During the late 1940s and continuing through the late 1950s, McCarthyism wreaked havoc on Hollywood and its stars. Joseph McCarthy, for whom the movement was named, was an avid watchdog for anti-Communist fever during this time. He led almost a decade of terror on Hollywood by accusing many of being Communist sympathizers or Communists themselves. This spawned the creation of the Hollywood Blacklist. The list consisted of hundreds of famous folks in Hollywood resulting in many career blows that many were unable to come back from.
Born as a Quaker, Robeson became one of the times popular African American actors. He was well educated, graduating as valedictorian from Rutgers College and All-American on his football team, and became very involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Robeson got his start in acting in theatre, his big break would come playing Othello at the Savoy Theatre. Othello set the track for his Hollywood career and he would end up getting a starring role in Show Boat and Sanders of the River.
In 1950, a book was released claiming to be a complete record on Rutgers college football. For some reason, Robeson was not mentioned at all nor was his All-American status. Several months later, NBC canceled Robeson’s appearance on Eleanor Roosevelt’s TV show and was subsequently denied to travel abroad by the State Department. The idea was to stop his influence on people in other countries, particularly those located in Africa. Robeson would continue to fight for his freedom to speak freely about Communism, he would even be awarded the International Stalin Prize (which he accepted in New York) and would write a piece on Stalin and what Robeson thought to be his quest for world peace. Robeson’s acting career never really took off again. In 1958, he wrote his manifesto/autobiography called “Here I Stand” and his passport was restored in June of the same year.
Born into an artistic family—her father was a cellist in the New York Symphony and her mother an opera singer—Hobart started her acting career at the age of 15. After several Broadway performances, Hobart made her way to Hollywood as “the other woman,” most famously in “Bride of Vengeance” in 1949.
Hobart was a leader for her time; she worked hard to improve the conditions for working actors, citing her experience with 18 hour days and dealing with live wild animals on the set of an early horror film called, “East of Borneo” (1931). She was also active on the board of the Screen Actors Guild and in a group known as the Actor’s Laboratory Theatre, which welcomed actors and actresses of all races. The Lab, as it was known, had been heavily scrutinized by Joe McCarthy, who claimed it to be highly subversive. Hobart was never affiliated with the Communist party, although she was named in the trash rag “Red Channels.” She was subpoenaed to give a statement in front of the Tenney Committee on Un-American Activities (yes, that’s really what it was called) in which she said, “In a democracy no one should be forced or intimidated into a declaration of his principles. If one does yield to such pressure, he gives away his birthright. I am just mulish enough not to budge when anyone uses force on me.”
Hobart would never work in film again, but she did continue acting in small TV roles in the early 60s after McCarthyism and its blacklist came to a halt.
I first came across Burgess Meredith in the episode of the Twilight Zone called “Time Enough At Last” and continued to seek him out in various horror films and episodes of my favorite shows. But before Rod Serling gave him the opportunity for a comeback, Meredith was a victim of the Hollywood Blacklist and wouldn’t be featured in any acting roles for 7 years.
Meredith was a fellow Northeast Ohioan to this writer, born to non-actor parents. He attended college at Amherst and served in the US Air Force, rising to the rank of Captain. Meredith was later discharged to work on a movie called “The Story of G.I. Joe,” playing real-life war correspondent Ernie Pyle. He gained great success on Broadway when he appeared in the 1935 revival of “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” with star Katharine Cornell. His career in film would kick off with 1939’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s heart-wrenching tale “Of Mice and Men,” in which he starred as George. He would go on to star in roles alongside his then wife Paulette Goddard and even Lana Turner.
After being named in the “Red Channels,” he was barred from acting for 7 years. Though his film career took something of a hit until “Rocky,” he bounced back in a rush of glory on TV. As we mentioned he was featured predominately in Rod Serling’s TV show “The Twilight Zone,” starring in four episodes of that as well as several episodes of “Night Gallery;” he even narrated “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” He later landed another starring role as The Penguin on the “Batman” TV show with Alan West.
Known for his stage roles, Garfield was often pursued by Paramount and Warner Bros. to act in film but most talks failed because of his demand for having time off to work on stage productions. Finally, Warner Bros. caved and signed a feature player contract with Garfield for 7 years with options. After several dead-ends, Garfield got his first supporting role in “Four Daughters.” His portrayal of the tragic composer in the Michael Curtiz film cemented his claim to fame and even earned him a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. His contract was immediately revised to make him a star player for 7 years without options. They also added $100,000 to his budget to guarantee he wouldn’t be doing low-budget features.
After the contract was revised, Garfield and Warner Bros. began having conflicts. The studio wanted him to work on melodramas while he insisted he wanted better quality scripts to work from, and rightly so. The tumultuous relationship often pitted the actor against the studio machine, he would refuse roles and Warner would refuse to pay him. By rights, they could cast him in anything they wanted but he refused. He tried to enlist when WWII broke out but was refused because of an existing heart condition. Fed up, he decided to focus most of his time on helping out the war efforts. He and fellow actor Bette Davis were the two main forces in the development of the Hollywood Canteen, which offered food and entertainment to servicemen. He went on to star in several well-known films, his biggest being “The Gentlemen’s Agreement,” in which he took a supporting role because he felt so strongly about the film’s subject matter.
In the late 40s, Garfield’s political affiliations were being looked into. He supported the Committee for the First Amendment, which was opposed to the government investigation of political beliefs, and was called to testify. He rejected Communism but refused to name anyone in Hollywood. Despite his refusal of the Communist ideals, he was still named in “Red Channels” and barred from ever working in Hollywood again. During this time, several of his friends suffered the same fate and died of various complications from the stress of it all. By 1952, Garfield was heading for divorce and unable to work. On May 20th, Garfield played four rounds of tennis on no sleep, an ill-advised decision due to longstanding cardiovascular issues. He went to dinner with a friend that night, where he became ill and spent the night at her house, refusing to call a doctor. The next morning Garfield was found dead. Doctors concluded that his history of heart problems and the stress of being blacklisted had led to his untimely demise at the age of 39.
Loeb, much like Garfield, has a tragic story resulting from McCarthyism and its Hollywood Blacklist. He was born in Philidelphia, PA and first entered acting in his high school production of Lady Gregory’s “The Workhouse Ward.” In the 1920s, he joined the newly formed Theatre Guild in NYC and worked on various plays. By the 1930s, Loeb was working closely with the Actors’ Equity Association, which has been thought to be the reason for his alleged communist affiliation.
In June of 1950, Loeb, like so many of the aforementioned, was named in “Red Channels” as a communist. Though he denied it, General Foods dropped him from CBS television show “The Goldbergs” because they didn’t want to stir up controversy—no matter what was true. He was given an estimated $40,000 to resign and secured one last acting job in a Broadway production of “Time Out For Goldfinger.”
Loeb fell into a deep depression after he was blacklisted. He was the sole provider for his mentally ill son and felt the pressures of financial burden caving in on him. His close friend Walter Bernstein would later go on to say he never saw Loeb smile again. Philip Loeb swallowed a bottle of sleeping pills on September 1, 1955. No note was found, but the death would be considered a suicide by overdose. The cause: the Hollywood Blacklist.