RED STAR OVER HOLLYWOOD: THE FILM COLONY’S LONG ROMANCE WITH THE LEFT
By Ronald Radosh and Allis Radosh
Encounter, $25.95, 309 pages
REVIEWED BY T. L. PONNICK
Barbra Streisand. Jane Fonda. Susan Sarandon. Tim Robbins. Sean Penn. Warren Beatty. Richard Dreyfuss. Fed on a steady diet of tabloid gossip, countless movie-mad Americans regard megastars like these as Hollywood royalty, bigger than life and nearly as rich as Bill Gates. But these Tinseltown titans have something else in common besides their whopping bank accounts and lavish lifestyles. They’re shameless apologists for and patrons of America’s radical left, wealthy political activists indulging in a chic and hypocritical tradition stretching back in time to the advent of talking pictures.
Granted — La-La Land’s obsession with revolutionary socialism is not exactly news these days. But in “Red Star Over Hollywood,” the husband-and-wife team of Ronald and Allis Radosh exhaustively documents the infiltration and subversion of America’s entertainment capital by determined Stalinist apparatchiks as far back as the 1930s. The apparatchik goal? To undermine American politics, culture, and morals as a prelude to the inevitable communist revolution. “Red Star” supplies the backstory lurking behind the contemporary film industry’s seemingly inexplicable contempt for America’s democratic traditions.
A former “red diaper” baby himself, Mr. Radosh was drummed out of the left in the 1980s after coauthoring “The Rosenberg File,” a fact packed volume that proved conclusively the overwhelming guilt of these pro-Soviet spies. Defying his antagonists, Mr. Radosh boldly turned to the right — a conversion experience he described in painful detail in his autobiographical 2001 book “Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left.”
In “Red Star,” the coauthors describe in detail how the Soviet Comintern infiltrated key operatives into America’s fast-growing and popular film industry, recruiting new party members and fellow travelers from the ranks of Hollywood’s impressionable film writers and easily hoodwinked stars. Their objectives were to dupe high profile Hollywood figures into raising funds for the Communist Party, to take control of Hollywood union activities, and to work with trusted screenwriters to slip communist propaganda into movie plotlines — most notably the film “Mission to Moscow,” a blatant whitewash of Joseph Stalin’s murderous purge trials.
One of the party’s early Hollywood converts was the legendary Budd Schulberg, extensively interviewed by the Radoshes for the present volume. An idealistic young screenwriter in the 1930s, Mr. Schulberg was once, like Mr. Radosh, an enthusiastic communist in his younger days. But an eye-opening visit to the Soviet Union and his later shabby treatment by the party — which tried to force him to withdraw his most famous novel, “What Makes Sammy Run?” — caused Mr. Schulberg to turn against the communists rather than knuckle under to their crude attempts at censorship.
To a great extent, the party’s subversive efforts in America were made easier by the Kremlin ordered shift to a “Popular Front” approach in 1935. Baffled by the failure of the American communists to stir up violent revolution even as the Great Depression worsened, the Soviets were forced to face the fact that democracy and respect for its institutions were more deeply ingrained in the American psyche than Stalin had imagined. In response, American communists were ordered to ease off on violent confrontation and adopt the subtler tactic of cozying up to trade unionists and New Dealers in Washington. By burrowing into key institutions while seeming to endorse them as anti-fascist allies, the party gained a measure some of respect in liberal circles even as it plotted a slow strangulation of American-style capitalism.
Ever alert to the propaganda potential of the arts, the party extended its Popular Front reach to American writers, musicians, and other artists, encouraging them to support the communist message in their work. Occasionally, the communists overplayed their collective hand. Their gradual transformation of the WPA-supported Federal Theatre Project into a party propaganda machine became so obvious that an outraged U. S. Congress promptly shut it down. Yet even after this setback and the explosion of outrage over the notorious Hitler-Stalin pact —which gave liberals in Hollywood and Washington reason to reconsider their ties to the left — the party’s influence on the arts persisted.
“Red Star’s” primary focus, however, is on the shallow, glitzy world of Hollywood, where support for the hard left was, then as now, as much social fashion as it was a political cause. The authors have drawn upon extensive material from the papers of screenwriters like Dalton Trumbo, Albert Maltz, Ring Lardner, Jr., and others to portray a film industry run by old-school tycoons but significantly populated by radical writers, actors, and directors bent on undermining authority and sneaking propaganda into as many films as possible. The authors pay particular attention to the notorious film “Mission to Moscow,” a shameless apologia for Stalin’s murderous purge trials.
The Radoshes also expose the shallow mythology behind the deification of the “Hollywood 10” — one director and nine screenwriters, including Trumbo, Maltz, and Lardner — whose party-dictated defiance of the U. S. House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) resulted in jail terms and eventual blacklisting by the movie studios. Persistently portrayed by the media as innocent, patriotic martyrs, they were, in fact, anything but — although some eventually had second thoughts about their subversive activities.
The infiltration and dominance of artistic communities by the radical left is a vast and ongoing saga whose final chapter has yet to be written. In “Red Star,” the Radoshes supply a missing link, investigating the key, intersecting orbits of Hollywood’s Communist Party hacks, their friends, enemies and fellow travelers. Additionally, the book’s concluding chapter helps connect the dots to contemporary Hollywood’s reflexive Marxist revisionism, exemplified by stars like Tim Robbins and fringe players like documentary propagandist Michael Moore, who promote themselves as patriots while undermining American support for the War on Terror.
Factual and dispassionate, “Red Star” will be read eagerly by those in search of the truth behind one of America’s most misunderstood political epochs. But expect the book to be denounced or ignored by everyone else, particularly in the mainstream media.
T. L. Ponick writes on music and the arts for The Washington Times.