“There are too many Jews in Hollywood.”
Martin Dies, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee, 1950
Introduction: As described in an earlier article there was little difference in prevalence and intensity of antisemitism in the United States as compared to Germany before the Second World War. Which leaves the question raised in that blog, “Would the fate of Jews in the United States have been different from that of German Jewry had Roosevelt been defeated in 1940?” Even without a Ford or Lindbergh presidency (both admirers of Hitler and recipients of Nazi Germany’s highest civilian honor) the United States, long before Germany, was itself interested in applying eugenics to the creation of a racially pure Aryan gene pool; and both countries independently created concentration camps to contain perceived internal “enemies.” However Roosevelt defenders or detractors represent what I call his “policy of passivity” to the unfolding Holocaust, that policy also reflected institutional governmental antisemitism overwhelmingly supported by national antisemitism, the mood of the country.
At war’s end the United States and the Soviet Union quickly reverted from suspicious allies to their more comfortable roles as economic and military adversaries. To the Russians “the Jews” were “capitalists;” in America “the Jews” were both “capitalists” and “communists.”
The “Scare” as reflected in Red Channels, a 1950 publication claiming to document "Communist influence in radio and television" (Wikipedia)
The association of Jews and Hollywood as a sinister force controlling American opinion is as old as the movie industry itself. In 1921 the following appeared in Henry Ford’s antisemitic propaganda sheet, the Dearborn Independent:
“The motion picture influence of the United States … is exclusively under the control, moral and financial, of the Jewish manipulators of the public mind… the American Public is as helpless against the films as it is against any other exaggerated expression of Jewish power.”
In a 1941 speech, after warning the Jews to not advocate for war against Hitler “or else," political populist and isolationism proponent Air Corps Colonel Charles Lindbergh warned that,
"the greatest danger to this country lies in their [Jewish] large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government."
Thirty-five years later another popular American military personality and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Brown told a reporter,
“They own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.”
And recently I came across this by an “investigative journalist” for an evangelical publication:
“I love and respect the Jews but I fear their stranglehold on Hollywood comes with grave risks…” [my emphasis]
The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC): Originally named the House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC changed its name in 1945 and was eventually folded into the House Judiciary Committee in 1975. Although it’s described mandate was to investigate "Communist infiltration" into the United States and the risks posed by "American communists," in choosing Hollywood as its opening act chairman Martin Dies made no secret of his committee’s subtext: “There are too many Jews in Hollywood!”
Among the membership of the far-right HUAC were Richard Nixon and Representative John Rankin whose racist 1954 defense of the 1924 Immigrant Exclusion Act resulted in New York Representative Michael Edelstein’s fatal heart attack. Rankin, known for not mincing words, as a leader of HUAC again rose to the challenge and made explicit what was otherwise obscured by governmental legalese. In a House debate Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas, wife of Jewish actor Melvin Douglas, asked Rankin which films the committee considered as supportive of the Communist Party? Rankin, not surprisingly, chose to ignore the question and respond instead with a list of movie actors whose evidence of criminality was to sign a petition to Congress:
“One is Danny Kaye,” he began. “We found his real name was David Daniel Kaminsky. Then there was Eddie Cantor. His real name was Edward (sic) Iskowitz. Edward G Robinson, his name is Emmanuel Goldenberg.”
The final cut was when he added, almost as an afterthought, the name of the congresswoman’s husband:
“There’s another one here who calls himself Melvyn Douglas, whose real name is Melvyn Hesselberg.”
Richard Nixon also was no retiring pansy when it came to rhetorical flare. The young Californian Congressman chimed in support of Rankin by describing Helen Gahagan Douglas as, “pink down to her underwear:” a foretaste of vintage Nixon antisemitism populating his “secret” presidential White House tapes.
Among HUAC’s victims was the Hollywood Ten, mentioned earlier. Six happened to be Jews. Appealing to the Supreme Court that their constitutional rights were trampled by HUAC. In response Dies invoked the 1918 Sedition Act against them. The Act,
“declared that anyone who was foreign-born (even if subsequently naturalized) could be declared a ‘non-citizen.’”
The appeal By the Ten was turned down. Five years later a dissenting member of the Supreme Court would condemn its decision as serving a “conservative” political agenda.
But exclusion from employment and prison were not the worst possible outcomes from falling into the hands of HUAC:
“The tough guy actor John Garfield (originally Jules Garfinkle) died from a heart attack at the age of 39 on the eve of being called before HUAC. The blacklisted star of the hit radio and TV series The Goldbergs, Philip Loeb, booked himself into an hotel, ordered champagne from room service and then jumped from the skyscraper building window.”
When Broadway actor, J Edward Bromberg, another victim of HUAC, died of a heart attack Lee Grant, a Jewish actress, found herself blacklisted for,
“speaking at a memorial service for Bromberg. She was told she could get off the list if she named her husband as a communist. She refused.”
Senator Joseph McCarthy (Wikipedia)
Even before Dies announced that Hollywood was just too Jewish, a 1948 survey by the American Jewish Committee,
“found that 21 percent of Americans did believe that “most Jews are Communists,” and that more than half associated Jews with atomic spying [this, three years before the Rosenberg spy trial]. Moreover, according to Aviva Weingarten’s 2008 study, of 124 people questioned by McCarthy’s Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs in 1952, 79 [two-thirds] were Jews.”
Except, perhaps, by those determined to view the United States as “exceptional” regarding antisemitism, the implication is hard to miss.
Recent writings in this Series: