As Jewish Museum Milwaukee prepares to launch Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare, which focuses on an area of history that has personally interested me for decades, I have to confess to spying a wall calendar notation in a JMM staff member’s office and literally nagging to be included in the planning! I waged an unprecedented campaign for a volunteer position, and I am honored and proud to co-chair this exhibit with Lori Craig.
One might ask, What’s Jewish or Milwaukee about this topic? The answer could be: What isn’t?
The most direct Milwaukee connection is our state’s history as the constituency of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the name that instantly comes to mind when we hear Red Scare. McCarthy was dangerous and a threat to American democracy. A portion of the exhibit and one lecture program will focus on his crusade. His mission was to “out” and oust Communists in the State Department and other federal agencies, as well as in the military. Finally, in 1954, the Army-McCarthy hearings signaled the beginning of his downfall.
I remember, as a child during the McCarthy era, that my parents did not subscribe to the North Shore Herald newspapers, because the chain’s owners were pro-McCarthy. But the Jewish community, locally and nationally, was not so monolithic in opposing him.
Jews were also prominently involved in the Red Scare as it played out in Hollywood and the entertainment industry investigated by the earlier and simultaneous hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Jews and non-Jews alike were both good guys, who resisted the congressional witchhunts and risked contempt of court citations, and bad guys, who named names. Whether one reacted, when the FBI knocked on the door, out of fear or with courage would affect one’s livelihood and family life, in some cases permanently. Prominent name namers were the mostly Jewish owners of the major movie studios, whose likely motivations were both economic survival and the desire to be considered “real Americans.”
Many of the targeted writers, actors, directors, production people and journalists had been lauded for their World War II support. Many had fought in our military when the Soviet Union was our ally. Some were refugees from the Nazis, only to be deported by the Red Scare.
Some had been members of the Communist Party long before it became a crime (1954). Others were sympathizers whom today we might call liberals or progressives or social justice advocates. Even if their views diverged from the government’s, they assumed they could express themselves freely and associate freely, protected by—you know–the First Amendment.
There were no tweets or Facebook or alt-right or alt-left bloggers, but there were boycotts, sponsorships rescinded, passports confiscated, friends betrayed, whipped up rallies, children hounded, suicides.
McCarthy’s ultimate nemesis, the Army’s General Counsel Joseph Welch, made the definitive pronouncement on the Red Scare era: “At long last, have you no shame?”
Relevance? To Milwaukee? To Jews? To our history? To our NOW? Do we have to ask?
– Linda Frank, co-chair of Blacklist: The Hollywood Red Scare
Images (top to bottom):
– Senator Joseph McCarthy points to a newspaper with an inflammatory headline.
– Dalton and Cleo Trumbo on location for Exodus (circa 1960). Courtesy of the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research.
– Family and friends rally for the Hollywood Ten (circa 1949). Courtesy of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
In thinking about the show “Once & Again: Still Lifes by Beth Lipman” we wanted to develop a number of ways for visitors to connect with this exhibit. Beth Lipman lives and works in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, but her work and renown is national. We wanted to find other people who fit this bill–who choose to live in Wisconsin and have reach throughout the country. Our first “Local Lives, National Voice” speaker is filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein. He will be speaking at JMM on September 18 at 5:00 PM. RSVP Here>>
I first met Brad Lichtenstein through his work at UW-Milwaukee. He founded the docUWM program and created a film with the students there called Chosen Towns, which in some ways is a preview to his newest movie, There are Jews Here. While There are Jews Here is about small Jewish communities nationally, Chosen Towns reflected on the small Jewish communities throughout Wisconsin.
His work extends well beyond shrinking Jewish communities. He has created work for Al Jazeera America, PBS, and the Washington Post among other national outlets. This piece examines the changing political culture in Wisconsin for a series that appeared on the Washington Post’s website:
Over a year ago he launched Precious Lives, a powerful radio series on WUWM, examining the impact of gun violence on Milwaukee. He sat down with the host and producer of the series after the unrest in Sherman Park this summer to have a candid talk about what they had just experienced. This conversation is an important way to reflect upon the state of our city and different ways of engaging. You can find that talk here>>
At his talk at JMM, he will be talking about the breadth of his work, including his new film. There are Jews Here will be screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival. Tickets are available here!