Although he wasn’t directly part of the Red Scare during the McCarthy era, writer Sy Gomberg was a well-respected, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and Professor who was only too aware of that particularly dark period of our culture.
As careers were destroyed and livelihoods were reduced to poverty, the infamous reign of terror, the wave of innuendos and finger-pointing and the sheer level of terror that swept over Hollywood long after the witch hunts of HUAC were over, were alive and well and active into the 1960s.
That blacklisted writers either left the business entirely or went under assumed names was only part of the damage the McCarthy hearings leveled on the industry. It created an aura of fear and a reverting back to the era of censorship and The Hayes Code and a puritanical mindfulness that many felt did permanent damage to an art form.
That may not be true today – the aura of fear takes on a different set of circumstances now – and with cable (which there wasn’t to any appreciable extent in 1975 when this interview/discussion first happened), the playing field and the audience has changed and cable has changed the playing field as far as censorship goes.
The first part of this discussion/interview features Gomberg discussing the McCarthy era and then switches after a screening of French Connection II to a discussion over censorship and artistic freedom. Sadly, all the questions from the audience are inaudible, so rather than leave large blank chunks, the questions/blank spaces are edited out to give at least some coherence to what was a great and informative (and very ironic) view of our society from a film/TV standpoint in the 1950s and in 1975.
A dark period in our culture from almost 70 years ago, coupled with an assessment of our culture some 41 years ago makes for an interesting snapshot, as seen in 2016. Sadly, Sy Gomberg died in February of 2001. In addition to his work in screenwriting an teaching, he was also a prominent activist during the Civil Rights Movement and was an outspoken critic of the over-use of gratuitous and unpunished violence on the Film and TV screen.
Here’s a reminder of another set of dark days in our culture – as recounted by Sy Gomberg during a UCLA Film School Lecture series entitled Who Wrote The Movie – recorded on April 28, 1975.