Nat Segaloff is a writer and producer with a background in newspapers, teaching, broadcasting and marketing. Formerly a journalist for The Boston Herald, he was the only Hub reporter who routinely covered motion pictures as a business. He has also variously been studio publicist, teacher (Boston University, Boston College), TV producer, entertainment editor (CBS radio) and author (ten books including Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin). His monographs on screenwriters Stirling Silliphant and Walon Green appear in Backstory 3, with monographs on Paul Mazursky and John Milius forthcoming in Backstory 4. He is the author of seven addition books (two with Daniel M. Kimmel) and has produced for A&E, TLC, TCM, USA, and HBO. He was also co-founder (with Leonard Nimoy and John de Lancie) of the science fiction production company Alien Voices and is a book reviewer for www.AudiobooksToday.com.
Daniel M. Kimmel is a Boston-area film reviewer and past president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He has been reviewing since 1983, including writing for the Worcester Telegram and Gazette since 1984. He also serves as the Boston correspondent for Variety, the "Bible of Show Business" and writes the regular film column, "Rewind," for Artemis Magazine. Kimmel's byline has appeared in numerous publications, including the Jewish Advocate, the Christian Science Monitor, the Boston Globe, Film Comment, and Cinefantastique. He currently teaches at Suffolk University as well as lecturing before various groups. He previously co-authored Love Stories: Hollywood's Most Romantic Movies with Nat Segaloff. His book on the history of the FOX television network will be brought out by Ivan R. Dee, Publisher in the spring of 2004.
Arnie Reisman is an award-winning writer/producer. For three decades, he has been engaged in journalism, commercial and public television, corporate video, theatre and film. He is also a regular panelist with his wife, nationally known CBS consumer reporter Paula Lyons on Says You, the weekly NPR comedy quiz show broadcast in more than 120 major radio markets. He has recently produced documentaries for Harvard and Brandeis Universities, as well as for the Nashua Pride, an Independent baseball team. His national telecasts include Hollywood On Trial (Academy Award-nominated documentary on the blacklist), "The Other Side of the Moon" (PBS' 20th anniversary of the lunar landing) and PBS' AIDS Quarterly with Peter Jennings. Hollywood On Trial first played movie theaters and festivals around the world before its license to PBS. He has worked as a staff producer in Boston for both WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate, and WGBH-TV, the PBS member station.
More than half a century since it began — and almost forty after it supposedly ended — the Hollywood Blacklist continues to generate emotion, debate and, above all, interest. How did an entire American industry implement something which everybody behind it insisted didn't exist? How could studio moguls — who could make and break stars without missing a breath — ignore the very same Constitution that gave them the freedom to make movies?
The Blacklist era has been chronicled many times from the point of view of those who suffered under it, but seldom has attention been paid to the men who invented it. That's what the play "The Waldorf Conference" achieved in a mixture of comedy and drama that captured the essence of the titans who build the movie business.
On Monday, November 24, 1947 at 11 AM, forty-eight of the most powerful men in America met in secrecy in a suite at New York's plush Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
They were not elected officials, yet their fortunes derived from the mood of the people; they were not warriors, yet they had come to do battle; they were not artists, yet their work reflected the image of the nation.
These 48 men were Hollywood studio executives. They were Kings of their realms, and yet, this day, they gathered in fear. For although the films which they produced existed in a world driven by publicity, these men desperately wanted to avoid scrutiny. The press was barred from the room. No minutes were kept. Nobody (save one) would ever talk about it.
This meeting posed enormous risks, for holding it placed them and their companies in clear violation of the anti-trust laws that were, even as they spoke, being used by the American government to dismantle the studio monopolies. But these moguls were driven by a fear greater than mere laws. They had to decide how Hollywood would officially react to the Communist witch-hunts which were being carried out by a reckless House Un-American Activities Committee. The HUAC hearings, just completed in Washington, D.C., had generated heat but no light. Despite the Red-baiting rhetoric tossed about by witnesses (both friendly and unfriendly) no Communist content had been found in American movies. In fact, public opinion was even shifting against the Committee.
Nevertheless, HUAC persisted, eventually indicting ten writers, directors and producers for refusing to answer questions about their private political beliefs. The headlines screamed.
Such negative publicity panicked the studios, who feared that the public would boycott movies. They had good reason to sweat: box office returns had plummeted 25% from the previous year, and the already-tense relationship between the flamboyant west coast moguls and their stolid east coast bankers was turning hostile. Something had to be done, and quickly.
The Waldorf meeting was charged with fear, anger and personal agendas.
A month earlier, Eric Johnston, President of the Motion Picture Producers Association, had angrily resisted HUAC's intimidation by stating categorically, "As long as I live, I will never be a party to anything as un-American as a blacklist." By the time the November 24-25 meeting was over, however, Johnston emerged to read a two-page public statement. In what came to be called the Waldorf Peace Pact, the studios proclaimed that, until Congress found a way to rid the country of Reds, the Industry would do it for them. And they would start with the "Hollywood Ten."
The Blacklist had begun.
"The Waldorf Conference" is a work of speculation that reveals the passions and intrigues that transpired in that room as the movies' most powerful leaders were sequestered — apparently with government approval — to weigh the Constitution against their own pocketbooks.
The characters (trimmed to 12 for dramatic purposes) are real: Louis B. Mayer of MGM; Harry Cohn of Columbia; Spyros Skouras of Twentieth Century-Fox; Nicholas Schenck of Loew's; Barney Balaban of Paramount; Samuel Goldwyn of the Samuel Goldwyn Company; Albert Warner of Warner Bros.; William Goetz of Universal-International; Eric Johnston of the Motion Picture Association of America; lawyer Mendel Silberberg; former Secretary of State James Byrnes; and Dore Schary of RKO, the one man who, at the time, sensed what was happening, yet was powerless to stop it.
Each fiercely independent man was a despot in his own tinsel domain, dispensing favors and managing lives and careers in ways that no open society would sanction - or comprehend. Yet some larger fear compelled each of them to join with his mortal enemy, at least for the sake of business.
As "The Waldorf Conference" shows, Communism was just one excuse. There were, in addition, concerns over government intervention in the largely unregulated (and still largely unregulated) American film industry. There was anger at screenwriters who were forming a writers' guild. And then there was the specter of television.
There were also agendas behind the agendas: long-held personal enmities, the whiff of organized crime, inter-marriages gone sour, and political intrigues as Byzantine as Versailles. "The Waldorf Conference" recalls the temper of the times and explores the exquisite interplay of glamour and power that combined to create Hollywood.
By the way — it's a comedy.