The Hollywood Blacklist was a list of professionals who were not allowed to participate in the entertainment industry due to their suspected or confirmed political beliefs. As you might imagine, it had a profound and far-reaching impact on the entertainment history in the middle of the 20th century, and it continues to be a topic of discussion and debate. Sadly for many of the people included on the blacklist, this largely unofficial blacklist ended the careers of many entertainment professionals, and seriously damaged the reputations of many more.
It would be more accurate to term the Hollywood Blacklist the “entertainment industry blacklist,” because it didn't just have an impact on Hollywood, although the home of the American film industry was certainly hard hit. The roots of the Blacklist can be found in the 1930s, when a fear of communism began to arise in America, and the government responded. In 1947, the House Unamerican Activities Committee (HUAC), which was charged with finding and dealing with communists in the United States, summoned several entertainment professionals to testify.
The “Hollywood 10,” as they came to be known, refused to testify, igniting the American government and leading to an official statement from the film industry which came to be known as the Waldorf Statement. The signatories of the statement announced that they were firing the Hollywood 10, and indicated a desire to eliminate subversives from the entertainment industry, bringing about the Hollywood Blacklist, which would dominate the industry for over a decade.
Many people think of high profile performers like Charlie Chaplin when they visualize the Hollywood Blacklist. However, it also affected screenwriters, technicians, authors, musicians, lesser actors, and an assortment of other entertainers. To be listed on the blacklist was to see the potential end of one's career, often on the basis of questionable and unverifiable information.
Many people on the Hollywood Blacklist were suspected communists or communist sympathizers. A large number of them were official members of the American Communist Party, making them easy targets, but others were blacklisted merely on the basis of association with known communists or public statements. Others were blacklisted for their involvement in liberal causes, ranging from the animal rights movement to humanitarian organizations.
The names on the Hollywood Blacklist were not made explicit, and it was intermittently enforced, but it attracted a great deal of public attention at the time and continues to do so. A number of famous and high profile people were blacklisted, much to the interest of their biographers, and some people have also been intrigued by the cases of lesser individuals on the Blacklist, looking at their fates once their careers were destroyed. The collapse of the Hollywood Blacklist started on television in the late 1950s, when blacklisted individuals were hired by sympathetic people like Alfred Hitchcock and Betty Hutton, and from there it snowballed, rapidly becoming untenable.