On this day in 1949, a report by the Federal Bureau of Investigation named well-known Hollywood figures as members of the Communist Party, setting off a period of paranoia known as the “Red Scare Two.”
Among those on the report’s list were Frederic March, John Garfield, Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Robeson, and the writer Dorothy Parker.
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was cooperating with the House Un-American Activities Committee to find and out so-called Hollywood subversives.
In 1947, Congress cited 10 Hollywood writers and directors for contempt because they refused to divulge their political leanings or name others who might be communists. The “Hollywood Ten,” as they came to be known, were later convicted and sent to prison for varying terms.
John Berry, who directed the documentary below, released in 1950, was himself blacklisted.
The FBI report relied on accusations made by “confidential informants,” supplemented with analysis later widely viewed as highly questionable.
Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin led the charge of stoking fears that communism was spreading in the United States. He held hearings, and claimed that he personally had the names of dozens of American communists working in the government.
The senator made allegations without presenting evidence, smearing reputations and ruining careers.
‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’
In the spring of 1954, McCarthy picked a fight with the U.S. Army, charging lax security at a top-secret army facility.
The army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to fight the accusation.
At a session on June 9, 1954, McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a communist organization.
In front of a live and stunned television audience, Welch lashed out, questioning the senator’s moral compass.
That exchange ended McCarthy’s career. He was censured by his Senate colleagues, ostracized by his party, and ignored by the press. McCarthy died three years later at the age of 48.