May 31, 1957 – Arthur Miller is Convicted of Contempt of Congress

On this day in history, the American playwright Arthur Miller, married at the time to Marilyn Monroe, was convicted in United States District Court of contempt of Congress for refusing to reveal to the House of Representatives Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) the names of writers with alleged Communist views .

Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller

HUAC was formed in 1938 to investigate fascists as well as communists within federal government. In 1947 it began a focus on the arts. A group of writers, directors and actors known as the Hollywood Ten were eventually convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about their political beliefs. They were blacklisted by Hollywood and over the course of the next ten years some 320 people were barred from work in the film studios over their alleged membership of the Communist party. The blacklist lasted until 1960, when actor Kirk Douglas publicly acknowledged Dalton Trumbo, an unrepentant communist and member of the Hollywood Ten, as the screenwriter of his highly successful film Spartacus. A number of those blacklisted, however, continued to be barred from work in their professions for years afterward.

The committee’s anti-Communist investigations are often confused with those of Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy, as a U.S. Senator, had no direct involvement with this House committee. McCarthy was the Chairman of the Government Operations Committee and its Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate, not the House.

Miller was sentenced to a $500 fine or thirty days in prison, blacklisted, and disallowed a US passport. In 1958, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals, which ruled that Miller had been misled by the chairman of the HUAC. Mr Miller had asked the committee not to ask him to name names and the chairman had agreed to defer the question.

Miller and Monroe celebrating the Court of Appeals ruling in 1958

Miller and Monroe celebrating the Court of Appeals ruling in 1958

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