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Hollywood Ten Trials: 1948-50

Hollywood Divided Into Two Camps, The Right To Remain Silent, "i Would Hate Myself In The Morning"

Defendants: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner, Jr., John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Sam Ornitz, Robert Adrian Scott, and Dalton Trumbo
Crime Charged: Contempt of Congress
Chief Defense Lawyers: Bartley Crum, Charles J. Katz, Robert W. Kenny, and Martin Popper
Chief Prosecutor: William Hitz
Judges: Edward M. Curran, Richmond B. Keech, and David A. Pine
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trials: April 12-19, 1948 (Lawson); May 3-5, 1948 (Trumbo); June 22-29, 1950 (Biberman, Cole, Dmytryk, Lardner, and Scott); June 23-29, 1950 (Bessie, Maltz, and Ornitz)
Verdicts: Guilty
Sentences: 1 year imprisonment and $1,000 fine (Bessie, Cole, Lardner, Lawson, Maltz, Ornitz, Scott, and Trumbo); 6 months and $500 fine (Biberman, and Dmytryk)

SIGNIFICANCE: The Hollywood Ten case stands as a landmark in the history of the abuse of civil liberties. As respected author E.B. White commented, "Ten men have been convicted, not of wrong-doing but of wrong thinking; that is news in this country and if I have not misread my history, it is bad news." By setting the stage for the establishment of the blacklist, the case created a precedent for making political belief a test of employability. In refusing to accept the claims of the Ten that the First Amendment entitled them to remain silent, the House Committee for the Investigation of Un-American Activities caused future witnesses to plead the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination to avoid answering further questioning.

In 1946 writers, producers, actors, and directors in the film industry in Hollywood who had been drawn—as "good liberals"—to the American Communist Party over the preceding decade began to sense that the party was not the liberal organization they had been told it was. The party's policy and direction—in effect during World War II, patriotic cooperation and the renunciation of revolutionary goals—were changing. Party head Earl Browder, the "good liberal" leader, was deposed and replaced by hard-liner William Z. Foster. The new policy, as described by screenwriter Albert Maltz in an essay in New Masses, was that "unless art is a weapon like a leaflet, serving immediate political ends, necessities and programs, it is worthless or escapist or vicious."

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1941 to 1953