INT: There was a lot of anger, wasn't there, at the sort of lines of questioning and so on and so forth?
RL: Among these witnesses, as I said were these various stars who, some of whom, like Robert Taylor, said there certain things he had been asked to do by a script that he didn't want to do or had refused to do. He had been the star of this particular movie, 'Song of Russia', so he was playing a American orchestra conductor in the Soviet Union. And this was deliberately a movie... the studios had made movies as part of the war time policy of the alliance between the United States and the Soviet Union, they were both part of the big United Nations and so they had made movies favourable to the Soviet Union. Now they were trying to disclaim them at this point.... Jack Warner had been responsible for a movie called 'Ambassador Dodd's Diary', which had shown a very sympathetic picture and had really shown Stalin's side of the purge trials and gave the feeling that the purge trials were on the level, which our Ambassador Dodd had believed at the time.... but he said it was a request of the White House and that's why they made it. Anyway the total effect of that first week of hearings with these friendly witnesses was to paint a picture of a Hollywood that was threatened by this subversive element, who were or were not Communist Party members, but who were promoting Communist ideas, not only in pictures, but in the unions and at various portico activities, which went on. There was a lot of talk about things going on back in the thirties, like an organisation called the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, which all of us had belonged to and an organisation called the Motion Picture Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy During the Spanish Civil War, which I had been active in. Actually my brother had been, had gone to Spain in the last month of the war as a correspondent, had joined the International Brigade and been killed there. So I was particularly concerned about that.
INT: So, during the hearings, can you tell me what happened to you, what questions were asked and what the response was?
RL: The second week of the hearings were devoted to the so-called unfriendly witnesses, well the characterisation was our own, there were nineteen of us who had been subpoenaed and we met together and more or less decided on a joint policy before the committee. I wasn't called till the very last day of the hearings and as a matter of fact, I was one of those who did not have a definite date to be called and it was probably because my wife and I were sitting in the hearings and a picture of us appeared in a New York newspaper 'PM' and a Washington paper, I think the Post and Parnell Thomas apparently saw this picture in the paper and, I don't know, something about it annoyed him, but on the second to last day called, suddenly called me to the stand and one of the lawyers explained that I didn't have a definite date, I wasn't prepared and he said, Thomas said, well he's been sitting here every day, why isn't he here now and it just happened that this one day Frances and I had decided to stay at home and listen to it on the radio in our hotel, when we heard my name called. So anyway, the lawyer promised that I would be there the next day and I was. By that time the hearings were winding down. My colleague, Lester Cole was called before me, then I was called and Thomas got quite... He started off very, seemingly considerate and so on and [unintelligible] all of us had statements we wanted to read to the committee and I had a brief statement about my background and beliefs. And he said, Mr. Lardner, you'll be allowed to read your statement after you've testified and now, tell me, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? And I said I could answer that question exactly the way you want, Mr. Chairman, but I'd hate myself in the morning and this made him furious and he started to scream and he said, answer the question, answer the question. Remove the witness and I said, but you said I could read my statement. And he said, no, no, no, go... I said you didn't qualify that in any way. He said, take him away. And that was our last contact until almost three years later, when I went to the Federal Correction Institution in Danbury, Connecticut and found that that same chairman who was asking me the questions, was already an inmate, having meanwhile been convicted of misappropriating government money.
INT: And can you just tell me how long you were imprisoned for?
RL: Well the sentence was one year, you got sixty days off for good behaviour, automatically so that made it ten months and I alone got an extra fifteen days off for meritorious good behaviour, which consisted of my... I had an eight hour day job in prison, typing the dictation of the committee on parole and classification and parole. It was really the histories of each prisoner and it made very interesting stuff. I corrected a lot of grammatical errors and sometimes rewrote a little and the officers liked this, anyway, so they gave me this fifteen days on that basis.
INT: Now, just a much broader question. Why do you think in 1947, HUAC turned on Hollywood?
RL: Well, I think the choice of target, of Hollywood as a target was mainly for publicity. I don't think they seriously thought there was any danger of any propaganda in the movies that would have an effect on the American people. They knew that this would get them a lot of attention and it was their first hearing since they became a permanent committee, the first under a Republican majority. And Richard Nixon, a freshman Congressman was a member of the committee facing us, and I think that expectation was pretty well borne out. They did get a lot of publicity and some of it was favourable. There were a good many newspapers in the country at first that criticised the committee, but the Hearst papers and some others treated them quite favourably.
INT: Fine. And can you describe for me the 'black list' and how it worked really and how it affected you?
RL: The hearings ended the day I testified and we went to New York for a couple of days and went, then back to Hollywood, where Twentieth Century Fox, which I was working for, I'd turned in a script which I had finished in the hotel in Washington and they gave me a new assignment under my contract, but thwe heard that the heads of the studio, the heads of the motion picture companies, not the studios really but the New York heads of the compa, who were more bankers and movie executives, had met, had a meeting withic Johnston, who was the head of the studio joint committee, and they had decided to pass a resolution, which said that of the ten who had appeared before the committee, we will discharge any of those who are working and we will not hire of them until they have cleared themselves of this accusation. So, from that moment, which was only a month after the hearings, a few weeks after the hearings, the ten of us were black-listed. Only five of us actually were working at the time and had to leave the studio. I was starting a new assignment with Otto Preminger and we were conferring in his office when there came a message that... Well, we had heard incidentally, that Daryl Zanuck, the head of the studio, had said he wasn't going to fire anybody and I was the only person working there, unless his board of directors specifically instructed him to. And he had just been in instructed.. specifically instructed. So this message came that Mr. Zanuck wanted Mr. Lardner to come to his office and Otto Preminger got a little indignant. He was the producer/director. He said, he doesn't want to see me too? 'Cos he thought it was about the script. But I went and actually I didn't see Zanuck, but his assistant, who told me I was to leave the lot immediately. So I reported this to a couple of my friends on the lot and a couple of them said they wanted to leave with me. This included director/writer, George Seaton and Philip Dunn and a couple of others and I persuaded them that if it was just a few people, it would not be a good idea, it wouldn't have much effect, it would just get them in trouble. So they finally abandoned it. And from the moment on, for... that was in the Fall, November '47, it was 1962 before I was openly hired to work on a picture, motion picture. Again, incidentally, by Otto Preminger, who had already put the name of my colleague, Dalton Trumbo, on a movie, 'Exodus' and at the same time as Kirk Douglas's company put his... Trumbo's name on a picture, 'Spartacus', but Preminger in '62 announced that he was hiring me and he got a furious letter from the Americanism Committee of the American Legion, which said, why couldn't he hire a good American writer and Otto just wrote them back that they had a perfect right not to see this picture when it was released, but he had a perfect right to hire whom he wanted and he... That was, as I say that was fifteen years later. During the, the early fifties, people were not nearly so courageous as that and the 'blacklist' for some years was very rigid and effective.