Born in Filley, Nebraska, Robert Taylor became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. In 1947 he testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about purposed Communist influence in Hollywood.
By David L. Bristow, Editor
Born in Filley, Nebraska in 1911, Spangler Arlington Brugh became one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars, known to audiences as Robert Taylor.
The United States and the Soviet Union were allies in World War II, but became intense rivals by the late 1940s. In the US, some members of Congress said that Communist infiltrators were working to influence Americans and overthrow the US government. In October 1947 Taylor was subpoenaed to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). A portion of his testimony is shown in the one-minute video clip above.
Was Taylor under investigation? He had starred in the 1944 movie Song of Russia, in which he played an American orchestra conductor touring the Soviet Union at the time of the German invasion. Today the movie is regarded as American wartime propaganda, reflecting the alliance with the USSR against the common enemy of Nazi Germany. But as the Cold War took shape in the late 1940s, some people cited Song of Russia as an example of Hollywood Communist propaganda.
In May 1947 Taylor voluntarily testified before a closed hearing of a HUAC sub-committee. Taylor told the committee that MGM—the studio to which Taylor was under an exclusive contract—had forced him to participate in the movie. Although the committee promised Taylor confidentiality, they quickly publicized his remarks. This put Taylor at odds with MGM head Louis B. Mayer. Taylor was furious.
Later that year, when Taylor learned that HUAC was planning to hold public hearings, he remarked privately that the investigations “remind me more of a 3-Ring Circus than of a sincere effort to rid the country of a real threat.”
Although Taylor was under subpoena when he made his well-publicized appearance at the HUAC hearing in October 1947, no one suspected him of having Communist sympathies. Taylor was a founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. The group included a number of Hollywood directors and producers such as Cecil B. DeMille, John Ford, and Walt Disney, actors such as John Wayne, Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, and Ronald Reagan, influential gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, and novelist and screenwriter Ayn Rand.
In 1947 Rand wrote a pamphlet for the group titled Screen Guide for Americans, in which she says:
“The purpose of the Communists in Hollywood is not the production of political movies openly advocating Communism. Their purpose is to corrupt our moral premises by corrupting non-political movies — by introducing small, casual bits of propaganda into innocent stories — thus making people absorb the basic principles of Collectivism by indirection and implication.” (When Rand testified before HUAC, one of the movies she cited as an example of Collectivist propaganda was It’s a Wonderful Life.)
Because of Taylor’s well-known political views, the press called him a “friendly witness.” In the video above, he says he has seen “indications which seem to me to be signs of Communist activity in Hollywood,” and adds that a number of movie scripts “appeared to me to be slightly on the pink side.” (Communism was “red”; people thought to be Communist sympathizers were called “pinkos.”)
When asked for names, Taylor replies that “one chap I’m thinking of currently is Mr. Howard Da Silva, always seems to have something to say at the wrong time.”
Da Silva, a stage and screen actor, was eventually subpoenaed himself in 1951 but refused to answer questions. Da Silva cited the Fifth Amendment, saying it was “founded in the resistance of the people to attempts to prosecute and persecute individuals because of their political views.” Da Silva was blacklisted by the film industry before being cleared in 1960. Among Da Silva’s noteworthy later film roles was his 1972 portrayal of Benjamin Franklin in the movie musical 1776.
Taylor continued making movies until a year before his death from lung cancer in 1969.
Read more about Robert Taylor’s Nebraska roots in Nebraska History Magazine.
Robert Taylor in 1941. History Nebraska RG813-0-579
(Posted March 8, 2022)
“Robert Taylor and Communism – The HUAC Hearings,” Robert Taylor Actor (blog), Oct. 17, 2012. https://roberttayloractor.blog/2012/10/17/robert-taylor-and-communism-the-huac-hearings/
“Robert Taylor HUAC Testimony Excerpt, 1947” AuthenticHistory YouTube channel, posted 11/22/2010: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2Z7gA8CFz0
John Simkin, “Howard Da Silva,” Spartacus Educational, 1997, https://spartacus-educational.com/USAsilva.htm
Ayn Rand quote: “Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Alliance_for_the_Preservation_of_American_Ideals