Gordon Kahn was born in Budapest, Hungary, on 11th May, 1902. When he was a child the family moved to the United States. Kahn worked as a journalist before moving to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter.
Movies written by Kahn include X Marks the Spot (1931), The Death Kiss (1932), The Crosby Murder Case (1934), The Night Club (1935), The People's Enemy (1935), Navy Blues (1937), Tenth Avenue Kid (1937), The Sheik Steps Out (1937), Mama Runs Wild (1937), I Stand Accused (1938), Newsboys' Home (1938), Golden Gloves (1939), S.O.S. Tidal Wave (1939), Mickey the Kid (1939), Wolf of New York (1940), World Premiere (1941).
Ring Lardner Jr. got to know Kahn very well during this period: "When I went to work as a reporter on the New York Daily Mirror in 1935 at the age of nineteen, Kahn was a veteran rewrite man there, and I often phoned stories in to him. Very small and distinguished by the monocle he wore, he had a devastating wit that made you enjoy his company. For some reason, he never accomplished very much in his screenwriting."
Kahn joined the American Communist Party. Fellow members included Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Waldo Salt, Richard Collins and Robert Rossen. He was also a member of the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and became well-known for his left-wing activities.
Kahn's next screenplay was Buy Me That Town (1941). According to the authors of Blacklisted: The Film Lover's Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist (2003): "This is the only full-scale comedy with solo script by Kahn, a Marxist bohemian... Planning the takeover of a Depression-ridden town for gambling purposes, the mobsters find out that the burg is dead broke and facing extinction. They cleverly turn a profit by transforming the jail into a sort of country club, in which mobsters seeking immunity from more serious charges can hang out comfortably." This was followed by China Caravan (1942), Northwest Rangers (1942), Cowboy and the Senorita (1944), Song of Nevada (1944), Blonde Alibi (1946) and Her Kind of Man (1946).
In 1947 nineteen members of the film industry were called to appear before the House of Un-American Activities Committee. This included Gordon Kahn, Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Larry Parks, Waldo Salt, Bertolt Brecht, Richard Collins, Robert Rossen, Lewis Milestone and Irving Pichel.
The first ten witnesses called to appear before the HUAAC, were Biberman, Bessie, Cole, Maltz, Scott, Trumbo, Dmytryk, Lardner, Ornitz and Lawson on 18th October, 1947. Kahn attended these hearings and reported on it in his book, Hollywood on Trail (1948). This included an account of the chairman, J. Parnell Thomas: "On Saturday morning... in the Caucus Room of the Old House office Building in Washington, D.C., a battery of nine newsreel cameras stood leg to leg, their cold eyes fixed on the rostrum. An orchard of powerful photographic lights blazed. Even in the great crystal chandelier bulbs of high intensity had been substituted for the ordinary globes. The illumination was sharp and shadowless as that of an operating theater. A signal was given. A door behind the rostrum opened and a short, red-faced man strode out with an air of having done this many times before. His head was almost a perfect sphere, fringed with sparse gray hair. The features, the hands, the feet, were small, and his general appearance could be described as natty - a term he himself would prefer."
Victor Navasky, the author of Naming Names (1982) has been pointed out that ten of the nineteen originally named members of the American Communist Party were Jews (Kahn, Lewis Milestone, Richard Collins, Albert Maltz, Robert Rossen, Samuel Ornitz, John Howard Lawson, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole) and two others had been involved in the recent film, Crossfire (1947), that was an attack on anti-Semitism (Adrian Scott and Edward Dmytryk).
Kahn wrote in Hollywood on Trail (1948): "The key to why subpoenas were served on Adrian Scott and Edward Dmytryk, respectively producer and director of the film Crossfire, was found when Mr. Stripling, the interrogator, inadvertently addressed Mr. Scott as "Mr. Dmytryk." Supposedly called before the Committee as separate and unrelated individuals, the link between these two gentlemen in the corporate mind of the Committee was made amply clear by Mr. Stripling's slip of the tongue. Scott and Dmytryk were subpoenaed because they produced and directed Crossfire. That now celebrated film attacked anti-Semitism in particular and racial hatred and intolerance generally."
Herbert Biberman, Alvah Bessie, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., Samuel Ornitz and John Howard Lawson were all found guilty and given the maximum sentence of a year in prison. The case went before the Supreme Court in April 1950, but with only Justices Hugo Black and William Douglas dissenting, the sentence was confirmed.
Fearing he would be arrested, Kahn escaped to Mexico where he spent time with other blacklisted friends, Jean Rouverol, Hugo Butler, John Bright, Ring Lardner Jr., Dalton Trumbo, Albert Maltz and Ian Hunter. He eventually settled in Cuernevaca and wrote magazine articles using the pseudonym Hugh G. Foster.
Julian Zimet, another blacklisted writer went to see Kahn: "During a visit to Cuernavaca, a semi-tropical city a few hours' drive from Mexico City, I paid a night-time call on my old friend Gordon Kahn, a blacklisted Hollywood screenwriter who was living there. The visit was a disaster. Kahn had been aware of my presence in Mexico and didn't believe my explanation for not having gotten in touch with him sooner. He suspected me of having become an informer for the American Embassy and as much as ordered me out of his house. Kahn left Mexico soon after - having been cheated of his money by some unscrupulous business partners, a common occurrence in Mexico - and returned to the United States... His son described him in an interview long after as having been, at the end, an angry, bitter man."
On Saturday morning, October 18, 1947, in the Caucus Room of the Old House office Building in Washington, D.C., a battery of nine newsreel cameras stood leg to leg, their cold eyes fixed on the rostrum. An orchard of powerful photographic lights blazed. Even in the great crystal chandelier bulbs of high intensity had been substituted for the ordinary globes. The illumination was sharp and shadowless as that of an operating theater.
A signal was given. A door behind the rostrum opened and a short, red-faced man strode out with an air of having done this many times before. His head was almost a perfect sphere, fringed with sparse gray hair. The features, the hands, the feet, were small, and his general appearance could be described as natty - a term he himself would prefer.
His name-J. Parnell Thomas, born John P. Feeney, Republican Representative from New Jersey and Chairman of the Committee on Un-American Activities of the House of Representatives.
When he was motioned to the chair he was to occupy, the cameramen saw that there was not enough of J. Parnell Thomas showing above the tribune. He needed more eminence. They slipped a red silk pillow under his flanks and a District of Columbia telephone directory under that before he was elevated to the correct, photogenic height. He was instructed to rise and make his entrance once more. He complied. Then, with a tape they measured the distance from his nose to the cameras. "Thank you, Congressman. That's fine."
Testifying before the Committee in a blue double-breasted pin-striped suit, Mr. Menjou got right down to work in his role as a "student of Communism."
At the outset he declared that he had made "a particular study of Marxism, Fabian Socialism, Communism, Stalinism, and its probable effects on the American people, if they ever gain power here."
Questioned by Mr. Stripling as to his first-hand observance of Communist propaganda in motion pictures, Mr. Menjou was constrained to say that "I have seen no Communistic propaganda in pictures-if you mean "vote for Stalin, or that type of Communistic propaganda."
As a matter of fact, Mr. Menjou said he didn't "like that term Communist propaganda, because I have seen no such thing as Communist propaganda, such as waving the hammer and sickle in motion pictures. I have seen things that I thought were against what I considered good Americanism, in my feeling. I have seen pictures I thought shouldn't have been made - shouldn't have been made, let me put it that way."
Mr. Menjou declared himself unafraid of Communism, and at the same time stated his plans it case it ever overtook America. "I would move to the state of Texas if it ever came here," he said, "because I think the Texans would kill them on sight."
The key to why subpoenas were served on Adrian Scott and Edward Dmytryk, respectively producer and director of the film Crossfire, was found when Mr. Stripling, the interrogator, inadvertently addressed Mr. Scott as "Mr. Dmytryk."
Supposedly called before the Committee as separate and unrelated individuals, the link between these two gentlemen in the corporate mind of the Committee was made amply clear by Mr. Stripling's slip of the tongue.
Scott and Dmytryk were subpoenaed because they produced and directed Crossfire. That now celebrated film attacked anti-Semitism in particular and racial hatred and intolerance generally.
The ineffable Louis J. Russell again returned to the stand. He contributed his customary set of allegations, decorating Mr. Scott with a hatful of Communist numbers. As usual nobody on the Committee asked Mr. Russell where he got his information since counsel for Mr. Scott was not permitted to cross-examine.
A little earlier, with reference to the activities of Edward Dmytryk, Russell had been so explicit that the only conclusion to be drawn would be that Mr. Russell had lived, slept, eaten and breathed with the director of Crossfire for several years. Yet Mr. Dmytryk claims no acquaintance with Mr. Russell.
Having split this hair accurately, the Committee moved on to weightier matters. They discovered from Brecht's testimony that he left Germany in February 1933 when Hitler took power. He went to Denmark, but when war seemed imminent, in 1939, he moved to Stockholm. When Hitler invaded Norway and Denmark, 13recht left Sweden after one year's residence, and moved again to Finland to await his visa for the United States. He had entered the United States in 1941, and had applied for his first citizenship papers at once.
Brecht was a playwright and a poet by profession. He was currently not employed. His only connection with the Hollywood studios had been through the sale of his story, Hangmen Also Die to an independent producer, and through another story that had not yet been produced...
Perhaps, the Committee honestly could see no connection between the shy little man who was a fugitive from the Gestapo, the sensitive man who had been uprooted from his native land by a relentless Nazism, the man who had been driven three-quarters of the way around the world by fear; and the little man who sat before them, paper in hand. Perhaps, as the Committee said, what had happened in Germany, was an interesting story, but not at all pertinent to the Committee's inquiry. Perhaps.
At two o'clock, the meeting came to order. The first witness on the stand was the handsome Louis J. Russell who was making his eleventh appearance.
So routine had his previous appearances been, that everyone fidgeted and yawned. They were impatient to hear tile big news break.
For the eleventh time, Russell told who he was, what he was and that lie had worked for the F.B.I. Why he no longer works there was never discussed. It seemed to the audience that Russell was only the curtain-raiser for the main event. And he droned on and on, talking about the "International Theater," the International Union of the Revolutionary Theater, and the National Convention of the Communist Party on the Cultural Commission within the United States. Frankly, no one in the courtroom was interested, except Thomas and his Committee.
It was generally agreed that Louis B. Mayer, at the second of these sessions, hit on the most graphic way of expressing the official point of view. The British people, lie said, had their Royal Family, in the veneration of which a certain deep human impulse was satisfied. American democracy had to have a similar object of worship, and it had found it in the personalities of the motion picture business. That was why any word or act from Hollywood which shook the loyalty of even a fraction of the royal subjects was a matter for grave alarm and a potential contribution to national disintegration.
Mr. Mayer didn't have to labor the implications of his analogy. Hollywood glamour, for the purposes of his present definition, included the entire personnel of the studios, not just the stars whose images graced the household shrines of America. And it was an essential tradition of constitutional monarchy that the reigning sovereigns be above politics and refrain from any significant expression of opinion whatsoever.
The Guild representatives were affected by mixed emotions at this unexpected revelation. They were learning that there is no place of honor among mankind unaccompanied by sacrifice. They were being simultaneously enthroned and disfranchised.