And Now the Hollywood Ten Is Down to One

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Abe Polonsky, 88, one of the last survivors of the Hollywood communist witch-hunts, died on Tuesday much as he lived — quietly and outside the public eye. In his waning years, Polonsky became an increasingly lonely voice against the country's unwillingness to confront one of its murkiest eras. Following the meteoric start of his career, including a best-screeplay Oscar nomination followed by a critically acclaimed directorial debut — all within his first two years in Tinseltown — Polonsky was banished to the Hollywood blacklist in the early '50s and never regained his stature. Until the end, Polonsky, like others in the Hollywood Ten, battled to keep the hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) alive in the nation's consciousness as a sordid period in American history that should never be repeated. Interviewed last year about the congressional witch-hunts, Polonsky said, "That's the kind of thing they do in communist countries, but we're supposed to be a free country. We need to be a genuinely free country and not merely pretend to be one." Ring Lardner, Jr., the only surviving member of the original Hollywood Ten of blacklisted writers, is sickly and past his fighting days.

Last year Polonsky tried to bring the witch-hunts to the forefront again when famed director Elia Kazan ("On the Waterfront," "Streetcar Named Desire," "Splendor in the Grass"), who named names to HUAC, was presented with a lifetime achievement Oscar. Through open letters and TV interviews Polonsky pleaded with Hollywood's new guard to protest the award. While he did succeed in getting a few Academy Award attendees to sit on their hands while Kazan was honored, none hissed, as he'd asked them to. Kazan was shielded from negativity by two avowed Hollywood liberals, Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, who presented the award. Scorsese and DeNiro, incidentally, acted in "Guilty by Suspicion," a 1991 movie about the Hollywood blacklist. Polonsky cowrote the film, but demanded that his name be removed when the script was altered to make the DeNiro character, a persecuted screenwriter, into an unsuspecting liberal rather than an avowed communist sympathizer. It would have been Polonsky's final screen credit.