Book Review

Historian Paul Buhle’s continuing series on Hollywood blacklistees has, inevitably, led beyond the kingdoms of the studio monarchy. After writing a series of books on the subject, the author’s 2003 collaboration with David Wagner examines the plight of those who needed to flee “Tinsel Town” during the Cold War.

Though this volume’s intended opening is 1950, the introduction actually takes us back to a 1947 meeting between the renowned Bertolt Brecht and director Joseph Losey, on the night prior to the former’s House UnAmerican Activities Committee hearing. The threat of seeming fascism caused Brecht to leave this country soon after. “Hide in Plain Sight” offers an insightful perspective on the effects of this particular blacklist in the years to follow.

Buhle and Wagner, in a more or less chronologically-based account, follow famous Hollywood figures through their post-Hollywood Ten era descent and then, via the new mediums and locations, rebirth.

This volume continues their story after the blacklist, when survivors began to find toeholds as individuals in the film industry in England, France and Mexico and the television industry in New York and, under vastly different circumstances, in Spain, Italy and, covertly from time to time, even in the back lots of Hollywood itself.

In a fairly comprehensive account of their chosen period, Buhle and Wagner offer much of the time’s history and popular culture. Often, this book is a trip through time. However, it has the luxury of both 20-20 hindsight and a progressive perspective.

The politics of early television are detailed from more than one angle: while it was initially only a medium of the wealthy few, blacklistees and their liberal allies were able to make use of television’s virtual lack of restrictions. Hence, the creation of teleplays with a moral progressives couldn’t miss. This reviewer, having been born a little too late to recall programming of the 1950s, was shocked to learn of the rebellion inherent in “You Are There,” which was almost routinely exposed historic governmental corruption!

Readers will find the inner workings of the medium fascinating, particularly subsections on hospital and police dramas, sitcoms, science fiction, horror and more. Special attention is paid to shows such as “East Side, West Side” (recently rediscovered by the cable channel, Trio) which maintained a daring, probing look at social ills.

“Hide in Plain Sight” is an important next step in the Buhle/Wagner collection. It takes us up to the present day and offers the reader much to consider with every flip of the TV dial, trip to the video store or visit to the local movie theater.

The author can be reached at leftmus@earthlink.net.

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