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Ayn Rand's HUAC Testimony (Notes)

Introduction and Transcript

To view the Introduction and Transcript, visit the main HUAC transcript page. The explanatory notes are below.


Notes for the Introduction

1 The appellation "House Un-American Activities Committee," as opposed to the more official "House Committee on Un-American Activities," originated among critics of the committee. Because of this, some supporters of the committee's work insist on using the offical name or the equivalent acronym ("HCUA," or occasionally "HCUAA"), and consider use of "HUAC" to be insulting or indicative of a leftist bias. However, the non-official version is the more commonly used, including by many neutral sources, such as the National Archives. Most works that discuss Rand's involvement with the committee refer to it that way. Therefore, this transcript and its notes use "HUAC." [Return to Text]

2 The history of the committee's establishment and name changes is provided by the National Archives website. Some sources erroneously claim that the committee became permanent in 1946. Although the committee's functioning was clarified in the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946, it was already established as a standing committee prior to that act. [Return to Text]

3 For a detailed review of Rand's comments about HUAC and her attempts to include The Best Years of Our Lives in her testimony, see Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia, pp. 83-97. See also Barbara Branden, The Passion of Ayn Rand, pp. 200-203 and Michael Paxton, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, pp. 126-128. [Return to Text]

4 Ayn Rand, "Screen Guide for Americans," reprinted in Journals of Ayn Rand, p. 366, emphasis in original [Return to Text]

Notes for Rand's Testimony

1 John Parnell Thomas (1895-1970) was a Republican representative from New Jersey. This hearing occurred during his one term as chairman of the Committee on Un-American Activities, during the one term when the Republicans controlled the House of Representatives from January 1947 to January 1949. One of the political motivations for the hearings was his desire to embarrass the Democrats by finding evidence that the Roosevelt administration had encouraged putting pro-Soviet propaganda in movies. The testimony solicited from Rand was clearly related to this goal. After his term as chairman of HUAC was over, Thomas was charged with embezzling money from the US Treasury by claiming non-existent people as members of his office staff. He served nine months in Danbury Prison, alongside two of the Hollywood Ten who were serving their sentences for contempt of Congress. [Return to Text]

2 Robert E. Stripling was the committee's chief investigator -- that is, he was a staff employee, not a Congressman. He was the third person to serve in that role, having been an assistant to the first two chief investigators for the committee. [Return to Text]

3 Rand married actor Frank O'Connor (1897-1979) in 1929. O'Connor's acting career was over by the time Rand testified (although somewhat confusingly, another actor of the same name was still performing). [Return to Text]

4 Rand was born in St. Petersburg (later renamed Petrograd, then Leningrad, and now St. Petersburg again) in 1905. She moved to the United States in 1926 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1931. For more biographical details on Rand, see the Ayn Rand Biographical FAQ. [Return to Text]

5 Rand's first job "in pictures" was in 1926 as an extra in Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings. Afterward she worked as a junior screenwriter for DeMille, writing summaries of literary properties he had bought to turn into movies. She later worked as head of the wardrobe department at RKO. Her first screenplay sale was in 1932, but the movie was never produced. She left Hollywood for New York in 1934 because her play Night of January 16th was to be produced on Broadway. She did not return to screenwriting until she sold the movie rights to her novel The Fountainhead in 1943. [Return to Text]

6 Rand also wrote a novella called Anthem that was published in 1938, although the first edition was published only in England. A second, revised edition was published in the US in 1946. Rand did not mention it when listing her published novels for the committee, probably because she considered it to be a long short story rather than a novel. Her most famous novel, Atlas Shrugged, was not published until 1957 and had not even been written at the time of these hearings. For more information on Rand's novels and other writings, see the ORC list of Ayn Rand's books. [Return to Text]

7 Rand had been under contract to producer Hal Wallis since 1944. Under their unusual arrangement, each year Rand was supposed to work on screenplays for six months, and then have six months off to work on other projects. She worked with Wallis until 1949. [Return to Text]

8 Preproduction work on the movie version of The Fountainhead had begun in 1944, but was suspended in 1945. Filming finally started in 1948 and the movie, directed by King Vidor and starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, was released by Warner Brothers in July 1949. [Return to Text]

9 Love Letters, directed by William Dieterle and starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten, was released by Paramount in 1945. [Return to Text]

10 You Came Along, directed by John Farrow and starring Robert Cummings and Lizabeth Scott, was released by Paramount in 1945. Rand was credited as a co-writer, because she revised a script originally written by another writer. [Return to Text]

11 Louis B. Mayer (1885-1957) was a founder and production chief of Metro-Goldwin-Mayer (MGM), the studio that produced Song of Russia. Mayer was, among other things, a staunch Republican and one of the highest-paid business executives in the United States. Like Rand, Mayer was born in Russia, but his family emigrated when he was just two years old.

In his testimony, Mayer defended his studio's decision to make Song of Russia:

Mention has been made of the picture Song of Russia, as being friendly to Russia at the time it was made. Of course it was. It was made to be friendly. [...]

It was in April of 1942 that the story for Song of Russia came to our attention. It seemed a good medium of entertainment and at the same time offered an opportunity for a pat on the back for our then ally, Russia. [...] We mentioned this to the Government coordinators and they agreed with us that it would be a good idea to make the picture. [...]

Since 1942 when the picture was planned, our relationship with Russia has changed. But viewed in the light of the war emergency at the time, it is my opinion that it could not be construed as anything other than for the entertainment purpose intended and a pat on the back for our then ally, Russia.

Mayer may have been defensive about the movie, but he was no defender of Communism. In his role as a studio chief, he was one of a group of studio heads who met a few weeks after the hearings and adopted the "Waldorf Statement" against employing Communists in movies. In the statement, they deplored "the action of the ten Hollywood men who have been cited for contempt," and promised they would "not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or by illegal or unconstitutional methods." [Return to Text]

12 Lowell Mellett, a former editor at the Washington Daily News, was appointed by Franklin Roosevelt to head the Office of Government Reports, which in 1942 became the Bureau of Motion Pictures in the Office of War Information. Mellett also holds the odd distinction of participating in the first private Presidential conversation ever to be recorded on an Oval Office taping system -- a 1940 discussion of Roosevelt's re-election campaign. Given his status as a political appointee, his comments about Song of Russia were probably intended to defend the Democrats against the charge that they had promoted pro-Soviet propaganda.

Regardless of what he may have said in his letter to the committee, Mellett's role in the Roosevelt administration was precisely to encourage the production of movie propaganda, including pictures like Song of Russia. The testimony given by Louis B. Mayer (see note 11 above) indicates that the movie was discussed with Mellett's agency, and approved by it. In fact, the OWI's involvement was more extensive than suggested by Mayer's testimony. OWI reviewers provided detailed script suggestions and submitted the script to the Soviet embassy in Washington for feedback. The involvment of OWI in the movie is discussed in Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia, pp. 16-22, 30-38.

That the result was propagandistic is recognizable even to leftist commentators. For example, in his book Film and the American Left, M. Keith Booker describes the movie as one of several "attempts by the American cinema to drum up popular support for America's Soviet allies" (p. 121). (Like Mayer, Booker does not necessarily agree that the propaganda in question was pro-Communist as much as pro-Russian.) Similarly, John Cogley's Report on Blacklisting describes Song of Russia (and a similar film, North Star) as "friendly tributes to a fighting ally" (p. 228). [Return to Text]

13 Song of Russia, directed by Gregory Ratoff and starring Robert Taylor and Susan Peters, was released by MGM in 1943. Although the movie is not readily available on videotape or DVD, it is occasionally shown on television. Rand was correct in declaring the movie to be an unrealistic and propagandistic portrayal of Soviet life. For example, in one scene mentioned in passing by Rand, impeccably coiffed starlets are shown working the fields. They make Russian farm work appear very easy, since they don't get dirty or sweaty doing it! As one anti-Communist commentator later said, this movie and the other pro-Soviet propaganda films of World War II "no more resembled Soviet realities than a fanciful sketch of Shangri-la." (William Henry Chamberlin, America's Second Crusade, p. 245) A detailed synopsis of the movie is provided in Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia, pp. 3-11. [Return to Text]

14 Robert Taylor (1911-1969) was a popular actor who appeared in dozens of movies and was later the host of the TV series "Death Valley Days." As indicated by Rand, in Song of Russia Taylor played the character of John Meredith, an American conductor. Like Rand, Taylor appeared before HUAC as a "friendly" witness. He was one of the few witnesses in these early hearings who actually "named names" -- he gave the committee the names of two actors that he thought might be Communists. During his testimony, Taylor was at pains to distance himself from any pro-Communist leanings in Song of Russia, claiming that he was initially reluctant to perform in the movie, and only did so under pressure from the studio. In other venues he had indicated he was "forced" to appear in the movie by the Office of War Information, but he backed away from this position in his public testimony before the committee. See Robert Mayhew, Ayn Rand and Song of Russia, pp. 43-46. [Return to Text]

15 Susan Peters (1921-1952) played the character of Nadya Stepanova, a Russian singer. It was one of her few starring roles. A couple of years after she made Song of Russia, her movie career was cut short by a hunting accident that left her paralyzed. [Return to Text]

16 The GPU was the State Political Administration of the Soviet Union. "GPU" is the acronym of its Russian name. In 1922, it took over the powers of the Soviet secret police, including the investigation and arrest of political "criminals" and others considered threats to the Communist government. In 1923 it was slightly renamed as the Unified State Political Administration, or OGPU. In 1934 it was renamed the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, or NKVD. It was under this name that it conducted the massive purges ordered by Stalin in the 1930s. After various other reorganizations and name changes, the Soviet secret police powers were finally invested in the Committee for State Security, or KGB, in 1954. [Return to Text]

17 Rand's presentation of the results of Soviet farm collectivization efforts was accurate, although most of the starvation deaths occurred in Ukraine, not Russia itself. When Ukrainian farmers resisted collectivization efforts, their grain quotas -- that is, the amount of grain that they had to give up to the government before they could keep any for themselves -- were increased, to the point that they could no longer feed themselves with what they were allowed to keep. With the NKVD and army troops in place to stop peasants from "hoarding" grain (that is, keeping any extra to eat) or moving out of the region, an estimated six to eight million people starved. Interested readers can review documents related to the famine from the Soviet archives, and extensive journalism and commentary from the Ukrainian Weekly. [Return to Text]

18 Rand was again correct that there was substantial anti-religious persecution by the Communists. [Return to Text]

19 In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to a non-aggression pact. The public text of the agreement was supplemented by secret language providing for the partition of Poland. Half of Poland would be occupied by Germany, and the other half would be occupied by the Soviet Union. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. The Soviets followed suit on September 17, and they divided Poland in accordance with the pact. Germany and the Soviet Union remained at peace with one another until Germany violated the agreement by launching an invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. [Return to Text]

20 Actor Robert Benchley (1889-1945) played the character of Hank Higgins. An actor and writer, he worked more often on comedies than on dramas like Song of Russia. [Return to Text]

21 On April 19, 1775, one of the first battles of the American Revolution was fought in Lexington, Massachusetts. Eight colonial minutemen were killed in the battle. [Return to Text]

22 The "concentration camps" referred to by Rand are the infamous Soviet Gulag system, which held millions of people during Stalin's rule and beyond. The most extensive documentation of these camps is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's three-volume history, The Gulag Archipelago. [Return to Text]

23 John Stephens Wood (1885-1968) was a Democratic representative from Georgia. At the time of this hearing, he had previously served as chairman of the Committee on Un-American Activities, and he would do so again afterwards. He retired from Congress in 1952. [Return to Text]

24 Russia was one of the first nations involved in World War I when it started in 1914. In December 1917, the newly installed Communist government in Russia signed an armistice with the Central Powers that took Russia out of the war. A formal peace treaty between Russia and the Central Powers was signed in March 1918. Several of the Central Powers also dropped out of the war in 1918, until the war finally ended with Allied victory over Germany on November 11, 1918. [Return to Text]

25 The Lend-Lease program was enacted in 1941 to allow the United States to provide war supplies to the Allies, including the Soviet Union. The Soviets were the second-largest recipient of American lend-lease aid, getting more than 11 billion US dollars worth of assistance. (The United Kingdom and its Commonwealth countries were first with over $31 billion in aid.) The supplies were theoretically loaned to the recipient governments by the United States, although in practice repayment could only be expected if the Allies won the war. There was no way to know this at the time of Rand's testimony, but the Soviet Union would never repay the majority of its lend-lease debt. In 1972, after most other recipients had repaid in full, the remainder of the Soviet debt was renegotiated down to $722 million, with payments to be made through 2001. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this reduced debt was assumed by Russia, but portions still remain unpaid. [Return to Text]

26 Richard Bernard Vail (1895-1955) was a Republican representative from Illinois. [Return to Text]

27 John Ralph McDowell (1902-1957) was a Republican representative from Pennsylvania. [Return to Text]

28 Richard Milhous Nixon (1913-1994) was a Republican representative from California, later a senator, vice-president, and president of the United States. At the time of Rand's testimony, he was a freshman representative and the junior member on the committee. Nixon first became widely known on a national level during the HUAC investigation of former State Department employee Alger Hiss in 1948. [Return to Text]

29 Adolph Menjou (1890-1963) was an actor who appeared in over 100 movies. Like Rand, he was one of the "friendly witnesses" who cooperated with the committee. [Return to Text]

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