Sunday, March 4, 2012

How Did HUAC Work?

"Selfishness beats altruism within groups. Altruistic groups beat selfish groups. Everything else is commentary." -- E. O. Wilson

I thought I knew how HUAC and the blacklist worked, but now I'm not sure.  In the case of Elia Kazan, for example, they say Kazan actually stood up to the committee and refused to implicate his friends the first time he testified.  Later, he named names.

What kind of pressure was put on Kazan to cooperate with HUAC between his first and second appearances?  Who applied the screws?  How many others defied the committee at first, then broke down and testified?


gasket said...

What kind of pressure was put on Kazan to cooperate with HUAC between his first and second appearances? Who applied the screws?

Interesting questions. They attempt to make Kazan a sympathetic character. In 60 years (and counting), no one has succeeded in making Kazan a sympathetic character. It might just be that he wasn't one. He spent the rest of his life and work trying to make himself out to be a sympathetic character. He insisted no one put the screws to him, not even Spyros Skouras. If that's true, then other factors (psychological, character, social) combine to answer the question because he didn't just name names. After his testimony, he took out an ad in the NYTimes! Who else did that?

Billy Glad said...

It seems the film and television community just fell apart.

But it's interesting that you should think caving under pressure would make Kazan a "sympathetic" character. Maybe that's a generational thing. My generation would more likely view someone who was forced to talk as a "rat" and someone who came forward on their own, no matter how misguided, as having integrity. To us, caving under pressure would be something to be ashamed of. So, not surprisingly, Kazan would deny being pressured. But, clearly, between the time he gave his secret testimony and the time he testified in public, someone changed his mind about naming names. I wonder if competition and ego made that community especially vulnerable.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Have either one of you seen the movie "Inhale" with Dermot Mulroney. I don't want to describe it all, but it tells a story of a father who, let's just say, has to make a decision to save his child through not only illegal means, but later finds out, that the act of saving his own child means that he would be knowingly killing another and participating in an ongoing crime, killing many more. So, it's your own child. What do you do?

Kazan made a choice, no matter how much pressure came to bear on him. He made a choice. Others facing the same, similar or worse pressure made a different choice.

I think Gasket meant that posing the question allows some to think of Kazan more sympathetically, by giving him an out. That's how I read it at least, not that caving in made him sympathetic. But Gasket can speak for herself.

Billy Glad said...

Where I come from, it's how you make the choice that matters. Saying that Kazan caved is exactly the opposite of giving him an out. It questions his guts. If he hadn't stonewalled the committee the first time, I'd say maybe he just hated Reds. All Reds. As it is, I'd say yeah Johnny Friendly beat Malloy half to death, but Malloy got up from the beating and won the fight. Kazan went down and stayed down.

GirlfromtheBronx said...

Ugh, what a bastard this guy was. Here's what he said in one of his rare statements:

"I don't say that what I did was entirely a good thing. What's called "a difficult decision" is a difficult decision because either way you go there are penalties, right? What makes some things difficult in life is if you're marrying one woman you're not marrying another woman. If you go one course you're not going another course. But I would rather do what I did than crawl in front of a ritualistic Left and lie the way those other comrades did, and betray my own soul. I didn't betray it."

You make a great point Billy, Where was all that moral outrage the first time around? Looks to me, he took the deal and then came up with his explanation much the same way the Germans living next door to Buchenwald claimed they had no idea what was happening. I call it "arranging." You make your choice and if it's as disgusting as that one was, you have to "arrange" the rest of your life to explain it.

I can't imagine he died feeling free. Must be rough to die and have your epitaph read: INFORMER.

Billy Glad said...

I hear Arthur Miller eventually reconciled with Kazan. Forgave him. And I think it was Miller who suggested that Kazan couldn't live without being Kazan the director -- which I'm not sure I buy, because even blacklisted writers, directors and actors could work on Broadway, couldn't they. Anyway, Miller seems like a hell of a man to me. And please, don't anyone tell me different, even if you know he's not. I even love the Misfits.

gasket said...

Billy: I don't know if I assess Kazan under the influence of a generational perspective or a personal bias. I don't know the nuances of how other generations evaluate him. Before I commented, I read almost every critique of Kazan's HUAC testimony that I could find on the internet. The only thing I haven't read is his autobiography and the actual HUAC transcripts (neither of which I care to read). I know what I've read doesn't give me enough context, but because I am going to actually meet Tom, I am genuinely trying to understand what I can of that bizarre historical period. I've read enough to finally understand why some people found (and still find) Kazan utterly despicable.

I personally don't think Kazan was pressured by anyone to name names. In other words, I don't think his naming names was plot-driven, as you suggest. I think his testimony has more to do with his psychology: his indisputably massive ego, as well as class and ethnic insecurity, etc. Along with talking Clifford Odets into naming names too as well as trying to gauge Arthur Miller's reaction, that's where I see the evidence: in his psychology.

Girl quotes Kazan: But I would rather do what I did than crawl in front of a ritualistic Left and lie the way those other comrades did, and betray my own soul. I didn't betray it.

Funny Kazan should get all melodramatic about his tormented decision, because what he did in the late 1930s was simply trade one ideology for another: He went from communism to "objectivism" (or what we now call "libertarianism"). Not much torment or melodrama required to make that switch.

What makes Kazan intolerable is that he lied about searching his soul and facing a moral dilemma in 1952. Kazan did neither, as the underlying viciousness of the quote Girl found reveals. Kazan knew he would be called back if he didn't name names in the first session: That was standard procedure. However, he could always say he had been loyal in the first session. What Kazan didn't bank on was losing Arthur Miller. He never got over that and even said he couldn't "have" Miller (to use for his films). I think Kazan thought he could have his cake and eat it too.

Kazan laid out his ideology in the NYTimes ad that I linked to in my first comment:

I am talking about free speech, a free press, the rights of property, the rights of labor, racial equality and, above all, individual rights.

That's verbatim Ayn Rand; in fact, it's verbatim Fountainhead, which was published in '43 and released as a Warner film in '49.

To me, Kazan is as much a right-wing ideologue as Rand, which is why it's no coincidence that fanatics from the Ayn Rand Institute picketed the picketers outside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in 1999 when Kazan won his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy. Count me as unimpressed with his life. It's not hard to win a lifetime achievement award when you bump off the competition for at least a decade. Kazan knew exactly what would happen if he named names: the Hollywood Ten and Alger Hiss had already gone to jail by the time Kazan was called to testify the first time.

Did HUAC protect the democratic principles of free speech and a free press, the rights of labor and property that Kazan and Rand held so dear? Of course not. HUAC did the exact opposite. We all live with the legacy still today, thanks directly to Ayn Rand, Elia Kazan, and Richard Nixon, and later, to Rand's fawning protege, Alan Greenspan. I think I get all I need to get about Kazan.

Billy Glad said...

"was plot-driven, as you suggest"

Bullshit. That's the second time in this thread that you have characterized something I said. Mischaracterized it, in fact. Frankly, I didn't bother to read your long-winded comment any further. Clean up your act.

Billy Glad said...

"I call it "arranging." You make your choice and if it's as disgusting as that one was, you have to "arrange" the rest of your life to explain it."

Haha! Succinct and amusing, considering the fact that Kazan later wrote a novel called "The Arrangement" and turned it into a film!

Martin Ritt said something to the effect that Kazan ended up writing books he would have hated earlier.

gasket said...

I'm sorry I offended you, Billy. "Plot-driven" was my shorthand way of responding to the idea "outside influences" of pressuring Kazan to flip. That's all. There was no value judgment in it or intention to mischaracterize you. I was thinking in terms of weighing external vs. internal influences. I certainly don't know what happened.

Billy Glad said...

I think he was a weak guy who caved at the prospect of not being able to work in Hollywood.

Mansky is facing the same dilemma. Shut up about that conductor in Eugene or find another symphony to review. You should spend less time learning about the Fifties and more time putting together a box of food for him and his old lady. I'd suggest Tilanookie cheese and Komodo blend coffee. I tell you to include some humble pie, but he'll get plenty of that when he gets up there to conduct that orchestra and they start playing MacArthur Park or Rhinestone Cowboy instead of piece they're supposed to play!

gasket said...

I think you're right about Mansky: He needs some comfort food. He probably can't find a decent bagel in the Gulag.

Thanks for posing your questions, Billy. They did get me thinking, albeit longwindedly. But they were valuable to me.

Billy Glad said...

The new "conciliatory" you is going to take some getting used to, gasket.

gasket said...

I'm in a different place, Billy. Fewer external pressures, now that I think about it. :)

Billy Glad said...

Well, if you get tired of the new you, we've got one of your old buzz saws stored out back somewhere.

quinn esq said...

I always hated Kazan, but first and foremost for what he did to East of Eden. I loved Jimmy Dean, read endlessly on him, and despised Kazan for what he did.

Tried to make him buckle, like Brando.