Abraham Polonsky

Abraham Polonsky

Abraham Polonsky was born in New York on 5th December, 1910. He moved to Hollywood and wrote Golden Earrings (1948), Body and Soul (1947) and Force of Evil (1948).

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. 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.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie 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 each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

Polonsky had been a member of the Communist Party but his friends, including John Howard Lawson and John Garfield, refused to name him as a member. However, eventually he was called to appear before the HUAC in April 1951. Although he was willing to talk about his own political past, he refused to name his former comrades and was blacklisted.

After the blacklist Polonsky wrote Madigan (1968), Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), Avalanche Express (1979) and Monsignor (1982). Abraham Polonsky died of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, on 26th October, 1999.

Primary Sources

(1) Abraham Polonsky, explained in an interview with Victor Navasky, what he felt towards the people who named him as a member of the Communist Party.

In most cases the informers picked a route that seemed to them an easy solution to a difficult problem; in other words, they could handle their own friends, whom they testified against, better than they could handle the U.S. government harassing them. Schulberg just has to explain one thing: Why did he become an informer when they forced him to? And why didn't he become an informer before they forced him to? The reason was that before, he thought it wasn't a good thing to do. The Nazis pointed a gun up against his head and said, "Look, give us some names," and he says, "Yeah, I hate those guys anyway."

I wish they had acted better, but they're not all Adolf Hitler's. That's all. I myself don't want to have anything to do with them. After all, I was on the ship and they got off and let us go down. In fact, the only way they could get off was by putting us down. That's the peculiar feeling: it wasn't only that they took the lifeboats from the Titanic, you know; they pulled the plugs.

(2) Abraham Polonsky's complained that after he was blacklisted he was harassed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The U.S. government can really harass you. They went around to where people were on jobs and got them fired. Even the jobs that had nothing to do with writing. Not only that, but if people moved into an apartment house, the FBI would show up and talk to the janitor or whoever. The landlord would say, for instance, "Well, maybe if this guy is a criminal we ought to get him out of here." And they would say, "Oh, no, he's not a criminal, but we just to be sure he's still living here." Well, now you know there's something wrong with this guy, and everyone hears about it.