The blacklist is fading. The last survivor of the Hollywood Ten died in 2000; so far as I know, all of their pseudonymous Oscars have been properly awarded at last. Movies about them, deservedly or not, are now Oscar-nominated biopic fare. The era is slipping out of living memory. My own mother was a child at the time, and the gradual reestablishment of the blacklisted in the movies predates my birth. Of the literally hundreds of names on one list or another, very few remain alive. As they die, I think it will be easier to pretend that the time was other than it was and “an unpopular show got cancelled” will be easier and easier for those who want to to claim as its moral equivalent, just because the star has a different political slant than the majority of his fellow actors.
Wikipedia lists Lee Grant’s birth as “during the mid-1920s”; IMDb lists it as 1925. Though they do both agree on Halloween as her birthday. She was Oscar nominated for her first film role, in Detective Story, and then blacklisted almost immediately after, in part due to her husband’s political leanings as much as her own; she wouldn’t testify against him. (She later said that she’d been married to a Marxist and she’d been married to a fascist, and neither one of them took out the trash.) It took ten years to get her career going again, eventually starting with a long-running stint on Peyton Place.
She’s another person whose autobiography I want to read, because she seems to be remarkably straightforward in it. She talks about an early abortion, something not uncommon in Hollywood of the day. She mentions losing her virginity at age seventeen. Since, she’s talked about undergoing her first face lift at age thirty. It seems to me that going through the experience of the blacklist has made her pretty matter-of-fact about any number of details about her own life, and who can blame her?
I’ll admit that I haven’t seen most of her films. I’ve seen Detective Story, but I don’t remember her in it, and it’s the only one of her Oscar-nominated films that I’ve seen. I’ve seen some of it—she’s in Valley of the Dolls—but not a lot. And I have to admit that at least part of the reason I chose to write about her for today was that she was the killer in the first episode of Columbo, one of a couple of things they did together. She’s in Mulholland Drive. She’s one of the people who, after the blacklist, worked a lot and made a real career.
She turned down the role of Dorothy on Golden Girls because she wouldn’t play a grandmother. She seems pretty well retired now; well, she’s somewhere between 90 and 92 according to Wikipedia, after all. (I can’t help wondering why Wikipedia is more vague than IMDb on this point.) But she’s made the list of people I’d just like to have a chat with, because I think we can count on her being very blunt about a lot of things, and I think it sounds like fun. And, you know, a firsthand perspective on the blacklist is something it would be worthwhile to get while we still can. I haven’t gone through those hundreds of people to see how many are still alive, but it can’t be many, if anyone other than her at all.
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