The Skirball Cultural Center is currently hosting an exhibition that explores the entertainment industry’s blacklist during the early years of the Cold War. The period was marked by public investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), private rifts, political factions, media bias and antisemitism. Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare is on loan from the Jewish Museum Milwaukee and has been expanded to fill the Skirball’s much larger gallery space. The exhibition explores themes such as the morality of being held accountable in one’s profession for political beliefs and associations, and whether government has a right to investigate a citizen’s personal life.
Various pieces of significant ephemera are mounted throughout the space, including HUAC’s 100 Things You Need to Know About Communism pamphlet, a storyboard drawing and union flyer for the independently financed Salt of the Earth (a 1954 film spotlighted in the exhibit for its fearless exploration of a labor strike in New Mexico, created by all blacklisted writers), as well as personal items belonging to members of the Hollywood Ten, the group of producers, directors and writers who were mostly blacklisted by the industry after refusing to answer questions about their political affiliations.
Also on display are blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo’s typewriter ribbon tins filled with mementos he kept with him during his incarceration (he spent 10 months in prison after being held in contempt of Congress) and his Oscar for 1957’s The Brave One, which he received 18 years later, having used a pseudonym for his work on the film to protect his identity.
The exhibit also focuses on the human element. Letters mailed by incarcerated members of the Hollywood Ten to their children highlight that not only were jobs lost, but time was, too. And a robust program accompanies the exhibit in the form of conversations and screenings focused on blacklisted films or ones made by the Hollywood Ten, like Roman Holiday (which Trumbo worked on uncredited) and Odds Against Tomorrow and Force of Evil (two films by blacklisted Jewish screenwriter Abraham Polonsky).
The screening series is especially geared toward the visitor who loves film history. The programming for the Blacklist is structured in a manner that’s very similar to a classic three act story structure, beginning, middle, end. The Skirball Cultural Center has made the exhibition and all the related programs free to everyone in the WGA.