The Anti-Blacklist/HUAC/McCarthyism community and free speech champions everywhere have lost two of our historic giants. It has been widely reported that actor/producer Kirk Douglas passed away at the age of 103. It is gratifying that news reports have noted that Kirk played an important, courageous role in breaking the Hollywood Blacklist and cited 1960’s Spartacus as probably his most iconic role.
As you likely know, it was with that epic movie that Kirk helped end the Blacklist by allowing screenwriter Dalton /Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten – who’d been banned from (openly) making movies since 1947 – to publicly have screen credit. Just as Otto Preminger bravely did that same year, for the Trumbo-scripted Exodus.
But what hasn’t been reported and you may not know is the significant role that Kirk and the Douglas family personally played in the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Hollywood Blacklist held Oct. 27, 2017 – the exact 70th anniversary to the day when the first member of the Hollywood Ten, John Howard Lawson, testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on Oct. 27, 1947. Kirk wrote a personal message for the Commemoration, that was read by his granddaughter, Kelsey Douglas, to the almost 500 people gathered together to pay tribute to those persecuted by – and who resisted – the Tinseltown Inquisition. By doing so, Kirk, Kelsey and their team helped make the sold out event at the Writers Guild of America Theater in Beverly Hills, that went on to be repeatedly broadcast on nationwide TV, a huge success.
For that, we are eternally grateful to the Douglas family. I personally had the pleasure and honor of briefly meeting Kirk once with his wife Anne at UCLA during the LA Times Festival of Books. I had the presence of mind to tell this legendary actor that he’d actually played his greatest role offscreen – by helping to break the Hollywood Blacklist. I’m also thankful that Kirk autographed a copy of his book I Am Spartacus for me.
The other giant the Anti-Blacklist/HUAC/McCarthyism community and First Amendment stalwarts lost this week is Lila Garrett, who died Feb. 1 at age 94. Lila was reportedly the role model for Barbara Streisand’s character Katie Morosky, the fiery organizer in the 1973 movie The Way We Were, which of course dealt in part with the Hollywood Blacklist. Lila’s screen credits include My Favorite Martian, Bewitched, The Addams Family, Get Smart and many other productions. Lila became a fixture on the progressive radio scene, hosting the early Monday morning Connect the Dots program on L.A.’s Pacifica station, KPFK, 90.7 FM. Lila was also President of the L.A. Chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, and was the mother of casting director/actor Eliza Roberts, married to actor Eric Roberts. The fact that both Kirk and Lila lived such long lives made me reflect on longevity, and I remembered something the blacklisted screenwriter Robert Lees, who lived to be more than 90, once told me during an interview. “Bobby” was earning $1,500 per week writing Abbott and Costello, et al, comedies, when HUAC subpoenaed him to testify, but he refused to save his lucrative career by becoming a fink. Bobby told me his secret to living to a ripe old age was:
“The fact that I didn’t betray my friends makes long life that much nicer to live… I’ve nothing to hate myself for. Thank god I did what I did [not informing]. You could even laugh at the blacklist; it was an adventure.”
Our sincerest condolences to the Garrett and Douglas families. Kirk Douglas and Lila Garrett will be remembered at the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the imprisonment of Dalton Trumbo and John Howard Lawson, followed by the incarceration of the rest of the Hollywood Ten, scheduled to take place June 19, 2020 at the Writers Guild of America Theater. Details to come.
Until then, the motto of everyone fighting for freedom of speech and human rights during these dark days is, to paraphrase Trumbo: “We’re Spartacus!”
Ed Rampell was named after CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Sen. Joe McCarthy and The Hollywood Blacklist 70th Anniversary Cinema Series’ Coordinator.