17 March 2015

I do not believe your trip was "ill-advised, even foolish"

In 1947, the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began its investigations into communism in Hollywood and subpoenaed suspected communists to appear before the committee in late October. Scheduled to testify were ten 'unfriendly' witnesses who became later known as the Hollywood Ten

In support of the Hollywood Ten and to protest the HUAC investigations, a group of prominent Hollywood figures formed the Committee for the First Amendment (CFA) and flew to Washington on 27 October 1947. The CFA delegation included big names like Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Huston, Ira Gershwin, Gene Kelly and Danny Kaye, and their goal was to defend the First Amendment rights of their accused colleagues. However, what had begun as a hopeful trip ended dramatically. During the hearings it became clear that the Hollywood Ten were indeed communists --a fact unbeknownst to the CFA-- and soon CFA members were regarded with suspicion too ("They [the press] thought we must be Communists, or sympathetic to Communism, or incredibly naive. We came home sadder... We had certainly learned a good deal about pressure politics and distortion of our purpose", said Marsha Hunt, a member of the delegation [source]).

In Washington, October 1947-- above: Richard Conte, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; below: Bogie and John Huston.
Back in Hollywood, press coverage of the CFA grew increasingly negative and ultimately caused public opinion to turn against them (especially when it became known that one of CFA's members, Sterling Hayden, had been a member of the Communist Party). Consequently, Humphrey Bogart --the biggest star of the delegation-- was pressured by his studio Warner Bros. to distance himself from the Hollywood Ten. Furious about everything that had happened and feeling he had been duped into supporting the Ten, Bogie eventually caved and sent a statement to the press saying that the Washington trip had been "ill-advised, even foolish". Bogie's statement and his subsequent article "I'm no Communist" in Photoplay from March 1948 (read here) earned him much criticism from his liberal friends who felt that he was selling out in order to save his career. It is said that Bogie later regretted his decision to recant and that he never forgave himself.

Below you'll find Bogie's statement to the press along with a letter from Democratic Congressman Chet Holifield to Bogie, written on 9 December 1947 as a reaction to the actor's statement. Two weeks earlier, on 24 November, the Hollywood Ten had been cited for contempt of Congress --they were later blacklisted and sent to jail-- and Holifield was one of the 17 congressmen who had voted against the contempt citation. Having stood for his principles, Holifield tells Bogie he shouldn't be ashamed to stand for his and assures him that his trip to Washington was neither ill-advised nor foolish.

"My recent trip to Washington, where I appeared with a group of motion-picture people, has become the subject of such confused and erroneous interpretations, that I feel the situation should be clarified.

I am not a Communist. I am not a Communist sympathizer. I detest communism just as any other decent American does. I have never in my life been identified with any group which was even sympathetic to communism. My name will not be found on any Communist front organization nor as a sponsor of anything communistic.

I went to Washington because I felt fellow Americans were being deprived of their constitutional rights, and for that reason alone.

That the trip was ill-advised, even foolish, I am very ready to admit. At the time it seemed the thing to do.

I have absolutely no use for communism nor for anyone who serves that philosophy. I am an American. And very likely, like a good many of the rest of you, sometimes a foolish and impetuous American."

Source: The Milwaukee Journal from 3 December 1947, one of the newspapers that published Bogie's statement.


Transcript:

December 9, 1947

Mr. Humphrey Bogart,
c/o Warner Brothers Studio,
Hollywood, Los Angeles County,
California.

Dear Humphrey:

The Associated Press news dispatch of December 3rd quotes you in part as saying, "I went to Washington because I thought fellow Americans were being deprived of their constitutional rights, and for that reason alone. That the trip was ill-advised, even foolish, I am very ready to admit. At the time it seemed the thing to do."

Because of the above quotes, which I assume are accurate, I have decided to write you a letter. I do not wish to criticize you for the above statement, as I am not aware of the pressure which may have been brought to bear upon you by your employers, and possibly upon others who joined with you in the Washington trip.  As one who has had quite a bit of political and business experience, I understand how pressure can be applied. From my conversations with you and others in your group, I am sure you believe in the fundamental principles of American justice and fair play. I am also sure that your group is anti-communist. Had I not believed your group was composed of sincere people as qualified above, I would not have given you my time and advice in trying to help you do a fine, courageous and American act. I do not believe your trip was "ill-advised, even foolish". Regardless of the surrender which was concentrated on the movie industry through the dictatorial and abusive procedures of the Committee on Un-American Activities, your trip to Washington received publicity throughout the United States on behalf of the sacred principles of civil liberties contained in the First Amendment. Regardless of the criticism or pressure you received, you stood for great principles and you have nothing of which to be ashamed.

When we fight for that which we believe to be right, we are not contaminated because the blessings preserved by those rights are showered upon the just and unjust alike. When a great principle is involved, it must be decided on the basis of justice regardless of the benefits which may accrue to those who may be unworthy of receiving them.

Seventeen Members of Congress stood alone and dared to fight against the three hundred forty six members who bowed to pressure from many sources. Among those seventeen were Jews, Catholics and Protestants. As fine, loyal Americans who are definitely anti-communist, they placed the welfare of the United States first in their consideration of values. They placed the precious civil liberties which form the basis of our Democratic Constitutional Government as the most important preserving factor in constitutional government. None of us are naive politically. We all realized that political antagonists misconsture [sic] our actions and include us in the red smear which will be the chief weapon in the coming campaign against liberal, progressive, American candidates. We, therefore, placed our political careers, our reputations, and our salaries in jeopardy for the protection of the great principles which are contained in the First Amendment and which we believed to be in jeopardy.

I write this letter to you, not in censure, but in the hope that the brief acquaintance I had with your fine group may be extended into the future. I write for the purpose of re-assuring you that your trip was neither "ill-advised, even foolish". It may have been impetuous, but it was a spontaneous action grounded firmly in the desire to protect the basic principles which mean the difference between any form of totalitarianism and our own beloved Democracy.

Kindly convey my best regards to the members of your group.

Sincerely yours,
(signed)
CHET HOLIFIELD, M.C.

Danny Kaye, June Havoc, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall at the HUAC hearings. Despite its good intentions, the CFA proved ineffective and disintegrated after the blacklisting of the Hollywood Ten.
Top photos-- left: Congressman Chet Holifield; right: John Huston (standing), Humphrey Bogart and Danny Kaye (and a few others I don't recognise). Bottom photo: Paul Henreid, Lauren Bacall, Kaye and Bogie having just arrived in Washington for the hearings.

3 comments:

  1. I have heard a lot about HUAC, but not about the brave congressmen who voted against the crowd. This is very enlightening. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I didn't know about these 17 congressmen either so it was great to come across Holifield's letter. Thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete