Show Trial: Hollywood, Huac, and the Birth of the Blacklist

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by Thomas Doherty

Columbia University Press


SKU: 9780231184892


In 1947, the Cold War came to Hollywood. Over nine tumultuous days in October, the House Un-American Activities Committee held a notorious round of hearings into alleged Communist subversion in the movie industry. The blowback was profound: the major studios pledged to never again employ a known Communist or unrepentant fellow traveler. The declaration marked the onset of the blacklist era, a time when political allegiances, real or suspected, determined employment opportunities in the entertainment industry. Hundreds of artists were shown the door--or had it shut in their faces.

In Show Trial, Thomas Doherty takes us behind the scenes at the first full-on media-political spectacle of the postwar era. He details the theatrical elements of a proceeding that bridged the realms of entertainment and politics, a courtroom drama starring glamorous actors, colorful moguls, on-the-make congressmen, high-priced lawyers, single-minded investigators, and recalcitrant screenwriters, all recorded by newsreel cameras and broadcast over radio. Doherty tells the story of the Hollywood Ten and the other witnesses, friendly and unfriendly, who testified, and chronicles the implementation of the postwar blacklist. Show Trial is a rich, character-driven inquiry into how the HUAC hearings ignited the anti-Communist crackdown in Hollywood, providing a gripping cultural story of one of the most transformative events of the postwar era.


"Doherty is one of the best, if not the best, writers in the American studies world today, and has produced an excellent book that will command a great deal of attention. Show Trial sheds new light on the story of the Hollywood Ten and HUAC and does it in fresh and exciting ways. One of the book's greatest strengths is that it stays away from familiar academic debates that focus heavily on politics and instead tells a character-driven story using quotes from a wide variety of contemporaneous participants. Doherty places the personalities of the era--left and right--on center stage. This is easily the most comprehensive and comprehensible study of HUAC and the Hollywood Ten to date, and I predict it will become the book to read on this topic." -- Steven Ross, author of Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America

"A riveting, exhaustive look at the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into Communists in the film industry. . . . In the current era of legislative upheaval, Doherty's vital, impressive history feels both relevant and urgent." --Publishers Weekly

"Thomas Doherty's fans, of whom I am one, know he is a first-rate film historian with a sharp eye for political theater as well as a stylish writer with a knack for turning a phrase. Show Trial gives a thorough, well-contextualized, clear-eyed, and witty account of the 1947 HUAC 'Hollywood Ten' hearings, full of pithy characterizations and choice bits of business." -- J. Hoberman, author of An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War

About the Author:

Thomas Doherty is professor of American studies at Brandeis University. His previous Columbia University Press books include Pre-Code Hollywood: Sex, Immorality, and Insurrection in American Cinema, 1930-1934Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American CultureHollywood's Censor: Joseph I. Breen and the Production Code Administration; and Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939.