Writer Albert Maltz, one of the “Hollywood 10,” whose careers were overshadowed if not eclipsed by their refusal to betray their friends and principles by testifying before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947, has died at 76.
Along with nine other prominent film writers and producers, Maltz was found guilty of contempt of Congress and spent 10 months in prison for refusing on constitutional grounds to answer questions about alleged Communist infiltration and influence of the motion picture industry.
The 10, plus more than 200 other lesser-known Hollywood figures, were blacklisted and denied work in the film industry for decades afterward.
Maltz died Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was being treated for complications from a stroke he had suffered last July.
Friends said that during his last months, Maltz worked 10 to 12 hours a day to finish his last novel, a long and serious work entitled “Bel Canto,” based on the French Resistance movement during World War II.
“He worked almost until the very end,” his wife, Esther, said Saturday. “He was very glad he was able to get it done. I think he worked beyond his strength.”
Maltz became known as a versatile and painstakingly realistic writer who concentrated on the ordinary working man and on timely social issues, rather than on the great heroic figures. He began his career at Yale University as a playwright, but also distinguished himself as a writer of novels, short stories and screenplays.
He was perhaps best known to moviegoers for the thriller “This Gun for Hire” in 1942 and two patriotic World War II films, “Destination Tokyo” and “Pride of the Marines,” both written in 1944. He won two Academy Awards for documentaries--"The Defeat of German Armies Near Moscow” in 1942 and “The House I Live In,” which earned a special Oscar in 1945.
His best-known novel was “The Cross and the Arrow,” a best seller chronicling German resistance to the Nazi regime. It was distributed in a special Armed Forces edition to more than 150,000 American fighting men during World War II.
His short fiction appeared in such magazines as The New Yorker, Harper’s and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1938, his short story “The Happiest Man on Earth” took first prize in the O. Henry Memorial Awards. He published two collections of short stories.
A native of Brooklyn, he graduated from Columbia University in New York in 1926 and from Yale University Drama School in 1932. It was while at Yale that he wrote his first play, “Merry Go Round,” with fellow student George Sklar. With Sklar, he wrote another successful play, “Peace on Earth: An Anti-War Play,” in 1933.
Another play, “Black Pit,” was produced in 1935, but thereafter he concentrated on short fiction and novels.
‘I Am an American’
He came to Hollywood as a screenwriter in 1941.
A man of serious, strongly held left-liberal political views, he flatly refused to answer government questions about whether he and his colleagues were or ever had been Communists.
“I am an American, and I believe there is no more proud word in the vocabulary of man,” he told the House committee. “I will take my philosophy from Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln.”
Maltz said later that the only way the constitutionality of the inquiry could be challenged was to “refuse to answer any questions put to us by the committee that abridged or invaded our rights as citizens under the First Amendment.”
He and the others knew that they would be cited and probably found guilty of contempt of Congress for their stand, but they believed that eventually their position would be vindicated.
However, in 1950 the U.S. Supreme Court refused, by a 5-4 vote, to hear the appeal of the 10 writers and producers. All 10 eventually were sent to federal prisons.
Maltz spent 10 months in prison, working as a medical orderly.
And all 10, along with hundreds of other Hollywood figures, were blacklisted by the major motion picture studios until well into the 1960s.
Ironically, one of his best films, “Naked City,” which he co-wrote before the committee hearings, was released shortly after he was blacklisted.
After his release from prison, Maltz moved to Mexico City, where he lived and wrote for more than a decade before returning to Southern California.
With Maltz’s death, only four of the original Hollywood 10 remain alive--Alvah Bessie and Lester Cole, both living in San Francisco, Ring Lardner Jr. in New York City and director Edward Dmytrk, who later recanted and did testify before the committee.
In a 1975 Times article adapted from a speech before the American Civil Liberties Union, Maltz wrote:
“Today, in a manner of speaking, the Hollywood 10 have been rehabilitated. Once mercilessly excoriated, we get honored nowadays for having stood up for what we believed while so many others sat by. But that does not mean any of us can relax our vigil.”
A memorial service for Maltz will be held at 11 a.m. Friday in the Writers Guild Theater on Doheny Drive near Wilshire Boulevard.