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Hollywood Ten Trials: 1948-50

The Right To Remain Silent

To support them and explore strategy, the Hollywood community formed the Committee for the First Amendment. Its sponsors included four U.S. senators, author Thomas Mann, and film producer Jerry Wald. The strategy was to take the position that the First Amendment provided not only the right to free speech but the right to remain silent.

HUAC Chairman J. Parnell Thomas called 11 of the 19 subpoenaed witnesses to testify. Supporting them in the hearing room were such stars as Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Jane Wyatt, John Huston, and Sterling Hayden. The first witness, screenwriter John Howard Lawson, proposed to read a statement, as each of the "friendly" witnesses had been permitted to do and as called for in the usual procedure of congressional committees. Chairman Thomas looked at the first line of the statement—"For a week, this Committee has conducted an illegal and indecent trial of American citizens, whom the Committee has selected to be publicly pilloried and smeared"—and denied Lawson permission to read it. The chairman then demanded an answer to the question, "Are you now, or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?"

"The question of Communism is in no way related to the inquiry, which is an attempt," Lawson replied, "to get control of the screen and to invade the basic rights of American citizens in all fields." The chairman responded by having a nine-page single-spaced memo on Lawson's career, prepared by the committee's investigators, read into the record. Lawson was given no opportunity to respond to it. Repeatedly, as the questions and responses became a shouting match, Lawson was asked about Communist membership. Finally, the chairman, pounding his gavel for quiet, ordered the witness removed and cited him for contempt of Congress.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953Hollywood Ten Trials: 1948-50 - Hollywood Divided Into Two Camps, The Right To Remain Silent, "i Would Hate Myself In The Morning"