In the late 1940s and 1950s, America was gripped in a Red Scare. The HUAC (House on Un-American Activities Committee) began a government probe into purportedly Communist activities in Hollywood. Evidence for such activity was thin and the industry took offense to the allegations, describing them as reckless and claiming that investigations were in violation of the First Amendment.

The first purge took place in 1947. Those who resisted subpoena were jailed; they became known as the Hollywood Ten. The HUAC returned to Hollywood in 1951. Many more actors and writers would be blacklisted for not testifying against their bretheren. In the end, less than ten percent of more than 324 persons blacklisted would ever return to Hollywood. Of those who did, they often labored under front men. Some of the blacklisted committed suicide. The blacklist would last for 16 years.

The Hollywood Ten were responsible for scripting and directing hundreds of films. Most of the ten had made anti-fascist films. One (Trumbo) was one of the highest paid writers in Hollywood, and a former president of the Screen Writers Guild. Three had received Academy Awards. The Hollywood Ten were: Despite the climate, some actors prospered under the McCarthy purges. Ronald Reagan, then president of the Screen Actors Guild, reported to the FBI about leftist actors. It is in this influential capacity that he was sought out by his second wife, a starlet named Nancy Davis, who needed his help when she found she was being indiscriminately blacklisted for sharing the name of another actress.

In 1950 the blacklist was published by CounterAttack (The newsletter of facts to combat communism) under the name Red Channels. It contained the names of actors, directors, screenwriters, etc. who just seemed subversive or had opposed the idea of the original blacklist. Some persons in this edition were unable to continue their careers until the 1970s.

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