Scene4 Magazine: Arthur Meiselman
Arthur Meiselman
The Blacklist - Hollywood's Greatest Shame

December 2013

After a flurry of mishaps and some legal consternations, Scene4 Books/AviarPress has finally released "Hollywood Red – The Autobiography of Lester Cole". It's a Publishing Event because it is the first authorized version since it was originally published in 1981. It remains a provocative, controversial, insider's look into the Hollywood ‘circus’, the American political system, civil rights, the abuses of law enforcement, and... Hollywood’s greatest shame: the Blacklist.

It is a scathing measure of what has changed since then and more disturbing, what has not.

It was written by a man who refused to relent, refused to genuflect to the authorities who persecuted and prosecuted him: Lester Cole

Cole was a successful New York playwright, a prolific screenwriter during Hollywood's 'golden years', a leader and the most vehement member of the Blacklisted Hollywood Ten, an honored jurist at European film festivals, a revered teacher of screenwriting at UC Berkeley, and a film critic. Most respected among his nearly 50 screenwriting credits are his screenplays for Universal's The House of the Seven Gables and his last feature film, the once-popular Born Free, which he wrote under a Blacklisted pseudonym. (You can see the list of his films at the D'Arcy-Kane Agency site.)

He was also a spur and a founding member of the Screenwriters Guild which struggled and fought and eventually emerged as the present-day WGA (Writers Guild of America). He was a thorn in the side of the movie-moguls, especially MGM’s golden boy, Irving Thalberg, who banned him from the powerful studio's realm. Thalberg’s death finally gave Cole entré into the glory of the MGM family. With role-reversing irony, in 1947, as the Red-Scare began to envelope Hollywood, MGM's mogul, Louis B. Mayer, attempted to dissuade him from his path of confrontation with the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee by offering him his own film as a director. He refused. Mayer promptly cancelled his contract. Cole sued him and in an unprecedented, headline-grabbing piece of Hollywood history, he won a huge settlement which he shared with fellow Blacklisted writers. Equally ironic, Mayer gave Cole's last MGM project, a treatment and rough draft of "Zapata", to Elia Kazan (who became a famously cooperative namer of names). Kazan brought in John Steinbeck to create a vehicle for Marlon Brando,Viva Zapata!, based on Cole's work. Cole never received credit for it. Instead, he ended up in prison for one year for ‘Contempt of Congress’ in exercising his right to remain silent under the First Amendment. (It was a right that was vindicated 25 years later by the Supreme Court in a ground-breaking decision for the Jehovah Witnesses.) Again, in now delicious irony, he and others of the Hollywood Ten went to prison along with the chairman of the Congressional committee that put him there.

His greatest regret was not achieving for screenwriters what all other writers and composers had and still have — control over their work.

Lester Cole's life was rich, complex, full of intriguing experiences, some of which remain contradictory and unexplained. You can step into the details of a 'witness to the 20th Century' (1904-1985) in this raw and uneven autobiography, which reveals as much between the lines as it does in the printed words. It's available here: Scene4 Books at AviarPress

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Arthur Meiselman is a playwright, writer and the Editor of Scene4. He also directs the Talos Ensemble and produces for Aemagefilms.
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©2013 Arthur Meiselman
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December 2013

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