In “High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic,” Glenn Frankel expertly weaves the history of Hollywood’s Blacklist era — when writers, directors and actors lived in fear of being publicly accused of being a Communist by their friends, colleagues and the federal government — with the making of the iconic Western film “High Noon.”
Two men stand at the heart of Frankel’s story. Carl Foreman was a screenwriter who was raised by a Socialist father and Communist mother, and who himself became a Communist after watching police officers physically assault a crowd of peaceful protestors in his hometown of Chicago. The other man was Gary Cooper, a Montana-born rancher turned actor who held firmly to his conservative roots, but not so firmly that he was willing to betray friends and colleagues, and ruin lives and careers, by embracing the Communist hysteria that gripped much of the nation.
History remembers Cooper as the Academy Award-winning star of the 1952 classic film. Lesser known is Foreman’s role in bringing “High Noon” to the silver screen. Foreman nursed the screenplay for two years, turning it from a parable about the United Nations into a social commentary on the Communist witch hunt gripping Hollywood. He also produced the film. However, during its shooting, Foreman himself was summoned by Congress’s House Un-American Activities Committee to respond to accusations that he was a Communist. (Foreman stated that he had renounced the Communist Party years earlier.) In a twist befitting a Hollywood story, Foreman’s friends and production company colleagues betrayed him by denouncing him publicly and removing him from his role as producer of the film.
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“High Noon” remains entrenched in popular culture. In past years, it has been the film most requested by American presidents, Frankel writes. Dwight Eisenhower screened the film at least three times during his eight years in office, while Bill Clinton screened it at least 20 times.
Frankel is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author, and his narrative precision and skills as a storyteller are on full display in his latest book. Frankel reminds us of an era that stands in stark contrast to today’s politics when Russian cyber-meddling in a presidential election appears to leave too many members of Congress uninterested in how a democratic election can be undermined by a rogue nation, and some even in denial of the evidence before them. “High Noon” offers more than a look at a tense bygone era: Frankel’s gripping narrative also shines a light on issues and conflicts that are still of relevance today.
Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. An interview with Frankel airs later this summer. Listen to previous shows at http://boisestatepublicradio.org/programs/readers-corner, or download our free player from the App Store or Google Play to listen anytime.