Washington got a surprise this week when the House Un-American Activities Committee opened its investigation into Communism in Hollywood. It started with a thunderclap.
Balding Sam Wood, producer and director (For Whom the Bell Tolls), had no hesitation in using the word Communist and in applying it to some of the cinema's best-known writers: Donald Ogden Stewart, Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson. But Wood was not content merely to pin the label on them. Said he:
"If I have any doubt that they are [Communists], then I haven't any mind. I am convinced that these Hollywood Commies are agents of a foreign country. These Communists thump their chests and call themselves liberals, but if you drop their rompers you'll find a hammer & sickle on their rear ends."
Director Wood then aimed a kick at the rear end of the Motion Picture Writers' Guild, saying that it was "controlled by Communists." As for the Screen Directors' Guild, of which he is a member, Wood said that it had a strong pro-Communist bloc, composed of Directors John Cromwell, Frank Tuttle, Edward Dmytryk and Irving Pichel.
Other witnesses told a similar story. Jack L. Warner, live wire of the Warner brothers, ticked off a list of scriptwriters he said he had refused to rehire because they were "suspected." Trumbo and Lawson heard themselves named again. Others in Warner's little Red book: Ring Lardner Jr., Clifford Odets, Gordon Kahn, Howard Koch. Paunchy Louis B. Mayer, boss of
MGM, said he had three alleged Communists still on his payroll. He named .them as Stewart, Trumbo and Lester Cole.
As for Communist money, Sam Wood had his own idea of how they collected it. He referred to a Henry Wallace meeting in Hollywood, said that "Katharine Hepburn appeared and they collected $87,000. You don't think that money is going to the Boy Scouts, do you?"
Chairman J. Parnell Thomas seemed delighted. At the end of the free-swinging scene he complimented Sam Wood: "You really laid it on the line. You've got guts. If every other man had the same courage you have, we wouldn't have to worry about Communism." Unmoved by the opening lines of the drama were several of the accused and suspected writers and directors, sitting in the audience. They would get a chance to speak their lines later.