Leo Townsend

Leo Townsend

Leo Townsend worked at Dell Publishing in New York before arriving in Hollywood in 1935. His first script to be filmed was It Started With Eve in 1941. He followed this with Seven Sweethearts (1942), Chip Off the Old Block (1944), Can't Help Singing (1944), Night and Day (1946) and The Way With Women (1947).

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 5th 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.

Townsend, who had joined the Communist Party in 1943, was one of those named and was asked to appear before the HUAC. He was visited by the FBI and was shocked to discover that they had details of every party meeting he had attended. After consulting with his employers, Warner Brothers, he agreed to testify before the HUAC. On 18th September, 1951, he gave the names of thirty-seven people who he knew had been members of left-wing organizations.

The HUAC praised Townsend for his testimony and his name was removed from the blacklist. Other films that he was involved in included Dangerous Crossing (1943), White Feather (1955), Flight to Hong Kong (1956), Bikini Beach(1964), How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965).

Primary Sources

(1) Leo Townsend was interviewed by Victor Navasky when he was writing his book, Naming Names (1982)

I called the FBI and I said, "I am a former member of the Communist Party" So two men came out to my home, and told them all I knew. I discovered they knew more about it than I did; they knew every meeting I went to, they knew who was there. The names I gave them were names they already knew - I wasn't revealing anything.

(2) Leo Townsend appeared before the House of Un-American Activities Committee on 18th September, 1951.

I feel that the purpose of this Committee is an investigative one so that the Congress of the United States may intelligently legislate in the field of national security. As a loyal American interested in that security, I feel I must place in the hands of this Committee whatever information I have.

Several years ago all of us fought with all our might against German and Italian fascism. Today there is a section of people who shut their eyes to Soviet fascism and if what I say here and if what this Committee does can help these people, I think this will show a large measure of success.