In the 1950s, the author's father was interrogated by the House Un-American Committee and blacklisted by his profession. Years later, too many Americans fail to grasp the moral of his story.
Screenwriter Frank Tarloff, 37, appears before a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in Los Angeles April 8, 1953 / AP Images
My father, Frank Tarloff, a Hollywood screenwriter, was blacklisted by the entertainment industry in 1953, at the height of the McCarthy era. For those unfamiliar with the blacklist, here's a brief explanation of its workings: People in the industry who were named by others as having had Communist affiliations were subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee and interrogated in open hearings about their political beliefs. They were also required to identify others who held similar beliefs. Witnesses who cooperated were usually able to resume their careers. Witnesses who refused to cooperate found themselves instantly unemployable1; their names were listed in a variety of publications (Red Channels being the most famous), and they were thereupon treated as radioactive by talent agencies, producers, studios, and sponsors.
Despite the grim consequences, a large majority of the witnesses refused to cooperate. Frank, like many others in his position, testified to the committee that while he would answer any questions about his own beliefs, he would not throw former colleagues to the wolves in order to salvage his career. But a willingness to humiliate oneself in just that way was the actual point of the proceedings; indeed, some especially valuable witnesses were even covertly given the option of naming only those who had been named previously, thereby, in theory, doing no actual harm. It was a public display of submission the committee was after, not information.