Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Gossip/Rumors (either or both) (10/28/10)
TITLE: The Importance of Being...
By Rachel Phelps
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Wasn’t like he didn’t know what’s going on. The House Un-American Activities Committee has been active over a year now, and it just don’t take much to get called up for them. All it takes is some scared little stool pigeon blurting it out, and your name might as well be Red Stalin as far as they’re concerned. They can’t really do much if you know how to get around them, but jail isn’t as scary as the chow lines, let me tell you. And you might as well get used to chow lines if somebody names you as a Communist.
Now Wally, he’s no more a Commie than McCarthy himself. He’s one of the best screenwriters around, and everybody knows it. I used to tell him I’d do almost anything to trade names with him for a week. Wally’s name on a script is like a roast in the oven to producers. They can just smell the money rolling in. We used to sit in his apartment and bat ideas around and shake our heads over the movie houses’ short-sightedness. All fun and fluff, he’d say. Nothing to make audiences think. Nothing to push them out of their neat little boxes. There was a time I really agreed with him – envied him a bit, I admit. He seemed to have something I didn’t. Wouldn’t trade names with him for love nor money, now.
He’s brilliant and all, just got these crazy ideas that get him in trouble. He attended a couple CPUSA meetings, sure, but “just to listen,” he says. Says he’d rather know what they stand for straight from them instead of what the newspapers tell him or what other people say about them. Says letting other people tell you what to think about somebody is just a step away from letting other people do all your thinking for you. According to Wally, that’s what is really un-American.
So when all the names started getting called and studios started laying off suspected Commies, Wally didn’t pay them any mind. He kept up acquaintances with several people who were known to have Communist ties, even some of the radicals like Langston Hughes and Paul Robeson who are just agitating people about things like segregation and the supposed oppression of blacks. Wally even gave up writing blackface roles, said he just couldn’t in good conscience anymore. He never actually joined the CPUSA, but he wasn’t shy about saying what he liked about their philosophies. As he would put it, “I’m not going to stop believing something because it’s unpopular.”
I tried to tell him. I told him people would talk. I made a list of all the people we knew who were going on the blacklist since they wouldn’t say they weren’t communists or give names of people who were. Wally said he didn’t care how much people would talk. He wasn’t going to be cowed by a bunch of bullying gossips.
He’s almost done with his six month sentence for refusing to give names to the committee. People have pretty much stopped talking about him – there’s a new name making the rounds at least once a week. I don’t know what Wally thought he was going to prove, but I don’t think it worked. I doubt the rumor mills will even register his return. I told him it wasn’t worth it.
I got nothing against being well-informed, or even standing up for somebody who’s getting a bad rap – but times like these you gotta look after yourself first. I mean, I’m all for better working conditions for the poor and maybe even some of that civil rights stuff Wally’s so anxious about. I just don’t see the point in me going out of my way to make it happen. The way I figure it, if I can keep my head down, I’ll still have a steady job when this is all over and no black mark to my name. I’ve been getting a lot more calls from studios since Wally’s been behind bars.
Maybe I’ll let him put my name on one of his scripts so we can split the money and he can skip the chow line. I couldn’t just stand by and do nothing.
Author’s Note: The Red Scare, or era of McCarthyism, lasted from the late 1940s to the late 1950s. It was spurred by a fear of Communism and its subversive effects on American culture. The entertainment industry was particularly targeted due to its widespread influence and the fear that communist messages might be infiltrating the American consciousness through entertainment. Hundreds of people from all areas of the industry were “blacklisted” and could not find work because of suspected ties to the Communist Party.
CPUSA: Communist Party of the USA
McCarthy: Senator Joseph McCarthy who backed many anti-communist initiatives, including the House Un-American Activities Committee.
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