Jean Rouverol Butler, Blacklisted Screenwriter, Dies at 100

She fled to Mexico during McCarthy era and spent more than 10 years in exile

Last Updated: March 25, 2017 @ 4:10 PM

Jean Rouverol Butler, an actress turned screenwriter who was blacklisted by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s and fled to Mexico with her husband, died Friday at the age of 100, according to a funeral notice posted by her family.

Rouverol Butler’s introduction to showbiz came at an early age. Her mother, playwright Aurania (Ellerbeck) Rouverol, was the creator of Andy Hardy and many films for MGM. At 17, the young Rouverol was discovered in true Hollywood style while in a high school production. Her first professional acting role was as W.C. Fields’ daughter in “It’s a Gift” (1934), and she went on to appear in 11 other films.

In 1940, she married screenwriter Hugo Butler and, although she didn’t return to acting on camera, she did perform on radio. While her husband served in WWII, she wrote her first novella and sold it to McCall’s magazine in 1945.

Within five years, she had her first screenplay produced, but her career was interrupted as a result of investigations by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) into Communist influence in Hollywood.

She and her husband had joined the American Communist Party and, in 1951, when agents for HUAC attempted to subpoena them, she and her husband chose to self-exile to Mexico with their four small children rather than face a possible prison sentence endured by some of their friends who were dubbed “the Hollywood Ten.” Labeled as “subversives and dangerous revolutionaries” by the U.S. government, the Butlers did not return permanently to the U.S. for 13 years, during which time they had two more children.

While in exile, Rouverol Butler continued to write screenplays, three of which she co-wrote with her husband. They were accepted for filming by Hollywood studios because agent Ingo Preminger (brother of director Otto Preminger) arranged for friends from the Writer’s Guild of America to put their names on the scripts.

In 1960, the family moved to Italy so she and her husband could work on a film script. In 1964, they returned to the United States for good. Living in California, she and her husband continued to collaborate on screenplays, and she wrote a book on 19th century author Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Rouverol Butler returned to writing in the ’70s after her husband’s death. She scripted an episode of NBC’s “Little House on the Prairie,” wrote three books in three years (two young adult biographies and a Gothic novel), and was then hired as co-head writer for the CBS soap opera “Guiding Light,” for which she received a Daytime Emmy nomination and a Writers Guild of America Award.

She went on to author “Writing for the Soaps” and taught writing at the University of Southern California and at the UCLA Extension. She also wrote scripts for the soap operas “Search for Tomorrow” and “As the World Turns.”

In 2000, at the age of 84, she published “Refugees From Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years,” that recounted her family’s life in exile.

Rouverol Butler is survived by her son, Michael Butler, and five daughters, Susan Butler, Becky Butler, Mary Butler, Emily McCoy and Deborah Spiegelman; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.