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.

pghuacradioPresident 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.
Ultimately, about 300 artists found themselves blacklisted: musicians (Artie Shaw), screenwriters, directors (Luis Buñuel, Jules Dassin, Joseph Losey ou Fred Zinnemann), but also actors (John Garfield or Orson Welles, including John Ireland, Edward G. Robinson, Gipsy Rose Lee or Gale Sondergaard, Paulette’s partners).
They were victims of wiretapping, tax and banking audits, defamatory press, smear campaigns, and political attacks calling for the deportation of several among them. The majority of these artists could no longer work in the United States; they were forced into exile or to take on a pseudonym. Very few among them successfully rebuilt their careers.
Two of Paulette’s husbands were accused of communist sympathies and blacklisted: Burgess Meredith and Charles Chaplin. After taking part in a European tour for Limelight, Chaplin was unable to return to the United States because his American visa was repealed in 1952. As a result, he and his family settled in Switzerland and did not return to the United States until 1972 to accept an honorary Oscar. Burgess Meredith saw his film career fade away; television permitted him to return to the screen during the sixties.

pghuacriveraInvestigations were conducted on Paulette’s political opinions and activities from 1940 onward because of her role in helping painter Diego Rivera, a notorious communist, get out of Mexico after the assassination attempt on exiled communist Léon Trotski (who was assassinated several months later).
Her friendship with other communists like Frida Kahlo, her successive marriages with Charles Chaplin and Burgess Meredith, her work with the committee for the first amendment, and her appearance in the 1947 radio program resulted in her being under continuous surveillance, the creation of confidential reports on her, and her inclusion in several FBI lists. A FBI internal memo dated 1941 and addressed to then-director, Edgard J. Hoover, included a list of Paramount celebrities accused of having likely aided the causes of the Communist party. Paulette was on this list, as were her partners Claudette Colbert, Bob Hope, Veronica Lake or Ray Milland.

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.

pghuacmonumentaThis 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 : pghuacmonumentbTo 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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