DeHavilland v. the Communists

  • 25 July 2017
  • NormanL
DeHavilland v. the Communists

Some may have missed it, but screen legend Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 101st birthday on July 1st. While we can recall the two-time Oscar winner's roles alongside Errol Flynn, or her turn in "Gone With The Wind," many are unaware of the seminal role she played in helping prevent a communist takeover of Hollywood in the years after World War II. Ron Radosh has an excellent piece recounting her actions. Here's a sample:

Without telling anyone in advance, de Havilland, horrified by the words [screenwriter Dalton] Trumbo wanted her to mouth—went to the podium, and substituted a speech of her own. In it she underlined the significant differences between those she termed genuine liberals and Hollywood Communists. From 1932 to 1945, she told the audience, a “coalition of all liberal and progressive forces” made up a sizable majority of the New Deal. But in the postwar era, “reactionary forces” have driven a wedge into the liberal coalition” and were trying to make it appear “that the great liberal movement is controlled by those who are more interested in taking orders from Moscow and following the so-called Party line than they are interested in making democracy work.” To prove otherwise, she said, it was the duty of liberals to distance themselves openly from both Moscow and the American Communists.

“We believe in democracy,” she told the crowd, “and not in Communism.” She reminded them that the Communist Party had endorsed Roosevelt for re-election in 1944, and that he publicly repudiated that endorsement. Today, she acknowledged, “Communists frequently join liberal organizations. That is their right. But it is also our right to see that they do not control us, or guide us… or represent us.”
She was brave in breaking ranks so publicly. Communists controlled the Screenwriter’s Guild and were influential in the Screen Actors Guild as well, and were known to avoid giving roles to actors or scripts to writers whom they considered “fascist.” Moreover, in breaking so publicly, she risked losing associates and friends who thought the Hollywood Reds were just “liberals in a hurry” and sincere anti-fascists—many of whom would ostracize someone they considered to be a “Red-baiter.”

Trumbo exploded in a fit of rage when he heard what de Havilland had done. He wrote to the HICAASP board listing everything she had taken out from his speech, especially his condemnation of the Truman administration for following an anti-Soviet policy. “One fifth of the speech” she gave, he complained, was a “denunciation of Communism” with no mention of the danger of “fascism” and no trace of “my unfriendly references to it.” By omitting his pro-Soviet words, Trumbo wrote, the speech had degenerated into an exercise in “Red-baiting.”

Following de Havilland’s lead, board member James Roosevelt stood up at a board meeting and said he was concerned that HICAASP was being accused of being a Communist front organization. To counter the allegation, he said that they should write a statement that they were opposed to Communism. Also present was HICAASP member Ronald Reagan, who also spoke up demanding a repudiation of Communism. Pandemonium ensued and Reagan was quickly denounced as a “witch-hunter” and of course, a “Red-baiter.”

Miss de Havilland displayed not just courage, but something else sorely lacking in modern Hollywood: principles. Would that more like her could be found -- publicly -- admist the tinsel, gliter, and mindlessness of today's movie capital.