Carl Foreman with Winston Churchill
Funerals feel more natural in the winter. It's as if death and loss ought to be accompanied by darkness and bad weather. My father's took place on a perfect summer day in Los Angeles 25 years ago. It was at a time of year and in a city I had long associated with school holidays, beaches and pleasure, though for my filmmaker father LA had long had a very different and often painful significance.
For me, still a schoolboy in that year when he fell ill and died, it all felt quite unreal: the funeral, the film stars and directors who came to it, the returning home to a house that would never be the same. And even though my family had by then lived in California for almost a decade, it somehow felt strange that my father's ashes were going to remain there, rather than in England. Fortunately, ashes are mobile and a few years later my mother brought them to London. An exile twice over, and the son of refugees from Tsarist Russia, my American father was always concerned with mobility. Moreover, London where he had lived for almost a quarter of a century, had arguably become his real home, even though he only moved there under duress and in his thirties.
My father was Carl Foreman, the screenwriter and producer of films such as High Noon — the favourite film of Presidents Eisenhower and Clinton — The Guns of Navarone and The Bridge on the River Kwai. He had been a well-known figure both as a film-maker and as one of the victims of the Hollywood "McCarthyite" blacklist of the late 1940s and '50s. He reversed the traditional transatlantic trajectory by leaving the US to find freedom and a new life in Europe, though this never changed the meaning of America for him. He always believed that the "red scare" was an unworthy moment that didn't define America.
Senator Joseph McCarthy himself actually had nothing to do with the Hollywood blacklist. His denunciations and generally spurious lists of potential traitors were limited to government institutions such as the State Department and the US Army. The hysteria that descended on Hollywood was stoked by members of the House of Representatives, specifically the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC). Anyone who refused to testify before the Committee was subject to being held in contempt of Congress. Those deemed to be unco-operative witnesses — perhaps because, like my father, they refused to "name names" — were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. In those days, the studios were a genuine cartel-run mostly by immigrants or sons of immigrants who were desperate to prove themselves good Americans — and if they blacklisted you it really meant that your career was over.
Born in Chicago in 1914, my father had been a member of the Communist Party in the 1930s. Already disillusioned by the Hitler-Stalin pact, he left the party when he joined the US Army in 1941 and severed all ties with it in 1946. By the time he was called before HUAC, during the making of High Noon in 1951, he was a convinced anti-communist. As he told the committee then and me much later, he would have happily denounced anyone he believed to be a genuine saboteur or traitor. However, he felt it was wrong to ruin the careers of friends and acquaintances who had joined civil rights or antilynching organisations that the FBI (run by the sinister J. Edgar Hoover) deemed to be "communist fronts". When a HUAC official told him that he wouldn't have to name anyone new to be deemed a co-operative witness, so that he wouldn't be ruining anyone whose career had not already been wrecked, he still refused to take part even though it was professional suicide. He himself had been named in perjurious testimony by a former party member he had never actually met. When he confronted HUAC's chief investigator with the fact that the committee's source had lied, the investigator laughed and said, "Oh, it doesn't matter. We've got some legitimate ones on you now."
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