someone in in medieval days, Mac Victor McLaglen, the classic informer in the film, "The Informer." And then what does or so how do you describe the whistleblower, say Ralph Nader, or someone who's revealing corporate banality at the at the risk of losing his job, or John Dean, another [you mention? dimension?].
Victor Navasky That's right. I mean, in our culture we are taught, as you mentioned, in the Christian culture it's Judas Iscariot, in the Jewish tradition it's the the word in the Book of Daniel for informer in the Aramaic is 'akhal-[kurza?],' which means to eat the flesh of someone else. It's in the in the Jewish tradition you have your tongue cut out if you inform on a fellow Jew to the Gentiles.
Studs Terkel Zero Mostel, by the way, I think that was his way of replying to the committee,
Victor Navasky That's right, he said, "I can't be an informer because under Jewish tradition an informer can't be buried on sacred ground," he said. But at the same time, in our we recognize that our whole legal system is based on the need to take testimony, and that's a form of informing. You see a hit-and-run driver, you have an obligation to report him. So what I talk about in the book is, I talk about the presumption, we have a moral presumption against playing the informer, against betraying your friend. And what I say in the in the introductory part of the book is I try to describe how, in the 50s, this moral presumption was overcome in a way that's that's surrealistic, and there was what I call the 'informer principle' that governed the land, that the test of your citizenship was your willingness to betray friendship. And you know, the famous observation of E.M. Forster, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I have the guts to betray my country." Well, that wasn't the problem that the Hollywood communists faced, because when they were asked to name people who had joined the Communist Party 15 years earlier because they thought it was the best way to fight depression, or the best way to fight fascism, or the be- best way to fight racism, they weren't they didn't have to choose between betraying their friend and betraying their country. They had to choose between betraying their friend and not being able to work themselves-
Studs Terkel Mm.
Victor Navasky -because the country wasn't at stake in in that name naming.
Studs Terkel Of course, you speak of three different kinds of informers, and the third kind you do one is the espionage informer, one of the conspiracy inform, one is just simply the informer, as in this third case.
Victor Navasky That's right. You know, what I say is that, you know, if Whittaker Chambers told the truth about Alger Hiss, and if Alger Hiss stole secrets from the State Department as Whittaker Chambers accused, then you'd have to say he was a patriot when he informed on Alger Hiss. I happen to believe that there's a real question about whether he told the truth. If Ethel Rosenberg and Julius Rosenberg really were atom spies, and Ethel's brother told the truth about her, then you'd have to say that he was revealing in- important information when he testified. There's still a question about whether a brother should inform on his sister, even if he was telling the truth. We say those I call the espionage informers. Then during the early the late 40s and early 50s there were a series of trials and congressional hearings where there were professional witnesses, like Louis Budenz, former editor of The Daily Worker, Herbert Philbrick who had been a party member in Boston who who appeared at a Smith Act trial with a red, white and blue bow tie on, and they would get up at these trials and they would give evidence that against the leadership of the Communist Party of the United States, which under the Smith Act they had been charged with conspiring to teach and advocate the overthrow of the government by force and violence. Well, what I say is if they really did that, and let me say I don't believe they really did that, I don't believe that the party was in the business of overthrowing the government by force and violence, it was something else, but if they really did that then people like Philbrick, Budenz-
Studs Terkel Also had the effect of a mosquito, for that matter.
Victor Navasky That's right, or a flea on a dog's tail or something. But it then these informers would be performing an arguably valuable service. But the people at the center of the Hollywood episode, they were naming names of of the least threat to our national security, a group that constituted the most ineffectual part of the party. And yet it had the highest per capita number of informers. So that's what really got me interested in the thing. I say, how could so many decent people, I mean people like Budd Schulberg and Kazan and Cobb, who were decent and smart and talented people, how could such people do such an indecent thing? What kind of society forced them to do that? What was the social system that caused people to behave in this way?
Studs Terkel And so you go into that, that's the moral detectives. And in a sense you were something of a detective. You were a Sam Spade here, really, digging into what has happened, we know what happened, why it happened and what was the reasoning behind it? Now just, oh, something else: why Hollywood? Have to come to that, don't we? That the the job of a legisla- of a committee, Congressional, is to have evidence, something to pass legislation of some sort, to be watchdog. This is something entirely different. It was a degradation ceremony, but also it was headline-making, too, was it
Victor Navasky It was headline-making, it was degradation ceremony. You know, the party had picked Hollywood too, though, and the party picked them because it wanted the prestige of its stars, it wanted the money that they would pay in dues. There was an argument about whether they should get 10 percent of the net or 10 percent of the gross. But it also the party believed for a while that if it could get control of Hollywood, it could seize the 'weapon of mass culture,' is what it was called. But they soon discovered what anyone who had worked out there for two weeks knew all along: that the writer was low man on the totem pole. He had nothing to say about what went in the movie, so that when they started looking for evidence of communist influence on content, they'd find things like the character actor Lionel Stander whistling "The Internationale" while he waited for an elevator, or Ayn Rand complaining that the children in "Song Of Russia," the Russian children had happy smiles on their faces. Or or Ginger Rogers' mother complained that j- her daughter had to say a line in a movie written by Dalton Trumbo, one of the 10 tender comrades. Share and share alike. That's democracy. And that was the closest they came to propaganda-
Studs Terkel But it was, it, obviously in your book, because many books have been written about HUAC, and some very good ones, too. Nothing quite like Victor Navasky's book, which goes to the people who spoke themselves, and the effect on their lives some 30 years later. That's what it's about, too. But just to continue in the informer matter, informer principle, the whistleblower, at the risk of losing their job, is informing on some corporate structure, what ha- some bit of banality somewhere, say.
Victor Navasky That's
Studs Terkel Or Nader or Nader's colleagues are informing, in that sense, on something that may be deleterious to our health, some consumer product or automobile.
Studs Terkel That is for a specific purpose involving public benefit, one way or
Victor Navasky That's right. I think that that that the difference between whistleblowing and informing, as I define it, is that the kind of informant I'm talking about is someone who betrays a friend who was, perhaps, a comrade in a great cause to the authorities, and in effect the whistleblower is identifying someone who has violated a set of values. The the thing that the whistleblower has in common with the people who resisted the Un-American Activities Committee, rather than the people who informed, is that both the whistleblower and the resistor, the Pete Seeger who tells the committee "I won't answer your questions congressman about my politics, but I'll sing you the songs I sang," he told Congressman Walter, "I'll sing you the songs that that I learned in traveling through the coal mining counties of your own home counties." The thing that that hol- binds the whistleblower and the Pete Seeger or Lillian Hellman or the Arthur Miller together is they were true to their code, that they they took action that put themselves at personal risk to to to adhere to their own value.
Studs Terkel Hellman also said, as did Miller, in different ways both said, "I'll speak of myself, but not of others."
Victor Navasky Right. You know, and of course there were differences among the resistors. Hellman and Miller did that. The Hollywood Ten said, "You don't have the right to ask us about ourselves. You don't have the right to inquire into our beliefs because that is a form of," they they charged it was an attempt at thought control. And you know, Edith Tiger of the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee said a marvelous thing, she said, and its responsive to your question about why Hollywood, she said, "You know, if you want to scare a country you attack its royalty." And Hollywood's our royalty. And that's why that's another reason the committee picked them out.
Studs Terkel So let's follow out your work as an investigative journalist, as a detective, and there's one, of course, stands out immediately because he speaks of this a great deal. He informed and he's furious at himself, so that's Sterling Hayden, he's a very dramatic figure. And he never quits talking about it, about involvement, he says, "I was a stoolie and I was honored at the time." You have a chapter called 'The Informer As Patriot.'
Victor Navasky That's right. Well, Hayden is different from most of the others because Hayden, very early on, became so upset with himself for what he had done that he went and volunteered to the National Committee Against, to abolish HUAC, to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee as a speaker, and told them he would at any time, day or night, they need only get him on the phone, he would fly across the country to speak on why this awful committee ought to be abolished. But but speaking of detective work, one of the things that happened with Hayden is he wrote a memoir about his experience, and in the memoir he blamed he put part of the blame for his decision to name names before the committee on his therapist, so and there were rumors in Hollywood of a therapist who was converting his patients into informers and that-
Studs Terkel Someone
Victor Navasky That's right. So it took a long time, first of all to get find out who the guy was, secondly to find out where he was now, because after three or four of his patients in a row popped up before the committee and named names, the the his practice started to dwindle, and it's a peculiar thing. See, at this time in history, Studs, the party had a rule you couldn't be in thera-, you couldn't be in analysis and in the party at the same time, for two reasons: one was, you know, Freud and Marx were thought to be inconsistent with each other. Freud thought all problems came from the unconscious. Marx, who owns the means of production. But secondly the party was a secret organization, and you're supposed to tell your therapist everything. Now the trouble was, in Hollywood, everybody was in analysis, and the party wanted these people, so they so what do they do? What they did was they informally licensed a handful of people as party therapists. And one of them was this guy Phil Cohen. Well, Phil Cohen got disillusioned with the party, but he kept his patients. And not only did do that, he started going to football games with the investigator for the Un-American Activities
Studs Terkel Guy named Bill Wheeler.
Studs Terkel But by you describe them all so vivid, Bill Wheeler's "I'm just a cop doing my work."
Victor Navasky That's right. You know, no one takes responsibility for what they did. Wheeler Wheeler, who persuaded, along with perhaps Phil Cohen, the therapist, persuaded hundreds of people to cooperate with the committee, said to me later, "You know, Vic," he says, "if it had been me, I never would have been a stoolie." I said, "What? You, you who talk to all these people?" He said, "Well, I was just a cop. I was just doing my job." And then there was a lawyer who, along with the therapist and the investigator for the committee, man named Martin Gang, who specialized in representing informers. And Gang says, "You know, I was just helping my clients go back to work." And he said to me, "You know, what's wrong with that?" He said, "Suppose I had been asked to represent a guy who was accused of being a Jew during the Spanish Inquisition." He said, "And the poor guy's gonna get his head chopped off." He says, "Well, I'd go up there and if the guy wasn't a Jew, I'd persuade him he wasn't a Jew so he doesn't get his head chopped off." He says, "Maybe you think that's wrong." He said, "I think that's my job as a lawyer, to help my client." Everybody's doing their job, and no one except the resistors are taking into account the common good. So what you have, even the trade unions, you know, the Guild's out there, the Screen Actors Guild, the Screenwriters Guild, the Screen Directors Guild. Screen Actors Guild had as its president one Ronald Reagan. Well, Reagan said he was against a secret blacklist. But when Gale Sondergaard, played the spider woman in all those movies, and she was the wife of Herbert Biberman of the Hollywood Ten, when she was subpoenaed to appear before the committee she asked Reagan to come to her defense, denounce the committee hearings as a witch hunt, and he said, "We can't do that. If you're so politically controversial at the box office that you cost money, how can we ask an employer, tell an employer he has to hire you?" My own belief, of course, is if the Guilds had said, "If you if you fire one of our people for political reasons, all of our people walk," it couldn't have happened. My belief is if the producers had refused to go along it couldn't have happened. My belief is if the informers had refused to inform it couldn't have happened. If so that at each step of the way you find everybody accepting the assumptions of this crazy period in America.
Studs Terkel You have that sequence that's very powerful. Each one. If they didn't, each one denies responsibility. The buck was always passed, and I put down "Who Killed Cock Robin?" [unintelligible]
Victor Navasky That's right. I almost I almost used that. I almost called the chapter of the book that, Studs, yeah.
Studs Terkel Did you? [It Yeah.
Victor Navasky Yeah.
Studs Terkel "Who Killed Cock Robin?" They all did, really.
Victor Navasky That's
Studs Terkel Except those who resisted.
Victor Navasky That's
Studs Terkel The very ones who were stigmatized then and by a younger generation are considered, I think, justifiably heroic today. But whereas those who sang are considered patriots, then, have been living, with a few exceptions, such as Budd Schulberg, who rationalize it, and Kazán, who is silent. The others live with a tremendous, overwhelming sense of shame. The question asking you, Vic Navasky is how are you able to get them to talk as they did? The others, this is quite remarkable.
Victor Navasky Well, you know it varies from person to person. To take Schulberg for a second, I wrote a story for The New York Times Magazine about the Hollywood Ten, and in it I quoted John Howard Lawson, who is one of the original members of the Ten, who was the cultural commissar of the communist party in Hollywood at the time. And I had asked Lawson about the charges that he was playing a dictatorial role of party censor, for example Budd Schulberg, when he testified before the Un-American Activities Committee, had mentioned that Lawson tried to denounced his novel, "What Makes Sammy Run?," which is about Hollywood, because it didn't meet the canons of socialist realism. So Lawson had said to me, "Well, listen," he said. "Budd Schulberg had the right to write what he wanted to write, and I had the right to say what I thought of it," he said. "And what I said I thought of it was it wasn't a great Hollywood novel, it wasn't a great proletarian novel. It wasn't a great novel, it was a piece of junk," he said, "and I think history proved me right." So I put that in my article. So after the article came out, I called Budd Schulberg for to talk to him about his own role before the committee, and he said, "I'm glad you called. I was just sitting down at my typewriter to write you a letter." He said, "I think it was unfair of you to print this comment by John Howard Lawson without also quoting the New York Times Daily critic who said that this was a great work of literature." So I said, "Well, Budd, I wasn't quoting that to make a point about whether your novel is any good or not. I was quoting it-"
Studs Terkel But I think that Budd Schulburg's comments to you, and stick with this, may be one of the keys to the book in the matter of rationalization, and was there a danger to a country or not with these people who were named? Perhaps you go to the beginning because perhaps readers, listeners, I should say, may not know the substance of it.
Victor Navasky Sure.
Studs Terkel And what Schulberg said, but his his reasons now-
Victor Navasky Yeah.
Studs Terkel -are very fascinating.
Victor Navasky Right. So so I went out and saw him, and what he says to me, he says, and the fact he says, "Navasky, you think you're a civil libertarian because you're against the blacklist," he said. "Well, let me tell you something. I was fighting something greater than the blacklist, I was fighting the deathlist." Said, "As a young communist I went to the Soviet Union, I heard poets and novelists speak at a great convocation there." He said, "Ten years later I came back to this country, and every single person who had spoken there was a non-person. They had been sent to the salt mines or sent to Siberia or executed," he said. "And I would say this to Lillian Hellman and she would she would say 'prove it,' and catch the next ferry from Martha's Vineyard," he said. "Well," he said, "I believe that it took more courage to quit the Communist Party than it did to resist the House Committee on Un-American Activities." He said, "I didn't want to cooperate with them," he said, "but I couldn't very well not appear there and and and invoke the Fifth Amendment because I quit the Communist party openly, so I couldn't take the Fifth Amendment on 'are you now or have you ever been?'," he said. And he said, "My guilt isn't Ring Lardner, Jr." He named Ring Lardner, who was one of the Hollywood Ten before the committee. He says, "My guilt is Czechoslovakia." So you know I say to him, and I argue in the book, I say, "Well, that's all very well, Budd, but you don't have to, you can expose the deathlist by writing articles in Saturday Review of Literature, which he did at the time, you can write books about it. You can do all the other things you want to do about it, but you don't have to legitimize the repression at home in order to fight the deathlist abroad. And not only that," I said, "you know, it's also much easier, in my view, to be against something that's happening some thousands of miles away, which happens also to reflect the national consensus, than it is to put your own career at risk for a principle at home."
Studs Terkel And did he reply to that?
Victor Navasky Well, you know, when you when you, at least when I talked to Budd, he replies by in effect changing the subject, because he talks about the evils of Stalinism. He says, "Don't make a hero out of Ring Lardner and Dalton Trumbo," he said. He says, "If Lillian Hellman and John Howard Lawson were in charge in this country, I'd be lined up against the wall and shot." He says, "You don't understand what they are." Says, "They're thought controllers, Vic, they're thought controllers, and they've got you in their sway." [laughter] That's why, and I said, "But Budd, why did you have to be an informant before the committee?" I mean, he doesn't, it's-
Studs Terkel Now one of the things that you raise, it's not a reply to Schulberg, rather interesting. The thing you do not, I noticed one thing in your book, you do not judge the people. You may have a point of view, which you do have, you do not judge the informers or the others. You stated and you offer their reasons. But there's one someone in your book who resisted, said, "Why did they wait until they were subpoenaed and called by the committee? If they were that moral, as Schulberg is, why didn't you go ahead and do it in the first place?"
Victor Navasky That's right. That was the writer/director Abe Polonsky who told me that, you know he said, "Whenever I get invited to, whenever I go to France," he said, "they always ask me, the first question is 'What do you think of Kazan? 'Cause in Kazan, they think Kazan is the great American director and they think also that great men are entitled to be moral monsters, and they know I was blacklisted and he named the names and went back to work.' And I say to them, 'Look-'"
Studs Terkel You're quoting Polonsky
Victor Navasky I'm quoting Polonsky, and he said, "I said to them, 'Look,' I said, 'I think he did a bad thing,' he said. 'He doesn't want to admit he did a bad thing. That's his problem. That's not my problem,' he said." So I say to him, "Well, what do you say when when Kazan argues, as he did at the time, that there was a moral obligation to inform, as Budd Schulberg argues. There was a moral obligation to be to expose the deathlist." He says, "Well," he says, "there's a simple thing to say about that," he says. "You got to ask," he said, "when," he says, "that's the scientific litmus test. When," he said he said, "you know, if they had, the day they left the Communist Party, as Whittaker Chambers said, he would have to, he said, 'I always knew the day I left the party I would walk into the police station,' felt some moral obligation to expose this international communist menace." Says, "Then we have a political disagreement," he says. "But if you wait until the committee comes and puts a gun up against your head," he says, "'name the names or I pull the trigger'," he says, "then you have to ask why did they wait until they were forced to name the names, before they did it, and why didn't they do it before they were forced to name the names?" he said. "And that's the critical question," he said. "And there's one simple answer," he says. "Because it's easier [laughter] it's easier for their friends to have problems than for them to have problems."
Studs Terkel Yeah, and so we come to so many aspects, a child of someone, he was a child at the time of someone who was named, and eventually died, perhaps, as a result of it. Conrad Bromberg, the son of J. Edward Bromberg, a very distinguished actor who was named, and several died, heart attack, Phil Loeb, others, Mady Christians, Canada Lee, the black actor. Conrad Bromberg, as the boy, has an encounter with Lee Cobb, who named his father so it's a terribly moving thing. Describe the circumstances, Cobb himself and his thoughts.
Victor Navasky Yeah, well, Bromberg recalled to me that he went backstage to see Cobb after a performance he was in, and really just to say hello. And his father had died recently, and when Cobb saw him he put his arm up in front of his face, and said, "Oh no, oh my god, I can't talk to you." And Bromberg said to me, "I thought at the time it was just that he was so sad that my father had died. What he didn't know was he had named my father in his own hearing before the Un-American Activities Committee." And I went and saw Cobb and asked him about this.
Victor Navasky I did and I saw him, we sat around his pool in Hollywood, and Cobb was had no, he's one of the few people I talked to who had no self-pity. But he denounced what he did, but he also had no charity for the others. What he said to me was, "Look," he said, "you know, when Kazan named the names, I said to myself, 'you could put me on a rack and and and I would say turn the wheel another turn, I won't break'," he said, "but I ran out of money," he said. "I, my wife went into an institution. She became an alcoholic. I couldn't work. When you're an actor you can't work under a pseudonym. You only have one face." He said, "What they were doing was unspeakable," he said, "there'd be an FBI car parked across the street with two fellows in it all day long. They'd be interfering with the grocery bill," he said, "and my friends weren't there when I needed them," he said. "Telephone wasn't ringing, and I'm talking about breakfast," he said. "And when I finally called my lawyer after I'd been subpoenaed by the committee, he said 'meet me in the car, don't come to the office,' because he didn't want to be seen with an accused communist coming to the office, he said. "Well, in those circumstances," he said he said, "I I realized, or I believed, that the very people I thought I was protecting were beneath contempt," he said. And and he said, they, he said, "They would sympathize with me as I died. That much they were willing to do," he said. "They wanted to give the eulogy at my funeral. They wanted to say 'he died without caving in'," he said. "Well, I caved in," he says, "now that doesn't make me a hero." He says, "I'm disgusted with what I did," he said, "every day of my life I think about it," he said. "But it doesn't make them any better than I am."
Studs Terkel I think it was such a moving and terrible case of self-contempt, at the same contempt for all, especially for himself, and so when he fended himself off from the son of the guy he named, it was his own guilt. He says, "Don't come near me, I'm contagious," something of that sort. What he really meant.
Victor Navasky That's an interesting-
Studs Terkel Yeah.
Victor Navasky -insight. I hadn't thought of it that way. But it's true, he he never got over it.
Studs Terkel So you have the, there's these to me are the we're talking now about something C. Wright Mills raises, and Erwin Goffman, student of human behavior, I mean at a certain moment in our history, and toward the end you quote, and how do you behave at that moment, and you quote Murray Kempton, speaking of Lillian Hellman. He may have disagreed with her about some things, she's very tough and rough, "but she taught us how to behave." We're talking to Victor Navasky, and this quite remarkable book of which you'll hear a great deal, and I think should be read. It's a moral detective story, "Naming Names," Viking the publishers. In a moment we continue. [pause] Resuming the conversation with Victor Navasky, the book "Naming Names." And so the stigma has reversed 30 years after the event. Those who defied the committee have, to a great extent, been considered by the younger generation, we're talking about a younger generation of readers now, and of the people living today, aren't we? And looking upon, indeed Lillian Hellman, looked upon as a heroine particularly by young women and others today, whereas those who did talk and were, they felt, or rationalized, patriotic at the time, have been a great many with few exceptions, Mr. Schulberg and Kazan, living with a sense of shame. There's one case of a writer named Isobel Rennart that moved me very much.
Victor Navasky Isobel Lennart, yeah.
Studs Terkel Lennart.
Victor Navasky Lennart, yeah. She wrote many of the great musicals during the Second World War, "Anchors Away" and others. And, you know, she said that she only named people who had been named at least 10 times before, and and that much, you know, she could live with. But she never forgave herself. And she said, you know, she thought what she had done was contemptible, and she said years later, I think it was George [Wellner, the agent, who with whom she had been very close, but who had stopped talking to her over this issue of naming names, as many people stopped talking to each other, was passing through town and saw she was opening in a play in Boston, and he called. And she and she was so upset, so pleased that he wanted to talk to her that she just started bawling. I mean, and, you know, those those episodes, there was there was a it happened in different ways. I mean, there was a writer, Leo Townsend, who wrote the Cole Porter movie, "Night And Day," and he named names before the committee, and two weeks later he was at a black tie premier, and Laszlo Benedek, who was a director at the time, had been his friend, and he saw him and turned around and didn't talk to him. And a week passed by and Townsend's phone rang, and it was Benan- Benedek on the phone. Benedek said, "I called to apologize," and Townsend said yes, and he said, "You know, I saw you at this at this play. And I turned around and it was unforgivable for me to do that. And I want to come out and apologize in person." And he came out to the house, and they both cried. And they renewed their friendship.
Studs Terkel You know I was thinking of that, we'll come to this matter of friendship, breaks in friendship, subject of forgiveness. And a key exchange of letters, a debate between two of the defiant members of among the witnesses, the Hollywood Ten, Dalton Trumbo and Albert Maltz. Before that, you speak of, it's connected, you speak of the community, all victims, the community, what happened to the community itself was quite horrendous.
Victor Navasky It was a trauma for the community. And and I try to draw on the litera- you know, you look at the literature of what happens when there are earthquakes or floods. People feel a sense of vulnerability. They're they're afraid of their environment because you never know where the next avalanche will be. Well, I quote a writer named George Sklar who said, you know, he's walking down the street in Beverly Hills and he said, "All of a sudden I saw one of them coming the other direction. One of them is an informer. It's like the enemy is walking towards me." He said, "We crossed over to the other side and I said to my wife, 'Let's get out of here, we are in enemy territory.'" He said, "You felt hunted during this period that you you didn't know who." And Conrad Bromberg said, "You know, one of the things about that period was you didn't know who was for you or against you. Either the prosecutor and the defense got mixed up, Victor Riesel, the columnist, would call and say, "Joe," to Bromberg's father, "you can go back to work next week on such and such a program." It sounds like good news, he's for you. He says, "All you have to do is go and appear before the committee and name so and so. I've talked to Wheeler, it's all set up." Well, you know, Bromberg says, "Would you want your life to be run by Victor Riesel?" I mean, you didn't know who was for you or against. So that was part of the environment. The whole possibility of trust in the community was polluted. Everybody suspected everybody else. People were afraid to talk about it out loud on both sides. Richard Collins, informer, walked into the commissary two days after he named names, sat down, one person came and sat near him. Otherwise it was this big space between them. People didn't want to be seen with him. The Levitts, who were blacklisted, they got subpoenaed to appear before the committee. Mrs. Levitt had been John Garfield's secretary, and they wanted her to testify to one thing that would contradict something he had said when he was called as a witness, so then they could get him on perjury. And if she did that, they said, her husband could go back to work. Well, she wouldn't do it, she took the Fifth Amendment. That night some people that they had been invited to a friend's to go to a party, the friends called up and said, "Would you mind not coming to the party tonight?"
Studs Terkel These were friends, close friends, and something happened, something, there was something, Mildred Dunnock, who was apolitical, non-political, who was a friend of Arthur Miller and of Lillian Hellman, those who were accused and others, and suddenly she found herself on the list, and she was taken off later because her husband had some power and threatened Red Channels to sue them, and she said but she had the feeling, she knew what it felt to have that stigma.
Victor Navasky That's right. You know and it and it sounds trivial, but but you add all these things up and it just the whole environment was an environment of fear, terror, suspicion. Vera Caspary, who wrote "Laura," told me, she's a marvelous woman, now must be in her 70s. She told me that one night she was having some people over to the house, a writer named Flor- named Joseph Michel and his wife Florence, and the phone rang, and it was another friend, Roland Kibbee, whom I talked to for the book, who would name names, informered before the committee. He was a very close friend and he wanted to come over and stop by for a drink. He had been to the theater, it was ten-thirty at night, and she was about to say "C'mon over" when she realized that he or she would have an informer and someone who was on the blacklist in the same room. She couldn't do it. So she she said, "Well, you'd better not come over, I'm feeling sick and [aw, gee?]," her husband, she said, he's gone to sleep and we'll do it another time. She hung up and she said to herself, "You know, this is my close friend and I've lied to him, and I've never done that before." And that's what this thing did to-
Studs Terkel So with this going on, years and years, still retained, still there. Now you come along, Victor Navasky, journalist, editor comes along. You did a book previous to this called "Kennedy Justice." Quite a remarkable book. And here you are, it's the uncovering the case, uncovering all the sores. And now we come to, years later, some of the blacklisted writers who wrote black market now are writing openly. Blacklisters finally, and Dalton Trumbo certainly the most celebrated of all, perhaps the most gifted of all, has now made a speech, he's being honored before the before the Screen Writers Guild, is it?
Victor Navasky Yeah, it's the Laurel Award.
Studs Terkel The Laurel Award, and he makes a speech called "Only Victims," which is the informers who were victims as well as those informed upon.
Victor Navasky Right. He says, "Those of you who are too young to remember the blacklist should study that period, because there are lessons to be learned." He said, "But when you do, don't look for heroes and villains, don't look for saints and devils. All of us did things we would rather not have done. We wounded each other and ourselves in ways that we would rather not have done." He said, "Don't look for saints and sinners. There were only victims." And he repeated that phrase: 'only victims.' He got a great ovation, and it was received as a healing and generous statement at the time. He got lots of mail from people who had not spoken to him for years because they knew or believed he wouldn't speak to them. Two years later I was doing a story for The New York Times Sunday magazine and went out to see the various members of the Hollywood Ten, and my first stop was at the home of Albert Maltz, who had written "This Gun For Hire" and "Pride Of The Marines" and then been blacklisted. And Maltz had been a leading member of the Hollywood Communist Party. He he had written articles in the party journals, one of which became celebrated and got him in a lot of trouble. But Maltz greeted me at the door with a piece of paper, and he said to me, "I want you to promise to print this in its entirety, because if you don't I may take it out as an ad in Variety." So I told them I couldn't, without having read it I couldn't promise to print in its entirety, among other reasons because I only had 5,000 words and it was a long statement. What it turned out to be was a denunciation of Dalton Trumbo, which which was astonishing to me just because I I just assumed the Ten stood together against the committee. Here it was 25, 30 years later and they hadn't, as far as I knew, changed their minds. But what he was objecting to was this speech where Trumbo said there were only victims, and what he said was, in this statement he said, "To say that the that there were no heroes and villains, that the go- that the the committee and and the informers and the informees were equally victims is like saying that the guard and the prisoner at the concentration camp are both equally victims. And to to say that," he said, "takes away the meaning of our lives. What do we going to prison for?" And he said, "You know, Dalton wasn't saying that at the time he wrote a pamphlet, a magnificent pamphlet called "Time Of The Toad," and he called those who named names, he said they ate toad meat. He said-
Studs Terkel That's an old Zola phrase, isn't it? It's an old Zola phrase,
Victor Navasky Yeah. The tone "The Time Of The Toad." And he said and he said, "It's it's a disservice to what the Ten, to the fight that they stood for." And he wanted to repudiate that whole notion. Well, I took that statement to Trumbo, and Trumbo read it and he said, "You mean Albert's been stewing about this for two years?" He said and then he said, "You know, Lillian Hellman once said 'forgiveness isn't my job. That's for the man upstairs.'" He says, "Well, I feel the same way about vengeance. It's an unhealthy god damn thing," he said. "It eats away at your insides. Hatred can consume you. You can't produce anything or create anything. And the the result of this exchange, which appeared in The Times Magazine was, unbeknownst to me at the time, Trumbo and Maltz than exchanged close to a hundred pages of letters on this issue of whether there were heroes and villains, who suffered, whether whether the informers were victims or whether they weren't victims. And it raises profound questions of one's obligation: 'is there a statute of limitations on moral crimes?' is the underlying question
Studs Terkel Isn't it, because we know that murder is forgiven, those who commit crimes that may be, you know, quite profound, capital crimes are, there's rehabilitation, there's forgiveness, all this is, you know, but we now talk about the informer and the two attitudes. Both are very strong, both are very eloquent. Trumbo saying, Maltz saying "to understand is one thing, to forgive another, understand why that if you'd-", whereas Trumbo was saying something entirely different.
Victor Navasky That's right. Maltz says, "To understand all is not to forgive all, too." Well, the thing is that you these arguments go on, and I take the position that it's the difference between them is a difference ultimately of moral style because, and that people who were not victims of that committee in that period don't have the right to choose between the Trumbo and the Maltz position, because both of them, after all, have a common enemy: the committee. Both of them resisted when it counted. Both of them believe in the importance of moral argument to the extent that they're willing to write these, have this exchange, and both of them, in a way, believe that their attitude has the best chance of giving us a more democratic and humanistic society. Trumbo by welcoming these people back after they, in effect, have served their time, their time having been through a variety of social penalties rather than criminal ones, and Maltz believing that that you've got to keep them out of the community of your friends, lest they, in effect, pollute it by doing it again. Now there's a woman in Hollywood named Sylvia Jerricho, who was the wife of a blacklisted writer, who said an interesting thing to me about it. She said, you know, she went to France in in as many people did, they left the country for a few years, and when she came back she would-
Studs Terkel To get jobs there,
Victor Navasky To get jobs there, and to get away from this this oppressive atmosphere. When she came back she was surprised to find that people were talking to informers again, she said, "Because I had regarded them," she said, "as dangerous as a class, and I felt that if you don't remind them of that they're going to do it again." And she said, you know, and and it came home to her that what this phrase that people think of as a cliche, 'eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,' what it means, she said, "To me it has come to mean that the only protection we have is to make our views known, to make ourselves wholly known. And that may mean embarrassing informers on public and private occasions, as well."
Studs Terkel Whereas Ring Lardner, who agrees with Trumbo, says, "I don't have any blacklist."
Studs Terkel "I fought the blacklist then, I'll fight it." That is he would shake hands if he had to. If he met, he wouldn't go out of his way to do it, but if he met Budd Schulberg, say, he would shake
Victor Navasky Well, he did. I mean, you know, one of the consternations is, you know, Budd will go into a restaurant and Ring Lardner and Frances Chaney, his wife, will be sitting there, and Ring'll shake his hand, Frances won't because she doesn't talk to informers.
Studs Terkel [laughter] So we come back, but this is one of the keys of your book, one of the moving parts is this exchange, the matter of forgiveness, of the matter of remembrance between the two, between Trumbo and between Maltz. And this is one, really we can't leave that thing just yet because that's almost the key to it, isn't it, some thirty years later.
Victor Navasky Yeah. I was out in California a few weeks ago and at a meeting of the American Civil Liberties Union, and at the meeting were a number of people who had been involved in this whole episode. Charlie Katz, who was a lawyer for the Hollywood Ten, got up and he spontaneously said that a lot of people who love Dalton Trumbo felt that his statement that there were only victims was an example of Trumbo at his most glib, and that it was absurd to say there were no heroes and villains during this period. Well, I I said, you know, Trumbo wasn't there to defend himself, and I said I didn't think he was interpreting Trumbo's statement fairly, that, to me, this that he didn't capt- to me, Trumbo made a statement in a different spirit. What Trumbo was saying was that it was not productive to spend one's time searching for the good guys and the bad guys, and that obviously the informers suffered. The fact that they didn't suffer in the same way, that they suffer from from social penalties rather than material penalties, is something that one ought to be aware of, and it's trivial to start comparing different kinds of suffering. But you got to be aware that it happened to them.
Studs Terkel We have to come back again to those who informed, don't we, and why, and the circumstances, and the rationalizations, and the shame some lived with. And there was a comment made by one of the writers who defied the committee about John Garfield, who died before when he didn't want to name. And how is it, didn't he come from a tough street? How's that go again?
Victor Navasky He said about Garfield, he said, "You know, Garfield, his testimony wasn't so terrific," he said, "but he didn't do the one thing that he said the one thing he would never do," he said, "because in his mind he comes from the street where he lives." He says, "On the street where he lives is one thing you never do. You're not a stool pigeon." And that's-
Studs Terkel But we have to question, you have something going on the subject of candor toward the end. Because the obvious question is if these guys felt they weren't unpatriotic and belonging to this Communist Party, why'd you come out and say "I am"? By God, even though I'm not and I am, and by God I believe it. Why didn't they come out and say it?
Victor Navasky Right. Well, Ben Margolis, who was a lawyer for Ten, pointed out it would have been career suicide or it appeared to be career suicide, at the time, to admit one was a communist. And Albert Maltz points out the Communist Party wanted people to be open communists, even though it was a secret organization, it was it was would welcome anyone who would say "I'm a communist." But that he just couldn't do it at the time. One wonders though, with the benefit of 25, 30 years hindsight, whether that was the wisest strategy in the sense that since careers were smashed regardless, mightn't it have been better, not within the committee framework, because you don't want to concede the committee the right to ask the questions it was asking, but outside the committee framework, to in a vigorous and robust way, defend one's social commitments. Now what Trumbo says to that, he says, "Well, but you know you don't confess political affiliation." He said, "Think of the underground railroad when people were doing that. There are good reasons why they were starting the CIO and you got your head busted if it was known that you were organizing a union. There are all kinds of times in our history when you don't confess affiliation."
Studs Terkel Something called political privacy.
Victor Navasky Political privacy.
Victor Navasky And not only that, he said, "You know, we didn't get in trouble because they picked our name out of a hat." He said, "They called the Ten, the Hollywood Ten, because we were very noisy about the things we believed in."
Studs Terkel I suppose another reply might be when you say robust argument at the still under duress. The fact is that as the stigma is there, you see, so it's still under duress. It's the reverse, you might say, of the informer who felt he was patriotic in doing, why did he wait until he was called?
Victor Navasky Right. Well, that's that's one of the arguments now. Another, see, another argument, though, that that the people who say that the Hollywood Ten lacked candor make, Eric Bentley made this argument in his book, Hilton Kramer makes it in in his writings in the New York Times when he writes about this, is he says that these people, the Hollywood Ten and others, were Stalinists masquerading as Jeffersonians, that they would cite the First Amendment to the Constitution but they didn't believe in it. It was cynical, and they they made it impossible for the liberals to mount an effective opposition because here they were really communists pretending to be libertarians, and also, he says, what people who make this argument say, that, you know, you really have to then look at the crimes of Stalin when you evaluate, they go back to the Budd Schulberg argument, and they say, "You can't evaluate resistance to the blacklist without putting it in the context of the Stalinism which caused the McCarthyism, that," they say, "there would have been no McCarthy if it weren't for Stalin." And, you know, it's a powerful argument when you first hear it, until you start thinking about it. Then you ask, as Aryeh Neier of the ACLU asked, he said, "You know, is it necessary every time you denounce the crimes of Stalin to bring up the czar, because and and and when you talk about the crimes of the KGB do you have to bring up the crimes of the Okhrana? I mean, the problem is that there's nothing wrong with putting everything in its historical context, but the people who want to put McCarthyism in the context of Stalinism are doing it to mitigate one's outrage against McCarthyism, because obviously Stalin sent millions to death camps. McCarthy sent a few hundred to prison. I mean, this is not a comparison, but it's not a justification for McCarthyism.
Studs Terkel This is the approach used by, say, Commentary Magazine.
Victor Navasky That's right, I think so. And so then the question, and to the question of of were these Stalinists who were invoking the First Amendment in a cynical way, I think the lawyer Martin Popper had the best thing to say about that. He said, "Why do you assume that you can't be a Marxist and believe in the first amendment at the same time?" He said, "I have, and I did, and I do." And he said, "I think if we made any mistake it was not being more forthright in our invocation of the First Amendment." He said, "I believe, in looking back now, that despite the fact that the Ten went to prison, if all of the subsequent witnesses, instead of invoking the Fifth Amendment had invoked the First Amendment, no more would have gone to prison than did, and we would have had a clearer definition of the issues."
Studs Terkel Of course, it's a question of hindsight, isn't it?
Victor Navasky Yeah.
Studs Terkel Remember we come again, we have to come back again to the time, the circumstance 30 years later, not to say it couldn't happen again, a different way perhaps. What do you think? I was, I wasn't going to ask. Do you think that could come about in the same way?
Victor Navasky Well, you know until two days ago I would have said no, I still would say it won't happen in the same way, and one of the reasons, by the way, is I think we now have the example of people who resisted and prevailed, and they have taught us how to act if it ever happens again. And we have the counter example of people like Kazan who were stigmatized. And I think as witnesses, if new witnesses were called, they they would have to take into account what has happened to to the regard in which these people were held. But two days ago it was announced that the Heritage Foundation, Pennsylvania, has released a report, 3,000 page report, nine volumes, that calls, among other things, for the reinstitution of a House Un-American Activities Committee, and because they see the new need to ferret out the subversives from within not only the entertainment industry, the government, the education, the world of education, and elsewhere in our society.
Studs Terkel Of course it is a new generation, too, is it not? Generation of younger people now who were little children during the Vietnam War. A whole new generation, isn't it? And so we come to the question of obedience. You touch on that toward the end, too. Bruno Bettelheim's "Informed Heart," the actions of people, wholly different circumstance in Germany, in a camp, and an experiment by a guy named Milgram in New York, the subject of disconcerns of the informers, of course, of that time. That's, again, something you have to consider, don't we?
Victor Navasky Well yeah, you know, the Milgram experiment has become infamous because it is thought to have violated both the it's methodologically suspect, and it also may have violated the rights of some of the experimentees. But what he did was he told people he was conducting a learning experiment, and that and that they would have to push a button when the per- the student was gave an incorrect answer, and that this button would would give the student a shock, and that the shocks would go up to a certain point if he kept getting wrong answers, and then they had it they had a little board in front of them, and then it would say 'danger: high voltage' and there'd be a red line, and unbeknownst to the subject of the experiment the student was really an actor, and the so-called student was really an actor. And as the shock levels would go up the the students would start saying, "Stop, I can't stand it. This is this is hurting me. Stop please stop stop." And the real object of the experiment was to see how long people would inflict this inhuman pain and punishment because a man in the white coat told him it was the rule of the experiment to do this. And what Milgram found out was about was two things, I think. One was that about one-third of the people went along, which just from ironically was the same about the same number of people who named names before the Un-American Activities Committee. About one-third of the people went along. But secondly, unless they saone-thirdw someone else who refused to go along, when they saw someone else who refused to go along the results changed dramatically. Far fewer continued to do it. There was an experiment by a guy named Solomon Asch who put fifteen people in a room, and only one of them was the subject of the experiment. He thought all fifteen were. And what they would do would be they'd show you two lines, one longer and one shorter, and they go around the room, and they'd ask everyone which is the longer line. The first fourteen, who were confederates, would say the longer line was shorter, and then the fifteenth guy would come in, again the same thing happened, that about one third of them would just repeat what they heard even though it violated the evidence of their own eyes, unless someone else in that first fourteen group was, and I see those someone elses as being the Lillian Hellmans and the Pete Seegers and the Arthur
Studs Terkel Precisely the phrase, Murray Kempton, toward the end of the book of Vic Navasky, thinks of Hellmann as "inclined to be a hanging judge of the motives of persons whose opinions differ from her own. Nevertheless he honors her for her moment. It is her summit which I will not cut my conscience to fit the fashion of the day. It is her summit we can ask from her nothing more. I do not suppose that in only the crucial sense we need to. The most important thing is never to forget that here is someone who knew how to act, when there nothing harder on earth than knowing how to act." That's what you're saying.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible] someone. Perhaps you'd read the last passage, you should, of your book, which of course is the what Doctorow calls 'that moral [intructive?],' perhaps. Victor Navasky reading the last part of this book, "Naming Names."
Victor Navasky Well, "We have seen that our culture presented the informer as a moral hero in order to justify the unjustifiable. We have seen how our Guilds, trade associations, artists and lawyers all accepted the illusion of inevitability, and in so doing collaborated in the perpetuation of social evil. We have seen how trust, our most cherished of possessions, was dissipated, and the possibility of true community polluted by the advent of symbolic betrayal in literal collaboration. Morality, we are told, is a voice of conscience from within in harmony with a voice of authority from without. We have seen what happens when the citizen delegates his conscience to the state."
Studs Terkel And that's what it's about, really, isn't it? Victor Navasky, thank you very much.