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The House Un-American Activities Committee

Lawrence Bush
May 25, 2017

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) was established on this date in 1938, chaired by Rep. Martin Dies, Jr. (D-TX, pictured above). Its early investigations of “subversive” and communist influence within government circles included Hallie Flanagan of the Federal Theatre Project, the American Youth Congress (a Communist affiliate), and Japanese Americans (the committee recommended their internment). In 1946, HUAC considered investigating the Ku Klux Klan, but decided instead to tackle the American Communist Party and several New Deal projects. By then, HUAC was a permanent Congressional committee and, according to Michael Freedland’s Witch Hunt in Hollywood, was obsessed with Jews. In hearings in Los Angeles and Washington between 1947 and the mid-1950s, “One after the other, the people . . . in effect, put on trial by the committee . . . were Jews — not exclusively so, but enough to make the case. . . . On the floor of the House of Representatives itself, Congressman John Rankin made a speech which consisted of virtually nothing more than a list of Jewish names. The wife of the actor Melvin Douglas, Congresswoman Helen Gahagan Douglas -- whom a certain HUAC member named Richard Milhous Nixon had insulted by saying she was ‘pink, down to her underwear’ -- asked which films the committee really believed were helping the Communist Party. Rankin answered by reading some of the names that had appeared on a petition to congress: ‘One is Danny Kaye,’ he began. ‘We found his real name was David Daniel Kaminsky. Then there was Eddie Cantor. His real name was Edward (sic) Iskowitz. Edward G Robinson, his name is Emmanuel Goldenberg.’ The final cut was when he added, almost as an afterthought, the name of the Congresswoman’s husband: ‘There’s another one here who calls himself Melvyn Douglas, whose real name is Melvyn Hesselberg.’ ” To see HUAC investigating Hollywood, look below.

“The most important Jews in Hollywood were, of course, the studio bosses -- people like the Warner Brothers, Louis B Mayer of MGM, and Harry Cohn of Columbia. They were among those responsible for the Waldorf Declaration -- a statement issued after a gathering at the New York hotel which declared that they would never employ a communist. The only one who would not sign was Samuel Goldwyn (born Shmuel Gelbfisch), who said that nobody was going to tell him how to run his operation.” --Michael Freedland

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.