48 years ago today: Arthur Miller condemned by HUAC

playright arthur miller, 1966
Arthur Miller, circa 1966
I wasn’t alive 48 years ago, but I continue to find the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee fascinating. Five years ago I would have said that we’d never again see a rabid politico like Senator Joseph McCarthy and his watchdog HUAC group resurface, but nowadays I have a sense that it’s more important than ever to study the past, learn more about the 50’s, when intolerance and fear were such powerful driving factors, and try to identify how we can avoid falling into these behaviors again.

The House Un-American Activities Committee was set up in 1938 to identify fascists and communists within the federal government. In 1947, after World War II, HUAC turned its attention to the world of the arts, and over the next three years, got a number of Hollywood writers and directors blacklisted for their political views.

Notable members of the blacklist, known commonly as the Hollywood Ten, included Lester Cole, John Lawson, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott and Dalton Trumbo. Comedian and film producer Charlie Chaplin felt so persecuted by HUAC that he emigrated to Switzerland during this period.

Playwright Arthur Miller, then married to blond bombshell Marilyn Monroe, was called up to HUAC and was asked to tell the Congressional committee about other people who attended Communist Party meetings where Miller was known to have been present. He refused and was cited for contempt of congress.

It took until 7 August, 1958 for Miller to clear his name, during which time he continued to produce excellent plays and other works. His best known works include The Crucible and Death of a Salesman.

Not all members of the Hollywood community said “no” to HUAC, by the way. Most notably, Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan was happy to cooperate with the blacklisting committee, reporting actors he felt were disloyal to the United States directly to the FBI with some frequency.

Another future President shows up in this story too: Richard Nixon was a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was quite involved with the conviction of Alger Hiss as an agent of the Soviet Union in 1949.

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6 comments on “48 years ago today: Arthur Miller condemned by HUAC

  1. HUAC was over in the House of Representatives.
    Senator McCarthy chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations.
    Robert Kennedy was a staff lawyer for Senator McCarthy’s subcommittee, resigning after about six months. Just another bit of trivia.

  2. There’s no need for a HUAC type of committe anymore. Right-wing bloggers to do all that kind of dirty work these days.
    Isn’t it remarkable how the internet has changed the world?
    — Jack Krupansky

  3. Sappy-brained “liberals” who idolize Robert Kennedy are always amazed when I remind them of Bobby’s infamous service as staff counsel to Joe McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Internal Security. Most can’t believe what an incredible opportunist RFK was.
    As a progressive who lived through that era (albeit mostly as a youngster) I never trusted RFK or JFK. What the USA needs is more Gene McCarthys and less Joe McCarthys; more Paul Wellstones and no Dick Cheneys.
    Reflect for a moment on the colossally stupid, inept and crooked doofuses that have been Republican US presidents and vice-presidents in recent years:
    Reagan (couldn’t recall signing National Security Findings just days later, much less recall what they said);
    Agnew, Nixon, Ford (‘Nuf said);
    2 Bush-league ‘dumb & dumber’ presidents;
    Cheney (rotten to the core).
    But don’t get so sappy, you Democratic Party faithfuls–you get tagged with Dukakis, Mondale, Humphrey (major apologist for Vietnam), Gore and the Kerry.
    What a limp and useless hand to draw to !!

    • Took me about 1/2 hours to find R. Kennedy “named” as part of HUAC, In the film “Good Night and Good Luck”, only one quick pan of the camera illustrates this. RK worked for Tricky Dick, natch.

    • Thank you for writing about RFK. I am a proud Dem who spent High School campaigning (stuffing envelopes) for Eugene McCarthy & Al Lowenstein. It wasn’t till Gene proved that being an anti-war candidate could work that Bobby decided he’d steal the mantle. No coincidence the Brothers Kennedy created the Cuban missle crisis in Jack’s first year as president (’61). Sons of the father!

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