Herbert Biberman

Herbert Biberman

Herbert Biberman was born in Philadelphia on 4th March, 1900. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania he spent several years in Europe before joining the family textile business.

In 1928 Biberman joined the Theater Guild as an assistant stage manager and the following year directed the Soviet play, Red Rust. After marrying the actress Gale Sondergaard in 1930, Biberman directed three more plays: Roar China, Green Grow the Lilacs and Miracle at Verdun.

Biberman moved to Hollywood and directed One Way Ticket (1935), Meet Nero Wolfe (1936) and The Master Race (1944). He also wrote Together Again (1944) and New Orleans (1947).

After the Second World War the House of Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

Biberman appeared before the HUAC on 29th October, 1947, but like, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson, he refused to answer any questions. Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and Biberman was sentenced to six months in Texarkana Federal Correctional Institution and fined $1,000.

Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Biberman was forced to finance his own work. In 1954 he worked with Michael Wilson, Adrian Scott and Paul Jarrico on Salt of the Earth (1954), a film about a mining strike in New Mexico. Although the film earned critical acclaim in Europe, winning awards in France and Czechoslovakia, it was not allowed to be shown in the United States until 1965.

After the blacklist was lifted, Biberman was able to write the screenplay and direct the movie, Slaves (1969), an adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Herbert Biberman died of bone cancer on 30th June, 1971.

Primary Sources

(1) Paul Jarrico was interviewed by Elizabeth Farnsworth in 1997.

Elizabeth Farnsworth: Paul Jarrico, once you found out you were blacklisted, once you could no longer work in Hollywood, what did you do? How did you manage to produce Salt of the Earth.

Paul Jarrico: The hard way. I and Herbert Biberman and Adrian Scott, both of whom were - had been members of the Hollywood Ten and were blacklisted, of course, formed a company to try to use the growing pool of talent of the blacklistees. And we had several projects underway with - that is to say being written and came across - I came across by coincidence - this strike and in New Mexico in which Mexican-American zinc miners were on strike, the company got an injunction, saying that company - that striking miners may not picket - the wives said the injunction doesn’t say anything about their wives - we’ll take over your picket line, and the men were reluctant to, as they put it hide behind women’s skirts. But there really was no other alternative. The women found themselves on the picket line being attacked by force, arrested in droves.

Elizabeth Farnsworth: And did people try to stop you from making this film?

Paul Jarrico: Well, of course. There was a concerted effort to stop the making of the film after it became known that we were making the film. We had started the film in quite a normal fashion with contracts with Pate Lab to develop our film and rental of the equipment from Hollywood, people who supplied such things. A whistle was blown by Walter Pigeon, the then president of the Actors Guild, and the FBI swung into action and movie industries swung into action and we found ourselves barred from laboratories, barred from sound studios, barred from any of the normal facilities available to film makers, and we found ourselves hounded by all kinds of denunciations on the floor of Congress and by columnists.

The public was told that we were making a new weapon for Russia, that since we were shooting in New Mexico, where you find atom bombs, you find Communists, and every kind of scurrilous attack - vigilante attacks - on us while we were still shooting developed.

Our star, who had come up from Mexico to star in the film - LeSoro Regueltos - was arrested and deported before we were finished shooting her role. We had difficulty getting permission to shoot the remaining scenes with her in Mexico, which we absolutely had to have, and so on.