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Betsy Blair: Victim of McCarthyism

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Betsy Blair died last week. Blair appeared in The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947). This was followed by A Double Life (1947), Another Part of the Forest (1948) and The Snake Pit (1948). She was also active in the Screen Actors Guild and was a strong advocate of setting up an anti-discrimination committee.

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

Roy Brewer, a close friend of Ronald Reagan was appointed to the Motion Picture Industry Council. Brewer commissioned a booklet entitled Red Channels. Published on 22nd June, 1950, and written by Theodore Kirkpatrick, a former FBI agent and Vincent Harnett, a right-wing television producer, it listed the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organisations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted.

Betsy Blair, because of her support for the anti-discrimination committee and other progressive measures, was one of those named in Red Channels. A free copy was sent to those involved in employing people in the entertainment industry. All those people named in the pamphlet were blacklisted until they appeared in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and convinced its members they had completely renounced their radical past. Blair refused to do this and she was therefore unable to obtain employment in Hollywood.

However, with the active support of the screenwriter, Paddy Chayefsky, Blair broke the blacklist by appearing in the film Marty (1955). The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Blair was nominated as best supporting actress. She also won the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. Despite this success Blair received no more job offers in Hollywood and she decided to move to Europe. It was not until the film Spartacus in 1960 that the blacklist was really broken.

Blair appeared in several films made in France, Italy and the UK: Rencontre à Paris (1956), Calle Mayor (1956), Il Grido (1957), Lies My Father Told Me (1960), I Delfini (1960), Senilità (1962) and All Night Long (1962). In 1963 she met and married the film director, Karl Reisz. Now based in London she concentrated on theatre work. Blair also appeared in several television plays.

In 1988, Costa-Gavras, the left-wing film director, persuaded her to return to Hollywood to appear in Betrayed, an exposure of right-wing politics in the United States.



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