Hollywood and HUAC
by Eleanor Roosevelt
My Day column, New York, October 29, 1947
I have waited a while before saying anything about the Un-American
Activities Committee's current investigation of the Hollywood
film industry. I would not be very much surprised if some writers
or actors or stagehands, or what not, were found to have Communist
leanings, but I was surprised to find that, at the start of the
inquiry, some of the big producers were so chicken-hearted about
speaking up for the freedom of their industry.
One thing is sure--none of the arts flourishes on censorship
and repression. And by this time it should be evident that the
American public is capable of doing its own censoring. Certainly,
the Thomas Committee is growing more ludicrous daily. The picture
of six officers ejecting a writer from the witness stand because
he refused to say whether he was a Communist or not is pretty
funny, and I think before long we are all going to see how hysterical
and foolish we have become.
The film industry is a great industry with infinite possibilities
for good and bad. Its primary purpose is to entertain people.
On the side, it can do many other things. It can popularize certain
ideals, it can make education palatable. But in the long run,
the judge who decides whether what it does is good or bad is the
man or woman who attends the movies. In a democratic country I
do not think the public will tolerate a removal of its right to
decide what it thinks of the ideas and performances of those who
make the movie industry work.
I have never liked the idea of an Un-American Activities Committee.
I have always thought that a strong democracy should stand by
its fundamental beliefs and that a citizen of the United States
should be considered innocent until he is proved guilty.
If he is employed in a government position where he has access
to secret and important papers, then for the sake of security
he must undergo some special tests. However, I doubt whether the
loyalty test really adds much to our safety, since no Communist
would hesitate to sign it and he would be in good standing until
he was proved guilty. So it seems to me that we might as well
do away with a test which is almost an insult to any loyal American
What is going on in the Un-American Activities Committee worries
me primarily because little people have become frightened and
we find ourselves living in the atmosphere of a police state,
where people close doors before they state what they think or
look over their shoulders apprehensively before they express an
I have been one of those who have carried the fight for complete
freedom of information in the United Nations. And while accepting
the fact that some of our press, our radio commentators, our prominent
citizens and our movies may at times be blamed legitimately for
things they have said and done, still I feel that the fundamental
right of freedom of thought and expression is essential. If you
curtail what the other fellow says and does, you curtail what
you yourself may say and do.
In our country we must trust the people to hear and see both
the good and the bad and to choose the good. The Un-American Activities
Committee seems to me to be better for a police state than for