Larry Parks

Larry Parks

Larry Parks was born in Olathe, Kansas, on 13th December, 1914. He moved to Hollywood and during the early 1940s obtained a series of minor roles in movies such as Harmon of Michigan (1941), Harvard, Here I Come (1941), Mystery Ship (1941), Alias Boston Blackie (1942), Atlantic Convoy (1942), Canal Zone (1942), Deerslayer (1943), Stars on Parade (1944), The Black Parachute (1944) and Jam Session (1944).

Parks became a Hollywood star after his lead performance in the Academy Award winning The Jolson Story (1946). Nominated as best actor of the year, Parks followed this film with Renegades (1946), Down to Earth (1947), The Swordsman (1947), The Gallant Blade (1948), Jolson Sings Again (1949) and Jealousy (1949).

During this period the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) opened its hearings concerning communist infiltration of the motion picture industry. The chief investigator for the committee was Robert E. Stripling. The first people it interviewed included Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Jack L. Warner, Robert Taylor, Adolphe Menjou, Robert Montgomery, Walt Disney, Thomas Leo McCarey and George L. Murphy. These people named several possible members of the American Communist Party.

As a result their investigations, the HUAC announced it wished to interview nineteen members of the film industry that they believed might be members of the American Communist Party. This included Larry Parks, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Gordon Kahn, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.

The first ten witnesses called to appear before the HUAC, Biberman, Bessie, Cole, Maltz, Scott, Trumbo, Dmytryk, Lardner, Ornitz and Lawson, refused to cooperate at the September hearings and were charged with "contempt of Congress". Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The courts disagreed and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison. The case went before the Supreme Court in April 1950, but with only Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, the sentences were confirmed.

On 8th March, 1951, the HUAC committee began an "Investigation of Communism in the Entertainment Field". The chairman was John S. Wood, and other members included Harold Velde of Illinois, Francis Walter of Pennsylvania, Morgan M. Moulder of Missouri, Clyde Doyle of California, James B. Frazier of Tennessee, Bernard W. Kearney of New York and Charles E. Potter of Michigan. Louis Russell was the senior investigator and Frank S. Tavenner, was chief counsel.

Larry Parks gave evidence on 21st March, 1951. He admitted that he joined the American Communist Party in 1941. He joined because it "fulfilled certain needs of a young man that was liberal of thought, idealistic, who was for the underprivileged, the underdog". At first he refused to name other members of the party: "I would prefer not to mention names, if it is at all possible, of anyone. I don't think it is fair to people to do this. I have come to you at your request. I have come and willingly tell you about myself. I think that, if you would allow me, I would prefer not to be questioned about names. And I will tell you everything that I know about myself, because I feel I have done nothing wrong, and 1 will answer any question that you would like to put to me about myself. I would prefer, if you will allow me, not to mention other people's names.... The people at that time as I knew them-this is my opinion of them. This is my honest opinion: That these are people who did nothing wrong, people like myself.... And it seems to me that this is not the American way of doing things to force a man who is under oath and who has opened himself as wide as possible to this committee - and it hasn't been easy to do this -to force a man to do this is not American justice."

However, Parks did agree to name members in a private session of the HUAC. This included Joseph Bromberg, Lee J. Cobb, Morris Carnovsky, John Howard Lawson, Karen Morley, Anne Revere, Gale Sondergaard, Dorothy Tree, Roman Bohnan, Lloyd Gough and Victor Kilian. Three days later Paul Jarrico, who was due to appear before the HUAC, told the New York Times, that he was unwilling to follow the example of Parks: "If I have to choose between crawling in the mud with Larry Parks or going to jail like my courageous friends of the Hollywood Ten, I shall certainly choose the latter."

Despite giving the names of other former members of the Communist Party, Parks was still blacklisted. After failing to get work in Hollywood, Parks asked to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee again in an effort to provide more information about communism. He argued in a letter dated 15th July, 1953: "After careful consideration I wish to file a clarifying statement of my point of view on the Communist problem with your Committee. I am now convinced that my previous testimony improperly reflects my true attitude towards the malignancy of the Communist Party. If there is any way in which I can further aid in exposing the methods of entrapment and deceit through which Communist conspirators have gained the adherence of American idealists and liberals, I hope the Committee will advise me. Above all, I wish to make it clear that I support completely the objectives of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I believe fully that Communists and Communist intrigues should be thoroughly exposed and isolated and thus rendered impotent."

Despite this appeal he failed to get his name removed from the blacklist but he did continue to perform on the stage and appeared in two long running plays, Teahouse of the August Moon and Any Wednesday and two Broadway shows.

Larry Parks died of a heart attack on 13th April, 1975.

Primary Sources

(1) Larry Parks agreed to talk about his own involvement in the Communist Party but was at first unwilling to give the names of other former members when he testified in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee (21st March, 1951)

I would prefer not to mention names, if it is at all possible, of anyone. I don't think it is fair to people to do this. I have come to you at your request. I have come and willingly tell you about myself. I think that, if you would allow me, I would prefer not to be questioned about names. And I will tell you everything that I know about myself, because I feel I have done nothing wrong, and 1 will answer any question that you would like to put to me about myself. I would prefer, if you will allow me, not to mention other people's names.... The people at that time as I knew them-this is my opinion of them. This is my honest opinion: That these are people who did nothing wrong, people like myself.... And it seems to me that this is not the American way of doing things to force a man who is under oath and who has opened himself as wide as possible to this committee - and it hasn't been easy to do this -to force a man to do this is not American justice.

(2) Richard Collins followed Larry Parks in naming former members of the Communist Party when he testified in front of the House of Un-American Activities Committee on 12th April, 1951.

Another problem was that even with Larry Parks we didn't know just what he had said; it was not revealed; we just knew he had named names but we didn't know whose - I didn't know whose names they had. I had no idea. So I just took the ones who had been called which were a matter of common knowledge, and I expanded that by the third category of people who had been out a while.

(3) Larry Parks, letter to the House of Un-American Activities Committee (15th July, 1953)

After careful consideration I wish to file a clarifying statement of my point of view on the Communist problem with your Committee. I am now convinced that my previous testimony improperly reflects my true attitude towards the malignancy of the Communist Party.

If there is any way in which I can further aid in exposing the methods of entrapment and deceit through which Communist conspirators have gained the adherence of American idealists and liberals, I hope the Committee will advise me.

Above all, I wish to make it clear that I support completely the objectives of the House Committee on Un-American Activities. I believe fully that Communists and Communist intrigues should be thoroughly exposed and isolated and thus rendered impotent.