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Blacklisting? More like fakelisting.

In the 1950s, you could get away with saying most anything you wanted to about Communists. And now you can get away with saying most anything you want to about anticommunists. CNN proved it again this weekend with its silly reporting on the death of Jane Wyatt, the never-a-hair-out-of-place mom on Father Knows Best, one of television's first and most and most popular family sitcoms. In an obituary that aired most of the day Sunday and was still part of the regular CNN Headline News rotation this morning, the network reported that even though she was one of Hollywood's best-loved screen moms, those damn Red-hunters had it in for her. "Wyatt's film career suffered in the 1950s," CNN said. "She was among a group of stars blacklisted by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee."

Wyatt_online Putting aside the fact that neither McCarthy nor HUAC had anything to do with Hollywood's blacklists -- they were created and enforced by the studios themselves -- how could someone on one of the most popular television show in America, which Father Knows Best was from 1954 to 1960, have been on a blacklist? Wyatt's film roles did indeed begin to slack off in the early 1950s, but that surely had more to do with the fact that, in her mid-40s, she could no longer play the ingenue roles that had been her specialty. She seamlessly transitioned in TV momdom, not in just Father Knows Best but a host of popular shows including Studio One, Robert Montgomery Presents and The Philip Morris Playhouse. She even appeared on Your Show Of Shows, Sid Caesar's stupendously successful variety program. If this was blacklisting, it was a pretty pathetic effort. And, oh yes, the U.S. Treasury Department even hired Wyatt and the rest of the Father Knows Best cast to make a anti-Communist propaganda episode called 24 Hours in Tyrant Land that was used to promote the sale of savings bonds. Does that sound like anyone in Washington suspected her of subversion?

Wyatt's silly and unverified claim to have suffered blacklisting also made it into the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, though they at least had the good sense to attribute it to her. CNN simply stated it as fact. And if Wyatt had said Joe McCarthy helped space aliens to kidnap and hold her on Mars for five years, that probably would have been reported as accepted truth too; McCarthy and other 1950s anticommunists have become all-purpose punching bags and accusations against them need not be checked, not even against common sense.

By the way, that's an 11-year-old Natalie Wood whose hair Wyatt is braiding in the photo above. She was never blacklisted, either, even though she played a (beautiful) commie astronomer in Meteor.

Comments

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Lance

C'mon Glenn, I think you may be misinformed, and are trying to shoehorn Wyatt in order to make a rather cheap political point (the "liberal" media and CNN have overdone this blacklist stuff, it wasn't so bad, the studios did it and not the Gov, they really were Communists etc.)

In September 1947 Wyatt was a well-known founding member of the Committee for the First Amendment, and Wyatt -- along with Bogart, Bacall and others -- all went to Washington to protest the contemptible J. Parnell Thomas and his HUAC's full-scale assault on the film industry. Thomas' committee had subpoenaed 41 Hollywood witnesses, but focused on the "Hollywood Ten" who indicated that they would not cooperate with HUAC. (Parnell was later convicted and jailed for corruption). Of course, things got much worse when HUAC was later led by Democrat John Wood, where "naming of names" became the watchword, more than 324 people were no longer permitted to work in Hollywood (Zero Mostel?) and -- famously -- actor Larry Parks literally begged the Committee to not force him to his knees.

You're also a bit off on her film career -- Wyatt had a very successful run in the 1940s, well after her ingenue period had ended, and starred in movies with the biggest stars in Hollywood, including Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Dick Powell, and Gregory Peck.

She gave plenty of interviews regarding her personal experience with the Blacklist, including the TV doc from the 80s, Legacy of the Hollywood Blacklist. As the Washington Post reported back in 2001:

"In every war, there is injustice and unfairness, and the Cold War was certainly no different. Careers were sidetracked, others destroyed. Actress Jane Wyatt (TV's "Father Knows Best") is one example of someone who was inadvertently caught up in organizations that eventually turned out to be Communist front groups. Wyatt was blacklisted, and in order to work again, she had to publicly criticize the party."

Of course, none of this can outdo her finest performance -- as Spock's mom on the original Star Trek.

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