The great questions from our members and your thorough replies are a pleasure to read, Charles and participants.
Could you please post a bit about Fredric March's involvement with The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League
, beginning in 1936?
Was March involved in helping many anti-Nazi European émigrés trying to settle in the U.S., particularly those who were in the arts?
What was the evening like when The Spanish Earth
(1937), Ernest Hemingway's documentary about the Spanish Civil War, was presented at the home of March and his wife, Florence Eldridge? Above: Florence Eldredge and her husband Fredric March with committee chairman Martin Dies during House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1940, a decade before the more notorious period of McCarthyism began.
Do you think that March ever regretted his involvement when an informer for the Dies committee and later the scurrilous Red Channels publication tried to smear him as a Communist sympathizer? Was he gray-listed as a result of this criticism?
Thanks in advance for your replies.
The Hollywood Anti-Nazi League was started in 1936 by those in the film/literary community due to the growth of fascism in Europe and by forces which seemed to support it in the U.S. as well as what they thought was a weak-sister approach by the American government in opposing fascism both politically and morally. Among those who were part of this League were March and his wife, Dorothy Parker, Walter Wanger, Fred MacMurray, James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, Oscar Hammerstien II, Gloria Stuart, Mervyn LeRoy, Clifford Odets, Chico Marx, Eddie Cantor and Benny Goodman--and several others. A good cross section--some liberal others conservative--Democrat and Republican. Eventually there would be over 5000 members. Eventually the league came under attack from the Martin Dies Committee (HUAC) because some felt that in opposing the fascists, they were not doing enough to oppose communism and that the committee was under communist influence. John Ford would have none of that. He said at one point, "If this is communism--count me in." March made a wonderful statement re: all this: "Every time during the last few years that I have felt impelled to protest an injustice, to cry out against man's inhumanity to man, or to espouse some social reform, I have been called a Communist. Because the founders of our country believed in justice, tolerance and the exercise of such social reform as would benefit the people at large, I insist upon the right to follow their example and still be recognized as a loyal American citizen." Of course one of the things the HANL hoped to accomplish was to help bring those being oppressed or worse by the Nazi's to the US and other countries where they could live freely without persecution. The League also hoped thru the influence of film & their own celebrity focus public opinion against the Fascists.
March and his wife hosted a fundraiser to raise funds to support the loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War by screening the Hemingway documentary "The Spanish Earth." It was while March was in the midst of filming "Nothing Sacred." Among those who attended the event at the March home were John Ford, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Sam Goldwyn, Lillian Hellman and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The original narration for "The Spanish Earth" was done by a very young Orson Welles. After the screening both March and Hellman told Hemingway that the documentary was very powerful but thought that Welles' voice was too 'mellifluous' and that the impact would be stronger if Hemingway himself narrated it, which after some prodding he did redo the narration in his own voice. Naturally after the film the audience expected Hemingway to say a few words, but nothing happened, and finally Florence approached him and told him he should get up and speak to the guests. Hemingway replied, 'Well, I guess your right, but first I got to take a leak." He did and came back and delivered a very strong talk and the event raised about $13,000.
In 1940 an ex-communist named John Leech (the name fit) named several people who had been involved in HANL & supporting the loyalist cause in the Spanish Civil War as Communists. His evidence was dubious. Among the very prominent names mentioned were March, James Cagney, Bogart and Franchot Tone. Of course this got a great deal of publicity and famously Bogie said, "If I were to read the doctrine of Marx it would be Groucho not Karl." Rep. Martin Dees was the head of the HUAC and he wanted to get as much publicity as possible. This is a guy who once insinuated that Shirley Temple was a Communist sympathizer. Needless to say in the Summer of 1940, Dees came to Los Angeles and held hearings at the Biltmore Hotel and many of those accused testified including March, with his wife at his side. March denied any association with Communists or the Communists Party and called Leech a liar. Dies later cleared March, Cagney, Bogart and Tone. But years later after the war when HUAC again began to investigate Communism in Hollywood, March's name was again brought up as being if not a Communist himself, then soft on Communism. A publication named "Counter-Attack" called March and his wife 'fellow travelers' and rather than let it go as they were advised to do--the Marches sued. March vigorously defended himself and made a speech where he said, "another informer reports that I received an acting award from the magazine "New Masses" for my acting in the play A BELL FOR ADANO--but the informer omits the fact that I happened to receive seven or eight other awards that year, including the Eisenhower Medal for--now don't laugh--the actor who contributed the most to democracy in 1945." The Marches did win a retraction but the damage was done, and film offers became scarcer and the Marches found themselves working even more on the New York stage--but eventually this did lift. NO, March never did regret his work on behalf of liberal causes or the Anti-Nazi League. He was proud of it and unlike some he fought the accusations against him and was vindicated.