PAULETTE GODDARD AND THE HOUSE UN-AMERICAN ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE
When someone accused her of being a communist her reply was to threaten to fling her diamond necklace in his face. Jean Renoir (My Life and My Films, 1974).
The dreaded witch-hunt begun in 1947 against Hollywood celebrities, and others, suspected of having communist sympathies reached its peak during the Second Red Scare (1950-54) at the beginning of the Cold War. This period is also known as the era of McCarthyism for Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy who unleashed a wave of terror on the Mecca of cinema establishing blacklists of people unfairly attacked on their political views and their patriotism.
President Truman authorized in 1947 the creation of a permanent commission named the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in the House of Representatives. The committee’s main mission was to investigate the impact of communism, as well as its influence and propaganda in the film industry. The committee summoned and questioned anyone they suspected had communist ties so that he may defend himself or otherwise provide evidence against these suspicions !
Paulette Goddard was a member of a committee for the First Amendment that brought together many celebrities with left-leaning political views such as Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy or Orson Welles. Created in 1947 by Philip Dunne, John Huston and William Wyler, this committee disputed the Commission of Un-American Activities’right to question anyone on his political affiliation.
In September of 1947 Paulette bravely took part in the radio program Hollywood Fights Back to protest the Commission’s politics and defend the freedom of press alongside actors Fredric March, Edward G. Robinson and Audie Murphy.
Certain celebrities (known as the Hollywood Ten) refused to testify in front of the Commission citing the First Amendment rights. These celebrities, including screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and the director Edward Dmytryk (who later accepted to appear before the commission), were sent to prison.
Investigations were conducted on Paulette’s political opinions and activities from 1940 onward because of her role in helping painter
a notorious communist, get out of Mexico after the assassination attempt on exiled communist Léon Trotski (who was assassinated several months later).
Despite all the surveillance, Paulette, a Democrat, was never publicly accused of being a communist and continued to have a successful career for over a decade. Nevertheless, she had many problems with Paramount at the end of the forties. The studio terminated her contract Bride of Vengeance (1949) bombed at the same time as the media and many politicians attacked her ex-husband Charles Chaplin.
This atmosphere of fear and suspicion disappeared little by little at the beginning of the sixties. The regrettable events are today severely criticized, considered an abuse of power by the State, and a shameful period in American history.
In 1999 a memorial entitled Blacklist was erected in Los Angeles by Jenny Holzer honoring the First Amendment and dedicated to everyone, and in particular to the Hollywood Ten, unjustly accused during this dark period. Ten stone benches arranged in a circle and surrounded by various quotations accredited to the celebrities (as well as other notable figures of the era) represent the Hollywood Ten in this memorial. Paulette Goddard’s quotation reads : To this day no one has been able to point to any character, any scene, or any line from any picture which can be understood to advocate the overthrow of our government. The memorial is located in a landscaped garden made up of old olive trees in front of the Fisher Museum of Art (University of Southern California).
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