Those naughty little foxes

Last evening as I was looking up a passage in the Bible in a handy Bible search program I have on my computer (it was something about “panting” for something, which I thought was from The Song of Solomon, but was really from Psalm 42, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God”), I came upon an unfamiliar passage in The Song of Solomon, 2:15:

Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.

I had not known that the title of The Little Foxes, the famous play and movie by Lillian Hellman, came from the Bible.

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The interesting question of whether Hellman was a Communist is addressed by Allan Ryskin in an April 2008 article at Human Events, “Newsmax’s Kessler Spreads Nonsense About Joe McCarthy.” The article begins:

Newsmax’s Ron Kessler is in distress. He has written an article complaining that a “dangerous movement has been growing among conservative writers” who are trying to “vindicate” the late Senator Joe McCarthy.

In warning conservatives to shun this awful path, Kessler repeats hoary myths about the senator and insists he wielded the same tar brush allegedly used by the bad, old House Committee on Un-American Activities when it smeared poor Lillian Hellman. No wonder Kessler’s in a panic, but his claims are bogus.

The article continues:

McCarthy’s conduct is likened to that of the House Committee on Un-American Activities when it supposedly pressured the Hollywood studios to blacklist playwright Lillian Hellman. Kessler says she was blacklisted “because her lover, mystery writer Dashiell Hammett, was one [a Communist],” letting the reader think Hellman was never one herself.

I hate to break the news, but Hellman admitted she was a Communist in a letter to her own lawyer, Joseph Rauh. I have a copy of the letter, but anyone can secure his own by going to Joseph Rauh’s papers at the Library of Congress.

In her undated letter to Rauh (circa April 1952), she says: “I joined the Communist Party in 1938…”

She lied even to Rauh about the number of years she was a CP member, insisting she left in 1940, but HCUA, whose tactics McCarthy mirrored, as Kessler would have it, managed to worm it out of her in a most interesting and amusing way.

When Hellman was called in May 1952 before HCUA, she was asked whether Martin Berkeley, an ex-Communist screenwriter, was accurate when he testified that she had attended the first meeting of the Hollywood section of the party in Berkeley’s home in June 1937.

Hellman took the Fifth, meaning she refused to say on the grounds that to do so could incriminate her.

Asked if she was currently a party member, she said, “No, sir.” But was she ever a member? Her reply: “I refuse to answer.” Chairman John Wood then had a splendid time trying to pin down when she would claim she was no longer a member Five years ago?

Three years? She took the Fifth each time. How about “two years ago at this time?”

Hellman: “No, sir.”

[LA notes: this is ambiguous. Was Hellman saying, “No, I still refuse to answer whether I was a Communist two years ago,” or “No, I was not a Communist two years ago”?]

So even Ron Kessler might conclude that Hellman was a Communist from approximately 1937 to 1950 and that HCUA had not treated her unfairly. Hellman, of course, was not just a party member, but a loud and longtime shill for Stalin, defending every twist and turn in the Stalinist line.

Even after she said she was no longer a party member, she turned on Nikita Khrushchev for “exposing” Stalin at the historic Twentieth Party Congress. “When Khrushchev gave his famous speech in 1956 denouncing Stalin’s crimes, Hellman condemned Khrushchev for turning on the very leader who had been responsible for Khrushchev’s career,” writes Carl Rollyson in his authoritative, friendly biography of Hellman.

Kessler’s piece is reflective of the real problem with the topic of Joe McCarthy: So many who write on the Wisconsin senator, HCUA and communism in America have had their noggins crammed with so much misinformation over the years that they can’t open their minds to a contrary point of view. They have, alas, come to believe things that are just not so.

That’s why more books like Blacklisted by History, not fewer, should be written.

All of which raises in an interesting question: in the real life of Lillian Hellman, who were the real “little foxes” who eat and spoil the vineyard? The greedy, wealthy Americans of Hellman’s play, or Hellman and her fellow Communists who sought to exploit American freedoms from within in order to destroy freedom?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 05, 2009 08:23 AM | Send

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