Norma Barzman’s memoir describes the first wave of the 1947 anti-Red investigation, which bore striking parallels to the Salem, Massachusetts, witch-hunt three centuries earlier. The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) issued nineteen subpoenas to prominent writers and directors. Most were friends of Norma and Ben Barzman and either “fellow travelers” or Communist Party members. Eleven of the nineteen were ordered to testify before Congress, including Dalton Trumbo (author of Johnny Got His Gun, 1939), Albert Maltz, Ring Lardner, Jr., and John Howard Lawson, first president of the Screen Writers Guild and head of Hollywood’s CP branch. Fleeing the country was German-born Bertolt Brecht, whose play Leben des Galilei (pr. 1943; The Life of Galileo, 1947) excoriated cowardice in the face of evil inquisitors.
The others vehemently defied HUAC and were subsequently cited for contempt. After unsuccessful appeals, each of the “Hollywood Ten” spent up to a year in prison. Industry spokesmen initially defended the action of the Ten as a free-speech issue. Gradually but unequivocally, however, studio executives distanced themselves from those under suspicion. According to Victor S. Navasky’s Naming Names (1980), timid turncoats became “friendly witnesses,” confessing past associations with members of supposedly subversive organizations.
Once in demand as scriptwriters, the Barzmans found themselves becoming pariahs. Rather than wait for the proverbial axe to fall, they transplanted themselves to friendlier climes abroad. Like Norma Barzman’s screenplay Luxury Girls (1953), The Red and the Blacklist contains frequent flashbacks and plentiful dialogue (sometimes annoying contrivances). Chapter 1, “Boy Meets Girl,” opens at a 1942 Russian war relief benefit hosted by Beverly Hills writer and director Robert Rosser. Charmed upon meeting Ben Barzman, her charismatic future husband, but repelled by his chauvinistic manners, Norma throws a piece of lemon meringue pie in his face, emulating a silent-screen routine. Later Ben pours out his political passions while two restaurant eavesdroppers listen in shocked silence. According to the author’s melodramatic recreation, Ben says:
The American Communist Party is not revolutionary. Nobody wants to overthrow the government with force or violence. It’s just the best, most organized way I know to fight Fascism and imperialist war and to aid the colonial peoples in their struggle for freedom.
Ben prods Norma into taking Marxism classes. A Communist Party meeting opens with a male-dominated discussion of Joseph Stalin’s pamphlet Nationalism. Three months later, in a scene worthy of a 1940’s screwball comedy, a defrocked rabbi in penny loafers performs Norma and Ben’s nuptials.
The bride had sought marriage and motherhood but rebelled against attempts on Ben’s part to domesticate her. Through sheer grit she landed a job with the Los Angeles (Herald) Examiner. The lone woman in its newsroom, she endured farting, belching, spitting, lewd gestures, and other crude behavior. Publisher William Randolph Hearst’s private detective unearthed evidence of her politics and wanted her fired. An outspoken anticommunist, Hearst nonetheless would not hear of it. He and his wife Marion Davies admired her work. Norma even got invited to their San Simeon mansion on an errand to buy and deliver barrettes to Marion. Upon learning of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, the Examiner newsroom erupted in celebration. Norma fought back tears; her comrades rued the end of an era.
Thrilled at having been part of a grand crusade, she put up with Ben’s bullying until he got an offer on their script Never Say Goodbye (1946). The catch was that a third collaborator would be brought in, and Norma’s name would be dropped from the credits. Ben accepted the offer. “I felt betrayed, but I didn’t fight for myself either. I gave in,” Norma recalls. “In bed, for the first time, I pulled away.” Believing it time to become less emotionally dependent on a single man, she commenced an affair with her husband’s malleable best friend, Adrian Scott.
Featured in this spicy stew are memorable cameo appearances, such as that of her older cousin Henry Myers, the author’s “first love” and a Screenwriters Guild founder, escorting thirteen-year-old Norma to Sardi’s, where they were seated under his caricature. On the set of Back to Bataan(1945), she encountered John Wayne. The Duke’s politics were loathsome to her, but his rugged sex appeal was undeniable. To test the...
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