Many Americans admired Russia during the Great Depression and World War Two, when it was an ally against fascism. They - and others who signed petitions and attended meetings for left and liberal causes – aroused suspicion among anti-Communist lawmakers and their allies as the Cold War dawned.
That’s the backdrop for the House Un-American Activities Committee’s investigation of the entertainment industry. Starting in 1947, the committee questioned performers, screenwriters, directors and members of movie and broadcasting unions. The interrogations continued until 1952.
A parade of celebrities on Capitol Hill – including then-Screen Actors Guild president Ronald Reagan - generated publicity. The widely broadcast proceedings bolstered political careers – including that of a young California congressman named Richard Nixon.
The hearings, and the unofficial blacklist that circulated through the industry, also derailed hundreds of entertainers’ careers - some permanently. An intense ideological rift developed in the company town. Some people say it hasn't healed yet.