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Kirk Douglas and the Blacklist

Guest Blog: No one person broke the blacklist, anymore than any one person won World War II

Kirk Douglas will be the honored guest and featured speaker tonight (Monday, Aug. 13) at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ screening of “Spartacus.” No doubt, he will, as he did in his recent book, "I Am Spartacus: Making a Film, Breaking the Blacklist," take credit for breaking the Hollywood Blacklist.

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In fact, no one person broke the blacklist, anymore than any one person won World War II.

Breaking the blacklist was a team effort, and if anyone deserves a share of the credit, it’s legendary producer-director Stanley Kramer.

Kramer defied the blacklist in 1952 – a full eight years before blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo was hired to write “Spartacus” – when he gave a screenwriting credit to blacklisted writer Carl Foreman on “High Noon.” During the film’s production, Foreman had been called to testify before the dreaded House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to name names. He fled the country before the film’s release, but Kramer stood by his friend and gave him his much-deserved screenwriting credit.

Kramer defied the blacklist again in 1958 when he hired the blacklisted writing team of Nedrick Young and Harold Jacob Smith to write “The Defiant Ones," which won the best screenplay Oscar that year.

Young wrote under the pseudonym of Nathan E. Douglas (N.E.D.), but everyone in town knew who it was.

Shortly after the film was released, Time magazine reported that “One of the co-authors of ‘The Defiant Ones' was Nathan E. Douglas, who in 1953 pleaded the Fifth under his legal name of Ned Young during a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing.”

Kramer defied the blacklist again in 1960 when he hired Young and Smith to pen “Inherit the Wind.”

In those days, the American Legion considered itself a clearinghouse for Americanism. But when the Legion criticized Kramer for hiring “known communists” to write “Inherit the Wind,” Moss Hart, president of the Authors League of America, rose to his defense.

In a telegram to Stanley, Hart wrote: “The Authors League of America council, which has always unalterably opposed any form of blacklisting of writers, unanimously voted at a meeting today to commend and applaud you for your courageous stand in rejecting publicly the effort to interfere, on pseudo-patriotic grounds, with the right of writers to work.”

Kramer gave Kirk Douglas his first major movie role, in “Champion,” for which Kirk received his first Oscar nomination. But in his book, Douglas gives Kramer nothing but the back of his hand.

He falsely claims that Kramer removed Carl Foreman’s associate-producer credit on “High Noon” because “he was afraid of what their continued association might cost him in the future.”

In fact, Harry Cohn, the head of Columbia Pictures, took away Foreman’s associate producer credit because Foreman had become so embroiled in fighting HUAC that he couldn’t do the work he’d been hired to do.

If Stanley Kramer had been so worried, as Douglas claims, about what his continued association with Foreman might do to his own career, Kramer certainly wouldn’t have insisted on giving him screen credit on “High Noon,” considered by many to be the greatest Western ever made.

Instead, Kramer gave Foreman the one thing no other blacklisted writer ever got, and the one thing they all wanted most: screenwriting credit under their own names.




David L. Robb is an award-winning freelance journalist who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize three times. He is the author of "Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies" and "The Gumshoe and the Shrink: The Secret History of the 1950 Kennedy/Nixon Election." His work has been featured in Daily Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He lives in Los Angeles. His new book is "The Stuntwoman: The True Story of a Hollywood Heroine," with Julie Ann Johnson.