cover image Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Backlist

Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Backlist

Paul Buhle. St. Martin's Press, $35 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-312-17046-2

Thirty-five interviews with victims of the Hollywood blacklist--a product of investigations into alleged Communist activities by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the late 1940s and early '50s--make this an invaluable oral history, bringing to light much that has not been heard before about the membership in the New Deal-era Communist party and its unfortunate consequences. McGilligan (Fritz Lang) and Buhle (Marxism in the United States) make the point that for many of the blacklisted screenwriters, actors and others, many of whom were from New York and Jewish, ""the Communist party was for Roosevelt, not revolution."" The main contribution of the book is its putting into a personal, human context an issue often seen only in the light of political history and myth. As Walter Bernstein, one of those blacklisted, insightfully states, ""informing [on others] was not a matter of politics but a matter of morality"" that each person had to face alone. Most of those affected come off here as ordinary people who, in their work, hoped that they were furthering what they saw as a utopian ideal; others appear as egocentric, minor talents, such as those that populated the rest of Tinseltown. All their stories are worth retelling and remembering, however, not just for their political content but for their human drama. 32 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)