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Gallup Vault: Celebrity Witnesses Before Congress in 1947

Gallup Vault: Celebrity Witnesses Before Congress in 1947

by RJ Reinhart

In 1947, at the height of the "Red Scare," more than 40 of Hollywood's highest-profile stars, as well as writers, producers and studio executives, were called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) over allegations of communist infiltration and subversion of the movie industry. The HUAC hearings were widely publicized, and 80% of Americans were aware of them at that time. These Americans were divided over how the hearings were handled, though they were modestly more in sync about punishing those who refused to cooperate with the committee.

Americans Divided on Handling of the House Un-American Activities Committee Hollywood Hearings
What is your opinion of this investigation (of Hollywood by the congressional committee) -- do you approve or disapprove of the way it was handled?
Approve Disapprove No opinion
% % %
Overall* 37 36 27
* Asked of the 80% of respondents familiar with the HUAC hearings
Gallup, Nov. 7-12, 1947

Members of the HUAC sought to compel those testifying to provide information concerning their own and their associates' political memberships and sympathies. While many of those testifying chose to cooperate, a substantial minority refused or used various methods to avoid questions. Americans familiar with the HUAC hearings were mixed as to whether they approved (37%) or disapproved (36%) of how the hearings were handled.

One group called to testify, which became known as the "Hollywood Ten," refused to cooperate with the committee, asserting that their political activities were protected by the First Amendment. When Americans were asked if "Hollywood writers" who refused to say if they were members of the Communist Party should be punished, nearly half (47%) said they should be.

Nearly Half of Americans Favored Punishing Those Who Did Not Cooperate With the House Un-American Activities Committee
Do you think the Hollywood writers who refused to say whether they were members of the Communist Party should be punished or not?
Should be Should not be No opinion
% % %
Overall* 47 39 14
Education level
College 34 54 12
High school 44 43 13
Grammar school 53 31 16
Occupation
Profesional and business 41 47 12
White collar 36 51 13
Farmers 62 23 15
Others 49 35 16
* Asked of the 80% of respondents familiar with the HUAC hearings
Gallup, Nov. 7-12, 1947

Support for punishing these individuals was lowest among college-educated Americans, with roughly a third (34%) agreeing that punishment was warranted. Individuals with lower levels of education were substantially more likely to support punishing those who refused to cooperate, including 44% of those with a high school education and 53% of those with a grammar school education.

In 1948, each member of the Hollywood Ten was tried on charges of contempt of Congress, convicted and sentenced to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Subsequent appeals of the convictions failed. After they had served their sentences, the Hollywood Ten remained blacklisted and largely unable to secure work in the industry until the 1960s.

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