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7 Artists Whose Careers Were Almost Derailed by the Hollywood Blacklist

7 Artists Whose Careers Were Almost Derailed by the Hollywood Blacklist

1. Dalton Trumbo

The blacklist era kicked off in 1947, when famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo and several other filmmakers known as the “Hollywood Ten” were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and asked a now-famous question: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Trumbo had indeed been a party member at one time, but like the rest of the Ten, he refused to answer and even questioned the legitimacy of HUAC in his testimony. As a result, he was charged with contempt of Congress, blacklisted by the Hollywood studios and sentenced to a year in federal prison. Following his release, Trumbo was forced to write under pseudonyms and sell his scripts on the black market. He secretly penned several classic screenplays during the 1950s including “Gun Crazy” and “The Brave One,” and his work even won two Academy Awards, neither of which he was able to collect. Trumbo finally broke free of the blacklist in 1960 after director Otto Preminger and actor Kirk Douglas announced that he would receive writing credit for the films “Exodus” and “Spartacus.” He later resumed his career in Hollywood, but it wasn’t until 2011 that the Writer’s Guild of America finally credited him with the Oscar-winning script for 1953’s “Roman Holiday.”

2. Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger is best known as a founding member of the folk outfit The Weavers, but he was also a political radical who claimed membership in the Communist Party as a young man. In the 1940s and 1950s, the socially conscious singer-songwriter was investigated by the FBI and later blacklisted after his name appeared in “Red Channels,” an influential pamphlet that listed suspected communists in the entertainment industry. Seeger was barred from performing on television, and The Weavers broke up in 1952 after they lost their recording contract. Three years later, Seeger was called to testify before HUAC. While he refused to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not witness against himself, he announced that he was “not going to answer any questions as to my associations, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked.” Seeger’s defiance saw him charged with 10 counts of contempt of Congress and sentenced to a year in prison. The indictment was later overturned, but he remained blackballed from television until 1968.

3. Orson Welles

At the same time that director, writer and actor Orson Welles was making groundbreaking films and radio programs, he was also under FBI investigation as a potential Communist and political subversive. Welles was targeted in part because of his progressive political stances, but the suspicions only grew after the release of his classic 1941 film “Citizen Kane,” whose main character served as a thinly veiled reference to the anti-Communist news mogul William Randolph Hearst. “The evidence before us leads inevitably to the conclusion that the film ‘Citizen Kane’ is nothing more than an extension of the Communist Party’s campaign to smear one of its most effective and consistent opponents in the United States,” one FBI report read. While the Bureau never found evidence that Welles was himself a Communist Party member, it still added him to its index of people believed to be a threat to national security. His name would later appear in the 1950 “Red Channels” pamphlet, but by then he had already entered a long period of self-imposed exile in Europe.

4. Lena Horne

During the 1940s, Lena Horne’s good looks and silky singing voice made her one of the first African American stars of the stage and screen. She still ran up against institutional racism, however, and her frustrations eventually drove her to join up with a variety of activist groups, many of which were populated by political radicals and Communists. Though never a Party member herself, Horne was found guilty by association and blacklisted after her name appeared in “Red Channels” in 1950. Unable to work in television or film, she spent the next few years touring as a nightclub and cabaret singer. She also fought to clear her name by publicly repudiating Communism and undertaking a letter-writing campaign to prominent journalists and entertainment figures. The plan worked: Horne’s reputation was slowly rehabilitated, and by the late-1950s she was once again appearing on television variety shows and recording hit records. Despite her brush with the blacklist, she remained a political activist and later took part in civil rights protests during the 1960s.

5. Charlie Chaplin

Though never a member of the Communist Party, silent screen icon Charlie Chaplin drew the ire of the government for his subversive films and support of leftist political causes. The “Little Tramp” creator skewered the capitalist and industrial society with movies such as “Modern Times,” “The Great Dictator” and “Monsieur Verdoux,” and he was later denounced as a Communist sympathizer after he donated money to the defense fund for Dalton Trumbo and the Hollywood Ten. The FBI, meanwhile, compiled a file on Chaplin that was over 2,000 pages long. The tensions finally came to a head in 1952, when Chaplin—a British national—was denied his reentry visa to the United States after a trip abroad. Told he’d need to testify to his “moral worth” before he could regain the permit, the director-actor instead cut ties with America and spent the rest of his career working in Europe. Save for a 1972 trip to collect an honorary Oscar, Chaplin never set foot in the United States again.

6. Lee Grant

In 1951, just a few weeks after the release of her first Hollywood film, “Detective Story,” actress Lee Grant criticized the HUAC investigations in a speech at the funeral of blacklisted actor J. Edward Bromberg. While Grant had never been active in Communist politics, her seemingly benign remarks were soon made public, earning her a place on the industry blacklist. She was later called before HUAC and asked to out her own husband as a Communist, but pled the Fifth and refused to answer the committee’s questions. Except for occasional bit parts, Grant was effectively banned from appearing in movies and television for the next 12 years. Following her removal from the blacklist in the 1960s, she made a famous return to the silver screen and garnered three different Oscar nominations for acting, winning once for the 1975 film “Shampoo.”

7. Dashiell Hammett

The man who helped create hardboiled fiction with detective novels such as “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Thin Man” was also an avowed anti-fascist and Communist Party member. In 1951, while serving as a trustee of the leftist Civil Rights Congress, Hammett was summoned to federal court and asked to testify about contributors to the group’s bail fund. When he pled the Fifth and refused to name names, he was found in contempt of court and sentenced to six months in jail. Two years later, he was called before Joseph McCarthy’s Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and questioned about his ties to Communism, but again he refused to cooperate. By then, Hammett’s run-ins with the government had won him a place on the entertainment industry’s blacklist. Copies of his books were even briefly removed from several state department libraries overseas. After suffering a heart attack in 1955, he withdrew from the literary world and lived in obscurity until his death in 1961.


15 Celebrities That Have Been Blacklisted

Hollywood can be a ruthless place. One wrong step and an entire career can be squashed within the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, when bad behavior or questionable situations arise, a promising actor can ruin his or her future within the business. And with the celebrities listed below, they’ve all ended up on the blacklist for one reason or another, crushing their stardom and slowing down their growing momentum in the entertainment realm. From getting new jobs to visiting a country, these celebs have all been banned or blacklisted for one reason or another – even so much as a dress code can have the famous banned.

A lot of the talent that have been blacklisted seem to have deserved the downfall but others have definitely gotten the short end of the stick before they could even try and restore their honor. Political statements, personal beliefs, life choices or the weird way one acts on set, there are numerous ways to get banned in the world of show business. And one takeaway from the divulgence below is to watch every step one takes when it comes to cultivating a presence in Hollywood.


7 Artists Whose Careers Were Almost Derailed by the Hollywood Blacklist - HISTORY

She got fired when working at the London office of Amnesty International because she would write stories on her work computer all day long.

3. Michael Bloomberg

Bloomberg was let go when he was working as a partner at Salomon Brothers, an investment bank. Specifically, it was after the company was bought out by the company that eventually became Citigroup in 1998. His severance check is what he used to jumpstart his career, which has now led him to become the 18th richest person

4. Anna Wintour

While a junior fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Wintour did lots of shoots, but apparently Tony Mazalla thought they were too edgy, and so she got fired after 9 months. After which she became fashion editor at Viva.

5. Madonna

She dropped out of college, moved to new york, and took a job at Dunkin’ Donuts in Times Square, where she apparently didn’t last a day. What sealed the deal was when she squirted jelly filling all over a customer

6. Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey was an evening news reporter and apparently got fired because she couldn’t sever her emotions from her stories. Eventually she was fired from the producer of Baltimore’s WJZ-TV.

7. Jerry Seinfeld

He was fired after a poor performance on his very minor role on the sitcom Benson. Apparently no one told him he had been fired and he only found out about it when he showed up for a read-through and discovered his part was missing from the script.

8. Truman Capote

He dropped out of high school to take a job as a copy boy for the New Yorker. He was eventually fired by the New Yorker, not because he was a bad employee, but because two years after being hired he went to go see Robert Frost read and, deeply sick, Capote left in the middle of the performance. Apparently Frost was deeply insulted and, knowing where Capote worked, demanded that he be fired. Which he was.

9. Howard Stern

He was fired by NBC when he was working as a DJ on WNBC. Then he found XM and the rest is history.

10. Elvis


After a performance at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, Elvis was told by the concert hall manager that he was better off returning to Memphis and driving trucks (his former career).

11. Thomas Edison


He worked at Western Union where he used to secretly conduct experiments. Then, one night in 1867, he spilled some acid and it ate through the entire floor. He was fired and subsequently decided to just pursue inventing full time.

12. Kerry Washington

Before making it on Scandal, she had done two pilots. The shows of those pilots got picked up, but unfortunately Kerry was replaced in both shows by a different actress.

13. Steve Jobs

Jobs was fired from his own company.

14. Lady Gaga

When she was finally signed onto a major record label, Gaga was dropped and only after three months of being signed.

15. Wilco

When Wilco released Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2001, an album that wasn’t quite in line with their previous music, their label Reprise Records refused to release the album and dropped Wilco from its roster. Wilco ended up streaming the album on their website for free and it was eventually given a commercial release in 2002.

16. Bill Gates


When he dropped out of Harvard he started a business with Paul Allen called Traf-O-Data, which flopped. Luckily, they tried their hand at business again and this time Microsoft was born.

17. Albert Einstein


He didn’t speak until he was four and didn’t read until he was seven. He was subsequently expelled from school and was not admitted to the Zurich Polytechnic School. Long story short, he came around.

18. Charles Darwin

Darwin was not hell-bent on becoming a scientist his whole life, thanks to his dad, who called him lazy and too dreamy. Darwin once wrote, “I was considered by all my masters and my father, a very ordinary boy, rather below the common standard of intellect.”

19. Isaac Newton


Sure Newton was a wiz at math, but he did not excel when it came to other subjects. He never thrived in school and when he was once put in charge of running the family farm, he failed terribly. That was when he was sent off to Cambridge and the rest is history.

20. Socrates

He was a visionary but at the time he was living, his innovative ideas labeled him an “immoral corrupter of youth” and lead him to his death sentence. Despite this, he persevered until the moment he was forced to poison himself.

21. Abraham Lincoln


When Lincoln was young and entered war, he entered as a Captain but came back as a much lower Private. Later on, he tried to start up a ton of businesses, all of which failed, and before becoming president, he lost several runs for public office

22. Lucille Ball


Before her iconic show I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball was considered a failed actress, a B-list actress. So much so that her drama instructors urged her to try another profession.

23. Marilyn Monroe


When she was trying to start her career, modeling agencies told her she should consider becoming a secretary.

24. Vincent van Gogh


It’s hard to believe, but during his lifetime Van Gogh received hardly any acclaim for his work. While alive, he only sold one of his paintings, and that was to a friend for a very small amount of money. Despite this, he continued working throughout his life, never seeing success himself, though his paintings now are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

25. Emily Dickinson

Though loved now, Dickinson was not so during her waking hours. In fact, while alive, less than a dozen of her poems were published out of about 1800 complete works.

26. Steven Spielberg

Ironically, Spielberg was rejected from the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film and Television three times. He was eventually accepted by another school, a school which he dropped out of to pursue directing. In 2002, Spielberg finally completed his BA.

27. Stephen King

King’s most renowned and first book, Carrie, was rejected thirty times. King decided to toss the book, which his wife then went through the trash to rescue and convinced him to re-submit it.

28. Claude Monet

While alive, Monet’s work was mocked and rejected by the artistic elite, the Paris Salon.

29. Michael Jordan

He was cut from his high school basketball team. He once said, “I have missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the gam winning shot, and I have missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

30. Babe Ruth


His home run record is 714 during his career. But he still had a total of 1330 strikeouts. At one point, he held the record for strikeouts. He once said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

31. Don Imus

The talk show host on MSNBC was fired in 2007 because he referred to Rutgers University women’s basketball team as “nappy-headed hos.”

32. Stephen Glass

He was fired in 1998 from associate editor of The New Republic because he fabricated all or parts of twenty-seven reported pieces

33. Robert Redford


He was fired from his job as Unskilled worker for Standard Oil in 1954 because he was found asleep in an oil tank he was supposed to clean.

34. Rudyard Kipling

He was fired as his role as contributor to the San Francisco Examiner in 1889 because he was told by an editor, “I’m sorry Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”

35. Henry Hudson

In 1611, he was fired from his role as Commander of the Discovery while exploring the New World because he was suspected of favoritism and food hoarding. Apparently the crew members rebelled, setting him, his son and others off in a skiff in what is now the Hudson Bay.


19 "The Girl Next Door" Character Flopped

There's no doubt that Elisha Cuthbert was the world's most favorite sweetheart back in the days. The Canadian actress was indeed a stunning lady who quickly and easily made us all fall hard for her. The 35-year-old star rose to recognition thanks to her image of a bombshell, and it practically turned her into the world's favorite blonde at the time. But somehow things didn't pan out for her despite the fans' predictions that she'd become a huge star one day. Maybe some of her fans are still sad or confused that Elisha doesn't appear in high-budget movies, but it's just what Hollywood has decided for her.

Well, it turns out that most guys just can't get their head around the fact that Elisha can no longer excite the movie directors and producers. A little over a decade ago, the Alberta-born actress seemed as though she was rising to the very top, but apparently, we've been wrong. Elisha Cuthbert couldn't live up to Hollywood's expectations and after a portion of highly criticized movies, and tv shows, the actress was forced to leave the spotlight.

She might have become famous quite early in her career, but Elisha Cuthbert can no longer excite the movie fans. Her consistent failures in the movie department have left a nasty stain on her reputation. Don't get us wrong, but that's quite a good reason why Hollywood keeps rejecting her.


18 Jennifer Grey's Nose Job Ruins Her Career

Jennifer Grey knew that she wanted to change the shape and appearance of her nose after she had started to gain some recognition as an actress, but it definitely ended up being the decision that ruined her career.

"I went in the operating room a celebrity—and came out anonymous. It was like being in a witness protection program or being invisible," said Grey when talking about the plastic surgery.

While you can understand the extra pressure to always be looking your best as a celebrity, the last thing you want to do is remove one of your biggest identifying features!

Grey also appeared on the television show It's Like, You Know. but the show also poked fun at her nose job, which you can imagine made for some really awkward days on-set if Grey wasn't able to laugh it off.

Nothing like joking about how you ruined your career!


Alfredo James “Al” ‘Pacino established himself as a film actor during one of cinema’s most vibrant decades, the 1970s, and has become an enduring and iconic figure in the world of American movies. He was born April 25, 1940 in Manhattan, New York City, to Italian-American parents. Al has been one of the most decorated actors in Hollywood, but seems to have fallen out of favor with the new generation.

Another surprise? Robert Downey Jr. has evolved into one of the most respected actors in Hollywood. With an amazing list of credits to his name, he has managed to stay new and fresh even after over four decades in the business.

Downey was born April 4, 1965 in Manhattan, New York, the son of writer, director and producer Robert Downey Sr. He was a junkie for most of his life and even went to prison. But he made it big with Avengers and Marvel Studios as Ironman. However, his nose poking and hobnobbing with the student biggies has resulted in him being blacklisted.


12 Richard Pryor

This is a bit of a strange story so far as drug use and stars go. In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Richard Pryor basically changed the entire style of stand-up comedy with his raunchy and socially relevant routines. In the eyes of many, he was the world’s funniest man.

Then, in 1980, Pryor was caught pouring alcohol all over himself and lighting himself on fire. Following an extensive investigation - and Pryor’s medical treatment - it was revealed that the world-famous funnyman had been freebasing cocaine for days before the incident occurred. After that. Pryor was never quite the same. He slowly backed away from the stand-up scene and focused on filming a series of movies that were much more family friendly than his previous efforts.


Charlie Chaplin, the “Peace-Monger”

You Must Remember This, the podcast that tells the secret and forgotten history of 20 th -century Hollywood, is back for a new season. When each episode airs, creator and host Karina Longworth will share some of the research that went into the episode in an excerpt here on Slate. Listen to the complete Episode 7 below, on Charlie Chaplin and the blacklist, and subscribe to You Must Remember This on iTunes.

There’s no credible evidence that Charlie Chaplin was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party—which, remember, was perhaps ill-advised from a public relations point of view, but it was not illegal. If Chaplin was an actual communist, rather than a vocal communist sympathizer, he was more hypocritical than the writers who were mocked, sometimes by one another, as swimming-pool radicals. “Charlie Chaplin gave almost as brilliant a performance in a business meeting as he did in his comedies,” wrote Budd Schulberg, who called Chaplin “another of those idealists who talked socialism and practiced capitalism.” Chaplin lived large and had a habit of entering into relationships that ended expensively, and his personal wealth was tied to United Artists and thus to the wider film industry—so it would have been incredibly difficult for him to divorce himself from the capitalistic structure of the film industry on the whole even if he tried, which it doesn’t seem like he did.

However, if you were someone like J. Edgar Hoover, and you were looking for high-profile targets to suppress to show that you were doing something to eradicate subversives—with Chaplin there was a lot of smoke, which you could point to even if you knew there was no fire. Even more than the people in Hollywood who we now know were active Communist Party members, Chaplin dedicated much of his life and career to subversion. Not subversion of the United States government or social system, necessarily, although certainly he sometimes used his culturally subversive films to critique it. This wasn’t so much of a problem when he was the lovable Little Tramp, even when he was using the Tramp to comment on the soullessness of the industrialized system that was a largely American gift to the march of capitalism. But in the late 1940s and 1950s, when anyone who didn’t support unfettered accumulation and consumption was a potential traitor and anyone whose private life didn’t conform to a squeaky-clean image of the American nuclear family was considered a threat, Chaplin’s history of celebrating the little guy, paired with his pattern of sexual impropriety and his foreign citizenship, all put him on the wrong side of a binary divide.

Chaplin also had a history of saying things that he believed, without worrying about how he’d be perceived—he apparently believed, not totally without reason or historical precedent, that his fame would protect him from any and all negative consequences. As we’ve seen, following The Great Dictator, with its impassioned anti-fascist message, Chaplin spent the next couple of years advocating for a leftist response to what was now a second world war. In several speeches delivered to live audiences and on the radio, Chaplin warmly supported the Soviet army and people. In a speech delivered in San Francisco in 1942, where Chaplin had been asked to fill in for the U.S. ambassador to Russia when the ambassador lost his voice, Chaplin addressed the Russians in the crowd and said, “The way your countrymen are fighting and dying at this very moment, it is an honor and privilege to call you comrades.” Chaplin went further than that in a speech in New York, where he called the Soviet purges of dissidents “a wonderful thing.” At the same appearance he stated, “The only people who object to communism and who use it as a bugaboo are the Nazi agents in this country.”

Even in the midst of the war, when Russia and the U.S. were allies, this last statement was questionable and was either an ill-thought-out exaggeration, or a deliberate taunt to the reactionary media. In late 1942, a columnist named Westbrook Pegler declared that he “would like to know why Charlie Chaplin has been allowed to stay in the United States about forty years without becoming a citizen.”

It was around this time that Orson Welles went to Charlie Chaplin’s house and pitched him on a film about the French murderer Henri Landru. Chaplin calls the proposed film a “documentary” in his autobiography, but it seems like what Welles was proposing was a hybrid of dramatized nonfiction: He and Chaplin would collaborate on a script based around the idea of Chaplin playing Landru. Chaplin quickly decided he wasn’t interested in collaborating on a script. But the more he thought about it, the more he was drawn to the idea of playing the story of a killer like Landru for dark comedy. He offered Welles $5,000 for his idea, and according to Chaplin, Welles accepted. According to Welles, Welles wrote the screenplay, and Chaplin gave him $1,500 for it and deprived him of adequate credit. Welles also called Chaplin “deeply dumb in many ways” and “the cheapest man who ever lived.”

Anyway. Chaplin’s central attraction to this character was, as he put it: “How could this man so methodically take these women out and cut them up and burn them in his incinerator, and then tend his flowers, with the black smoke coming out of the chimney?” The answer, Chaplin decided, was that the killer would have been forced through circumstance to practice a murderous form of capitalism. Monsieur Verdoux would be “a paradox of virtue and vice” who, having lost his job at a bank due to the Depression, marries a series of rich ladies and murders them for their money, to support the basic bourgeois lifestyle requirements of his handicapped wife and young son. Going off the saying that war was the logical extension of diplomacy, Chaplin said, “Verdoux feels that murder is the logical extension of business.”

Even acknowledging the need to rehab his rep following the paternity suit Joan Barry filed against him in 1943, Chaplin admits that he felt unmotivated while working on Monsieur Verdoux, and thus, it took more than two years to complete, even though the shoot only lasted 12 weeks. The censorship office didn’t help matters by rejecting his script flat out. The censors had a number of issues. So many issues, in fact, that in a letter to Chaplin they agreed to “pass over those elements which seem to be anti-social in their concept and significance.” Meaning, “the sections of the story in which Verdoux indicts the ‘System’ and impugns the present-day social structure.”

But they could not accept the speech Chaplin was to make at the end of the film, in which his character creates a moral equivalency between that system, particularly what would later be called the military-industrial complex, and his own serial murders.

The censors also opposed the very idea that a married man would take multiple other wives. “This phase of the story,” claimed the censors, “has about it a distasteful flavor of illicit sex, which in our judgment is not good.” When Chaplin requested a meeting with censorship czar Joseph Breen to discuss the matter, Chaplin was interrogated by an underling who insisted the script was unacceptably anti-Catholic, due to one scene in which the killer is allowed to converse with a priest in prison.

Somehow, Chaplin was able to make just a few minor changes to his script and get the go-ahead to make the movie. While he was putting the finishing touches on the final cut, Chaplin received a summons ordering him to come to Washington on a date to be named later to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Chaplin’s wording is imprecise, but he implies that he was one of the original Unfriendly 19, which no other account claims maybe he would have been the 20 th man, but he was never formally subpoenaed. Instead, he kept receiving postponements, essentially forcing him to put his work on hold while he waiting for an official subpoena with a date and time. All the while, throughout 1946 and the first half of 1947, Chaplin was frequently invoked as an example of Hollywood filth by legislators like William Langer and John Rankin, who publicly suggested that Chaplin should be deported. But still the subpoena didn’t come.

Finally, Chaplin decided to force the issue by sending HUAC a telegram:

To this telegram, as Chaplin later wrote, “I received a surprisingly courteous reply to the effect that my appearance would not be necessary, and that I could consider the matter closed.”

Of course, it was not, because it wasn’t just HUAC who was after him. Chaplin’s real enemies were J. Edgar Hoover and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. And there were plenty of other journalists and activists eager to tar and feather the Little Tramp. Instead of going to Washington in the fall of 1947 with the Hollywood Ten, Chaplin donated $1,000 to their defense and went to New York to launch Monsieur Verdoux. Before he even arrived, the Daily News called him a “fellow traveller” and announced their intention to make him answer “one or two embarrassing questions” at a press conference planned in support of his film.

At the press conference the next day, Chaplin opened by joking about the negative reaction to the film. He greeted the media by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I am not going to waste your time. I should say— proceed with the butchery. If there’s any question anybody wants to ask, I’m here, fire away at this old gray head.”

The first reporter to speak was a woman seated in the front row. She asked Chaplin, “Are you a communist?” He responded, “No. The next question please.”

Then, Chaplin was barraged with questions from an interloper representing the Catholic War Veterans, who demanded to know why the British-born Chaplin hadn’t become an American citizen. When a reporter noted that Chaplin seemed “to like communists,” Chaplin said, “Nobody is going to tell me whom to like or dislike. We haven’t come to that yet.”

But of course, we had. The only friendly voice at the press conference was James Agee’s. The screenwriter, film critic, and novelist, then a reporter for Time magazine, asked: “How does it feel to be an artist who has enriched the world with so much happiness and understanding of the little people, and to be derided and held up to hate and scorn by the so-called representatives of the American press?” Chaplin was so flustered that he couldn’t provide an answer. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “I thought this conference was to be an interview about my film instead it has turned into a political brawl, so I have nothing further to say.”

At Monsieur Verdoux’s premiere, the audience laughed—at the movie. All Chaplin could hear were hisses. He and his partners in United Artists had been counting on the movie grossing at least $12 million, and they needed it to do close to that to make back its cost and to bail the studio out of debt that had accrued while Chaplin had been distracted by other things. Arthur Kelly of United Artists found Chaplin in the lobby after the movie and said, “‘Of course, it’s not going to gross any 12 million.”

Monsieur Verdoux did good business in New York for a few weeks, and then tumbleweeds started floating through the theaters. Maybe Chaplin’s faithful fans were enough to fill theaters for about a month, but the general public had been scared off by a decade’s worth of negative headlines. Or maybe audiences didn’t know how to respond to, and didn’t spread positive word of mouth about, a film whose protagonist was a not entirely unsympathetic serial killer whose backyard incinerator evoked the Holocaust while his self-defense, in damning atomic warfare, implicated each and every American viewer in capitalistic war crimes.

Of course, those who were convinced Chaplin was a dangerous subversive were not about to let the market decide his fate. The film was picketed by Catholics in New Jersey and banned by theater owners in Ohio. The American Legion pressured theater owners to stop showing it in Denver. Eventually, United Artists removed the film from general release.

To hear the rest of the story, listen to You Must Remember This Episode 7, “Monsieur Verdoux: Charlie Chaplin’s Road to Hollywood Exile.”


15 Artists, Shows, and Works Censored in 2016

Censorship was alive and well in 2016. From China to Turkey, the United States, and Italy, it was a year full of suppression and prohibition of artists, artworks, and exhibitions.

In art, as in journalism, censorship hurts the public’s ability to process and act on information, impeding our ability to observe or discuss issues of critical social and political importance.

Here’s a look at some of this year’s acts of art censorship.

1. Austria: Artists Tanja Ostojić and Alexander Nikolić, from BOEM collective, allege censorship at the Q21 Exhibition Space, Vienna

Leading image for “AJNHAJTCLUB,” at frei_raum Q21 exhibition space/MuseumsQuartier Wien. Still of work by Marta Popivoda, “Yugoslavia-how ideology moved our collective body” (2013), film. (image courtesy Artleaks)

Censorship in Western museums and galleries appears to be on the rise. The exhibition, AJNHAJTCLUB, which opened at the frei_raum Q21 exhibition space in July, billed as an investigation on the history of “Gastarbeiter” (“Guest Workers”) in Austria. On the invitation of exhibition curator, Bogomir Doringer, artists Tanja Ostojić and Alexander Nikolić were invited to participate. According to Art Leaks, they submitted a proposal that was accepted around an event: the marking of the 50th anniversary of the signing of an agreement between former Yugoslavia and Austria, regarding the recruitment of guest workers between the two countries. The artists proposed a durational performance that would act as training for local museums to provide guided tours in Serbian and familiar languages of former Yugoslav guest workers now based in Austria. However, the artists allege censorship after it was revealed Sebastian Kurz, an Austrian politician who advocates strongly for closed borders and harsher immigration laws, was to be a speaker at the opening. The artists allege their budget was suspended, and were given no promotion or marketing support from Q21, resulting in a total lack of visibility within the exhibition’s framework, which ultimately destined the project for failure.

2. Cuba: Artist Danilo Maldonado Machado is detained for performatively celebrating Fidel Castro’s death

Maldonado’s “Pork” (2014), installation as shown in Miami in 2016 (image courtesy Danilo Maldonado Machado)

In November, Cuban dissident artist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado Machado was detained by police after he released a video celebrating the death of Fidel Castro. In the video, posted on social media, the artist rants against Castro calling him a “mare.” The Cuban police constituted this as falling under the criminal offense of “disrespect.” This was not the first time Maldonado has been in trouble with the Cuban authorities. In December 2014, he spent 10 months in prison for painting the names “Fidel” and “Raul” on a pair of pigs.

3. China: Exhibition Jian, Rape: Gender Violence Cultural Codes is cancelled at Ginkgo Space Gallery, Beijing

Xiao Lu’s “15 Shots” (2003) (image courtesy Xiao Lu)

Officials closed down an exhibition at Ginkgo Space, a commercial gallery in Beijing’s Sanlitun-Gongti district, which would have been the first show to introduce the idea of gender equality in China. The exhibition, Jian, Rape: Gender Violence Cultural Codes, was to include 32 female and 32 male artists. “The closure by local officials could be a result of sensitivity to any open discussion of human rights in China,” said artist and organizer of the exhibition, Cui Guangxia, to The Art Newspaper.

4. China: Ai Weiwei work flagged and censored at the Yinchuan Biennale

Ai Weiwei’s response on Twitter to his exclusion from the Yinchuan Biennale (image courtesy Ai Weiwei)

Ai Weiwei is no stranger to censorship. In a work scheduled to open this past September, the Chinese artist proposed literally scribbling a red line onto the facade of the Yinchuan Museum of Contemporary Art. The playful work was intended to reflect on the idea of censorship, which is omnipresent in China, but was excluded from the show by the institution’s artistic director, Suchen Hsieh, who sent Ai the following feeble justification:

Bose [Krishnamachari, Indian artist and curator of the biennale] and I invited you to participate in this year’s Yinchuan Biennale because we sincerely admire your artwork. But things change in this world. Even though your project is full of philosophical awareness, an artist’s prestige overshadows his work. The autumn wind is blowing around us. The museum has no choice but to rescind its invitation to you. It’s very unfortunate that the conditions don’t allow us to display your artwork […] This is the second time I must clasp my hands together and bow to you from afar. Please accept my deep apologies.

5. China: Sun Xun’s video work shut down at the private Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai

Sun Xun (image courtesy Peng Peng)

Artist Sun Xun’s work was censored this past November at the Minsheng Art Museum. According to The Art Newsapaper, the work “unable to be shown as part of the exhibition due to non-technical reasons.” It was to be featured in a group exhibition, Everyday Legend, examining trajectories in contemporary Chinese art. Though no reason was given by the Shanghai Cultural Bureau, which is the official organization responsible for policing culture, Xun’s work has become well known for dealing with politically sensitive themes. In an exhibition from 2014 at the Edouard Malingue Gallery in Hong Kong, Xun managed to evade censorship while displaying works that challenged the hegemony of China’s “official” history. While household names like Ai Weiwei and Guo Jian face well-known issues of censorship in China, it is often smaller artists and exhibitions that go unnoticed by Western media.

6. Italy: Officials in Rome censor nude sculptures at Musei Capitolini to accommodate visiting Iranian head of state.

In January, officials in Italy faced a censorship fiasco after censoring famous nude statues in advance of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to the Musei Capitolini. As news of the censored works quickly went viral, officials scrambled to save face. The marble sculptures were hidden behind white boxes during the tour given to the Iranian head of state. Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini described the censure as “incomprehensible,” while then Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, denied knowing anything about it.

7. Romania: Artist Darja Bajagić alleges censorship in row over work depicting Nazi swastika.

Darja Bajagić’s “Bucharest Molly” (image courtesy the artist)

In May of this year, New York-based artist, Darja Bajagić, faced censorship at Bucharest’s Galeria Nicodim for a work entitled “Bucharest Molly” (2016). The motion-activated work depicts a woman in jeans with the words “Heil Hitler,” holding a red a teddy bear embezzled with a swastika oozing black liquid. The piece was commissioned for an exhibition called Omul Negru, curated by Aaron Moulton, and was set to explore “an anthology of evil words and images.” While Bajagić maintains the work was censored on account of its hyperconformity to the theme, Moulton argues it was part of an “editorial process.”

8. Russia: Jock Sturges’s exhibition Absence of Shame is censored in Moscow for depicting images of nude girls.

A protester threw urine on Jock Sturges’s photographs on display at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography in Moscow (screenshot via cppoficery on Instagram)

In September, a retrospective of the work of US photographer, Jock Sturges, was censored at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography for what state officials described as “propaganda of pedophilia.” The exhibition, Absence of Shame, depicted many of Sturges’s most well-known works, many of them depicting young nude girls, taken while the photographer was documenting nudist colonies in France. Pro-Kremlin Senator Yelena Mizulina, who’s also currently the chairman of the Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs, said to Russian State TV that “this is propaganda of pedophilia in the most accurate sense of the word.” In an absurdist twist of events not long after Mizulina made her comments, a protester entered the gallery yelling “shame!” before splashing the photographs with a canister full of urine.

9. Saudi Arabia: Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh who was previously sentenced to death, will now spend eight years in prison and receive 800 lashes, for his book of poetry allegedly “renouncing Islam.”

Ashraf Fayadh (screenshot via YouTube)

Censorship is perhaps most acutely felt in regimes like Saudi Arabia, where free speech and expression is totally subdued, prohibited, and suppressed. Take the case of Palestinian poet Ashraf Fayadh, member of the London-based nonprofit Edge of Arabia, sentenced earlier this year to eight years in prison and 800 lashes for apostasy. The acclaimed poet, curator, and artist was initially sentenced to death over the case, which provoked a public outcry around the world, including a petition circulated by Amnesty International that received over 44,000 signatures. The case is a chilling example of how censorship and freedom of speech remain curtailed in totalitarian regimes like Saudi Arabia.

10. Serbia: Kamerades Collective cancels exhibition after the artists’ work disappears from the Belgrade Cultural Center.

Four photographs of overpainted posters of the Serbian election campaign 2012 removed without consultation of the artists at the Belgrade Cultural Center (KCB) (image courtesy Artleaks and Kamerades Collective)

Sometimes institutions make the unprecedented move to censor an artwork without even so much as consulting the artists. In March, five days after the opening of an exhibition at the Belgrade Cultural Center, artists from Kamerades Collective say their work disappeared, removed from the gallery’s walls without even so much as their consultation. The works in question, four photographs of overpainted election posters featuring Serbian politicians, were to serve as an integral part of the exhibition visible from the gallery’s window onto the street. According to Ivona Jevtić, director of the Belgrade Cultural Center, the works were removed because the institution needed a special license and permission of the monument preservation office in Belgrade.

11. Singapore: M1 Fringe Festival cancels two of its performances due to government censorship.

Thea Fritz-James’ “Naked Ladies,” censored at M1 Singapore Fringe Festival (image courtesy M1 and Paul John)

In December, M1, Singapore’s Fringe Festival, announced it was cancelling two performances — Ming Poon’s “Undressing Room” and Thea Fitz-James’ “Naked Ladies” — citing an assessment provided to the organizers by the Info-Communications Media Development Authority (IMDA), which stated that the works have exceeded the R18 rating under the Arts Entertainment Classification Code (AEC). The IMDA’s assessment said the works displayed “excessive nudity,” as reported by the Online Citizen. The organizers insisted they would not be willing to compromise or make adjustments to the work.

12. South Korea: South Korea allegedly creates blacklist of 9,000 artists, preventing them from receiving government funding.

The Associated Press broke a story in December alleging a blacklist in South Korea that prevented 9,000 artists deemed unfriendly to the impeached President Park Geun-hye from receiving government funding or using state venues. A special prosecution team will question Mo Chul-min, who was Park’s senior secretary for education and culture from 2013 to 2014, under accusations that there was widespread institutional collusion to actively censor artists who criticized the government’s inaction in a ferry disaster in 2014, which killed 300 people in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. AP alleges the blacklist includes some of South Korea’s most recognizable names in art, cinema, theater, and music.

13. Spain: The Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona cancels exhibition The Beast and the Sovereign, co-organized with Wurttemberg Kunstverein.

Exhibition shot, MACBA 2015: Sculpture: Ines Doujak, “Not Dressed for Conquering / HC 04 Transport” (2011-ongoing), part of the project “Loomshuttles / Warpaths” (2010-ongoing) (Courtesy Artleaks and MACBA)

Four days into an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA), The Beast and the Sovereign, co-produced by the Wurttemberg Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart, it was quietly cancelled due to curators’ refusal to remove a sculpture by artist Ines Doujak. The work in question, “Not Dressed for Conquering,” was deemed inappropriate by MACBA director, Bartomeu Mari, on the basis of its morally risqué content. Rather than face criticism from Spain’s vocal Catholic and Conservative groups, Mari took the step of censuring the work, prompting the curators of the exhibition, Hans D. Christ, Iris Dressler, Paul B. Preciado, and Valentín Roma, to cancel the entire exhibition in response. The work also faced some problems at the last São Paulo Biennial, curated by Charles Esche, which came in the form of a verbal report by an education official from the state of São Paulo. A new wall had to be erected for the work with a sign specifying its “potentially inappropriate” content.

14. Turkey: Istanbul gallery Akbank Sanat cancels Post-Peace exhibition.

Akbank Sanat’s space on İstiklal Avenue in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district (photo courtesy Akbank Sanat)

In February, five days prior to opening, Post-Peace was cancelled by Akbank Sanat in a move the institution cited as responding to the ongoing “delicate situation in Turkey.” Though the precise reason for Akbank Sanat’s cancellation remains unknown, sources close to the situation cited works in the show that dealt with Kurdish identity as a likely reason. Katia Krupennikova, winner of Akbank Sanat’s fourth Annual International Curator Competition, said in response the show was intended to serve as “a place for people to engage with different perspectives on issues relevant in the Turkish context and beyond.” Thankfully, the exhibition has garnered a second life and will be presented in its entirety at the Wurttemberg Kunstverein (WKV) Stuttgart in early 2017.

15. United States: The Red Dot fair in Miami removes anti-Trump art project one day after election.

T. Rutt, “Flag desecration artwork” (2016) (image courtesy T. Rutt)

In November, the Red-Dot Art Fair in Miami decided to remove the work of leftist art collective, t.Rutt, who spent much of 2016 following the Donald Trump campaign in a repurposed tour bus of the President-elect. Part of what irked organizers was a large flag included in the work, which T. Rutt embroidered with Trump’s comments from the leaked Access Hollywood tape. In response, Eric Smith, president and CEO of the Ohio-based Redwood Media Group (which acquired Red Dot earlier this year), said in an email to Hyperallergic that, “In light of the surprising results [of the election], I’ve decided to pass on both the bus display and flag.” It’s indeed a sad day when rather than censuring an admitted sexual predator’s ability to assume America’s highest office, the work of artists repurposing and spreading Trump’s lascivious comments are censored instead.

Looking Forward: 2017

In 2017, it gives me no pleasure to predict that artists will remain acutely under threat by various forms of overt and covert censorship. Ultimately, censorship suspends our ability to reason and make sense of the world. However, the consequences of censorship are qualitatively different in countries that actively police it. As such, the effect it has on the arts radically differs from country to country. At best, censorship keeps citizens from deliberating or otherwise knowing about crucial social and political issues. At worst, censorship imprisons and kills those who cross its threshold. To endure self-censorship, is to endure a blinding ignorance, a fogging of the logos. To endure overt censorship, conversely, is to experience something much more terrifying: physical danger that renders artists and journalists totally vulnerable, exposed to the violent mechanisms of the state. In contemporary art, perhaps one of the last vestiges of free speech in the West, artists have a responsibility to continuously call into question, probe, and critique the world around them.


8. Charlie Sheen

The man who was one of the highest paid actors took his stupidity and drug addiction to an unforgivable level and destroyed his career in seconds. The painful decline of this film star began when he got fired from television shows for several reasons including drug addictions and anti-Semitic comments. His derogatory comments about Chuck Lorre gave his career a red signal and his acts of stupidity got covered and broadcasted by mainstream media. Sheen told media persons, during several TV and radio interviews, that he was a “warlock” and that too with “tiger blood.” His insanity went to a level that he even started uploading videos of himself smoking and cursing his employers. According to him, he was a rock star from Mars. He was right, of course, because his acts were not at all normal and were completely different from anyone living on earth. He also revealed that he had HIV and he after knowing this fact, he had sexual relations with around 200 partners.


11 Jaw-Dropping Scandals from the Turn of the Century

Debauchery, skullduggery, and other –erys were rampant in late 19th and early 20th century society. Check out 11 scandals that caused more than one decent citizen to nearly drop her hand fan.

1. The First Trial of the Century

Evelyn Nesbit arrived in New York City in 1900 as a 15-year-old ingénue, climbing the social ranks and forging a modeling career. She also attracted her share of inappropriate attention, including untoward advances from 50-something Stanford White. When Nesbit’s husband, Harry Thaw, learned of White’s sexual impropriety years after the fact, he did what any gentleman would do: He shot White dead in front of hundreds of witnesses. Thaw was no prize himself—he had a reputation as a cocaine fiend and woman-beater—but the public nonetheless sided with him over White, who was married at the time of his indiscretion (Nesbit, who would marry Thaw later, was not then attached). Thaw was committed to a mental institution before being released in 1915.

2. The Preacher and the Parishioner

An incendiary speaker, Reverend Henry Ward Beecher was quite possibly the most famous minister of 19th century America. Despite all the goodwill equity he had built up over the years, the public was aghast when Beecher was accused of sleeping with a married parishioner in 1872. The woman’s husband, Theodore Tilton, sued Beecher in 1875 for the act of “criminal conversation” and demanded $100,000 in restitution. The jury found him not guilty he resumed his pulpit, and spent the next decade campaigning for presidents and commenting on public affairs.

3. The Affairs of Lady Mordaunt

The collective skirts of Victorian society were practically blown off by the news that married socialite Lady Harriet Mordaunt had been carrying on with the Prince of Wales and other partners in 1870s Warwickshire. Mordaunt confessed to her husband, Charles, after her child was suspected of having syphilis. When Charles demanded a divorce, Harriet attempted to evade a separation by claiming insanity, eating coal, and smashing dishes. The ruse worked a little too well: She was hauled off to a mental institution.

4. The Black Dress That Caused Pandemonium

French artist John Singer Sargent hoped his work would draw notice, but he could never have imagined the hysteria that followed his Portrait of Madame X. An oil painting completed in 1884, Sargent used socialite Virginie Gautreau as his model, depicting her wearing a black dress held up by two narrow straps. Parisian culture took one look at her naked shoulders and wedding ring and assumed the worst. Sargent was demonized: His career in tatters, he headed for a fresh start in London. Virginie was forever shunned by high society.

5. The Married Couple Handbook

1877 was not a good year to argue against sexual repression. It was particularly egregious if you happened to be a feminist or an atheist, which Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were, respectively. The two took it upon themselves to republish a work titled Fruits of Philosophy: or The Private Companion of Young Married Couples, a how-to in contraceptive habits. So damaged were delicate public sensibilities that Besant and Bradlaugh were put on trial. (This was not unexpected, as previous publishers had been arrested and indeed, getting their case to trial was their goal, in order to challenge a new obscenity law.) A jury found the work indecent but preferred not to hold them responsible for it. (The judge disagreed, sentencing them to 6 months in prison, but that got overturned on a technicality.) Despite warnings, they kept selling the book. The case is credited with raising awareness of birth control.

6. The One-Piece Swimsuit

To understand famed Australian swimmer Annette Kellerman’s bravado, you have to have a grasp on how hopelessly proper the beaches of the early 1900s were. Australia had banned daylight swimming or bathing, and female swimsuits were almost religious affairs, covering the wearer from head to toe. But Kellerman rejected this notion, preferring a tighter one-piece suit that left the arms and legs bare. She was arrested in 1907 for subjecting fellow beach-goers in Massachusetts to such horrors.

7. Grover Cleveland’s Campaign Woes

Cleveland will go down in history as the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, but his first term in office was nearly waylaid by a campaign scandal. In 1874, it was revealed that he had fathered an illegitimate child and was paying the mother support. Cleveland was still able to capture the vote by owning up to the incident—though he was a bit of a glutton for punishment, later marrying a woman 27 years his junior while still in the White House.

8. The Tranby Croft Affair

Mustaches bristled when a gaming scandal involving the Prince of Wales become the talk of Britain in 1890. The prince was playing at the estate of Arthur Wilson, who hosted a card game that also included army officer William Gordon-Cumming. As the games continued, the party noticed Gordon-Cumming was altering his bet after the cards had been dealt. After some likely exclamations of “I say!” and protracted harrumphing, both Gordon-Cumming and the prince were dragged through public mud. Cheating was bad, but gambling was no better: It was illegal.

9. Mary Pickford, Divorcée

Silent film star Pickford tested her audience’s adoration of her by committing an unthinkable act: She divorced her husband, Owen Moore, in 1920, and married Douglas Fairbanks less than a month later. The two had tried to keep their affair a secret, as Fairbanks was also married. Once word got out, Pickford’s career might have been derailed if not for the fact that Moore was reported to be abusive. Pickford’s action evolved from scandalous to courageous, and her reputation emerged unscathed.

10. The Rainbow Trial

D.H. Lawrence, author of the controversial Lady Chatterley’s Lover, also faced criticism for an earlier novel depicting sexual acts, 1915’s The Rainbow. Publisher Methuen was nervous off the bat, fearing the UK’s Obscene Publications Act of 1857 would bring trouble they even resorted to edits without Lawrence’s knowledge. After an outcry and trial, all copies were burnt and their sale prohibited.

11. The Dancing Marquis

Henry Paget may not have invented the phrase “spoiled brat,” but he certainly did enough to cement its definition. After his father died in 1898, Paget, the 5th Marquis of Anglesey, inherited property that earned roughly £110,000 annually (today, that would be equivalent to £55 million). He proceeded to spend his windfall on complete frivolity that captivated the public and press: He collected silk gowns, covered his bedroom in velvet, and even modified his car’s exhaust to spray perfume. He was so material-minded that his wife, Lilian, demanded an annulment, allegedly because he preferred to cover her naked body in jewels rather than make love.

Paget went on to build a playhouse so he could perform with a hired repertory company: His specialty was a fluid, vaguely erotic dance routine. By 1904, his spending had so far outpaced his bank account that he sold most of his belongings to pay off his debts—not even his parrot was safe from creditors.

The Newport Bellacourts have never met a scandal they didn’t like. Tune in to Comedy Central Tuesdays at 10:30/ 9:30c on Comedy Central and on the Comedy Central app to see what they're up to next.