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Will Geer

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What McCarthyism is and its affect on the people:


History is made up of many events, all of which have affected the world in many ways. During the late 1940's and early 1950's, there were investigations occurring throughout Hollywood. These were due to the beliefs that there were communists in the U.S., who were attempting to overthrow the government. This period in time became known as McCarthyism, after the U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthyism was a rough time for many people, mainly those involved with Hollywood films, due to the scrutiny they faced from the government.

McCarthyism began in 1947, however, it predominantly existed from 1950 to 1954. It was an extensive "paranoid hunt for infiltrators," that affected the lives of many Hollywood stars (McCarthyism). It basically started from the fears of communism growing in Eastern Europe and China. In 1938, the House Un-American Activities Committee(HUAC) was formed for the purpose of investigating people suspected of unpatriotic behavior and attempting to overthrow the government. It was believed that communists were placing subversive messages in the Hollywood films they were creating, and also placing negative images of the U.S. in films that would be seen around the world. The HUAC interviewed 41 people working in Hollywood films, who became known as the "friendly witnesses," naming "nineteen people accused of holding left-wing views" (Fried). Ten of these people refused to answer any questions and became known as the Hollywood Ten. They were all tried and were found guilty, being sentenced to between six and twelve months in jail. As time went on, more and more names were ousted, and those that refused to give up more names were placed on a blacklist. There were over 320 people on this list. The reason that this period became known as McCarthyism is because of the United States senator Joseph McCarthy. He essentially led the investigations, stating that, "two-hundred card carrying communists had infiltrated the United States government" who had to be caught (McCarthyism). His accusations heightened the anxiety, taking the entire investigation of communists to a new level.

McCarthyism was relatively successful, in that the government and the HUAV achieved the purpose of their investigations.  The HUAC had witnesses, people who confessed to working and being a communist or part of a left-wing party, and they had people who were giving up more names of other people involved along with them. The HUAC found the 41 witnesses who gave the names of nineteen people accused of being a communist and having left-wing views. From that nineteen, ten were found guilty and were sent to jail. The HUAC then found more and more people involved, who were all placed on a blacklist if they did not give up any other names of people. McCarthyism destroyed the lives of everyone it found to be guilty or even anyone just placed on the blacklist, "no more than 10 percent would be able to return to careers in Hollywood" (Georgakas). Many people that were blacklisted lost their spouses and others suffered a lot of financial loss. Some of the blacklisted moved to Europe or Mexico to find better work, which they could no longer find in Hollywood. However, in the end, Joseph McCarthy's accusations were based off of inconclusive and questionable evidence, and were proven un-true.

During the time of the investigations, many were persecuted. These people included the Hollywood Ten, who consisted of Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson, and Alvah Bessie (Ryskind, 11). Others included people involved in the Hollywood filmmaking business, such as screenwriters, actors, and technical workers. What happened to these people was that they were either sent to jail, in the Hollywood Ten's case, or they were placed on the blacklist, which was what happened to the majority of the people. The HUAC and the government created the blacklists and sentenced the Hollywood Ten to jail. They did this because they believed they were involved with communists or left-wing parties, and feared that they might attempt to overthrow the government, so they had to come up with a solution to stop them. Ultimately, the HUAC and the government persecuted innocent people for the sake of their own jobs.

As one can tell, McCarthyism affected the lives of many people involved in the Hollywood filmmaking business, due to the un-true accusations that Joseph McCarthy blamed them of. It was a great "witch hunt", which was intended to catch anyone suspected of being involved with communists or other left-wing parties, and attempting to overthrow the government (Fried). In the end, it was successful in accomplishing its purpose, however, it was all based off of false accusations, and destroyed innocent people's lives.


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