How McCarthyism Worked

Attacking Hollywood

Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible"­ was a not-so-subtle criticism of McCarthyism.
Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible"­ was a not-so-subtle criticism of McCarthyism.
Thurston Hopkins/Picture Post/Getty Images

Many of the people whom McCarthy suspected of having communist ties were Hollywood figures, including major actors, screenwriters, directors and producers. Here are a few common terms associated with McCarthy's attack on Hollywood:

  • Entertainment industry blacklist: This was the list of members of the entertainment industry who had suspected or real ties to communism. Those on the blacklist were refused employment based on their political ties.
  • The Hollywood Ten: The first 10 members of the Hollywood film industry questioned by McCarthy decided not to cooperate with the investigation, choosing instead to claim their First Amendment right to free speech. Unfortunately for them, they were not successful. Eight were sentenced to a year in prison for contempt of Congress. The other two received six-month sentences.
  • The Waldorf Statement: This was issued by Hollywood executives announcing the firing of the Hollywood Ten.
  • Fifth Amendment Communists: After the Hollywood Ten debacle, future suspects often claimed the Fifth Amendment, which protects against self-incrimination. Many of their bosses considered that as good as a guilty plea, and most were fired.
  • The $64 Question: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of the United States?"

McCarthyism's effect on Hollywood and the world have been documented on film numerous times, including the movie "Good Night, and Good Luck." The blacklisted artists have written many memoirs, and there are plenty of nonfiction works describing the era in great detail. One of the most famous works is Arthur Miller's 1953 play "The Crucible," written during the height of McCarthyism. Miller used the Salem witch trials as a metaphor for McCarthy's communist "witch hunt," earning the ire of McCarthy. He was questioned and found guilty of having communist beliefs, but the conviction was overturned in 1957.

As it turns out, many of the people McCarthy targeted actually did have communist ties, but much of the proof wasn't revealed until years later.­