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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Defending various writers against HUAC

Pollitt offers anecdotal descriptions of some of the loyalty and security cases he worked on during the McCarthy era in Washington, D.C. Having established himself as a lawyer for civil liberties early in his career, Pollitt worked to defend people against the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In particular, he describes his defense of people from the <cite>Brooklyn Eagle</cite>, a newspaper accused of having Communist loyalties, and playwright Lillian Hellman.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, November 27, 1990. Interview L-0064-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ANN MCCOLL:
Can you talk some more about basic loyalty and security cases and the Congressional hearings? I mean what was it like to represent them? What did they do?
DANIEL POLLITT:
It was tough. The sequence would go like this. They would find somebody who had been a member of a Communist study group or like…
ANN MCCOLL:
Who would be finding these?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Well, I represented some people from the "Brooklyn Eagle" and there had been a group of young people in the "Brooklyn Eagle" newspaper in the late '30's. They'd joined the Newspaper Guild which was just sort of starting out at that time and they'd had a strike. And some of them had been members of the Communist Party and they were either in the Guild or the Communist Party or both and it didn't make any difference to any of them what it was. And there was some son of a bitch whose name I forget who was CBS correspondent in Rome and he covered the Vatican and he'd been there at the "Brooklyn Eagle". Somehow they got him to go before House Committee on Unamerican Activities, and he said, "I was a Communist and I was duped and I regret it and now I'm a loyal American and please let me have my job with CBS. I'll name names and here are the names who were with me." So he named six people. He named my client who had not been a member of the Communist Party, but whose wife had been a member of the Communist Party. This CBS fellow had dated his wife and lost out to my client. And he didn't name the wife, but he named the guy who wasn't. So there we are. We're up there and all of them, I think, pleaded the fifth. My guy pleaded the fifth, but they took a recess. Well, first you go into Executive Session. This was a Senate committee of some sort and you go into Executive Session; they want to find out what you are going to do. You say, "I'm going to plead the fifth. My client's going to plead the fifth. Leave us alone." And you go in there and we had the recess. I went out to tell the wife what was going on and they were getting my client and saying that he was being duped by a Communist lawyer. Me. And then one of the Senators - I'll never forget it - came up to me outside and said, "You look like a loyal American. Why don't you do your client a favor and have him name two names and we'll let him go."
ANN MCCOLL:
What senator was this?
DANIEL POLLITT:
It was the senator from Idaho. At the time I thought this was disgusting. So we went back in and we pleaded the fifth and then they say, "Okay, you pleaded the fifth. You're not going to cooperate. We're now going to put you in the public session." So we go into the public session and there are the lights and the television and they always have a big audience. There's somebody in town; the Women's Club from something.
ANN MCCOLL:
And this was sort of a sort of a sport to come in and watch this?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. It was a big thing to go down and watch HUAC and so on. So then you plead the fifth and they say, one guy said, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party." "On the advice of counsel I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it will incriminate me." "Well, would it incriminate you…. Did you ever engage in espionage? Will a truthful answer to that incriminate you?" And then, "On advice of counsel…." Then they'd say, "Were you ever a member of a Communist group?" "On the advice of counsel…." And then they'd say, "Was so and so in your group?" And they'd name his boss who had never been in the group. Now what's the guy going to say? Fifth Amendment? "You mean to tell me that answering an honest question about your boss would incriminate you?" See, if you answer anything you open the door and you waive your rights. So that was their trick. So I had some people from Harvard Medical School and they asked him, "Is the President of Harvard in your study group?" "Fifth Amendment," you know. But you were a pariah. You walk out of there and everybody gets out of the way. Nobody wants to be near you. The client loses his job. One guy from the "Brooklyn Eagle" was in public relations. He represented the City of New York. They cancelled before he got back to New York. We represented Arthur Miller.
ANN MCCOLL:
The playwright?
DANIEL POLLITT:
The playwright. We represented a lot of big shots as well. What's her name? Marilyn Monroe. She was married to Arthur Miller.
ANN MCCOLL:
Lillian Hellman.
DANIEL POLLITT:
Lillian Hellman. She was great. The story with Lillian Hellman is that she sort of had a crush on my boss, Joe Rauh. It's like a doctor, you know. You are emotionally at the lowest ebb possible and you're seeking support and here's a big, tall, strong man who knows what he's doing and you can cry on his shoulder. Well, he didn't particularly like her. So we went in and Lillian Hellman said a very famous thing. "I will not cut my fashions to meet this year's something or other," you know. So we left there in a taxi cab and Lillian says to Joe Rauh, "I'd like a drink. Why don't we stop at the Statler?" which is a block from the office. It was eleven o'clock in the morning. And Joe says, "Okay, Dan will take you in and I'll go to the office and see about phone calls. Then I'll join you." So he stopped at the Statler and Lillian and I go in and I said, "I don't know whether he's coming back or not. I sure hope he does." Because we went in and ordered a martini. Then I thought that Joe wasn't coming. It had been a half an hour. I reached for my wallet and I don't have my wallet. I don't have any money. So I could think of nothing to do except have another martini. So we were on about the fourth martini and Joe was obviously not coming and we're both pretty looped. Avril Harriman came in who had been the Ambassador to Russia during World War II when Lillian Hellman had gone there to cheer up the troops or something. And she'd got stuck and so she had to spend three weeks in the embassy and she knew him pretty well. So he saw us and he came over and sat down. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and kept going. [laughter]
ANN MCCOLL:
And so they were left with the tab?
DANIEL POLLITT:
They were left with it, but he's a millionaire and a billionaire so it was all right. But that was Lillian Hellman. But the serious part was that she got called because somebody had named her. She was willing to tell all about herself and deny that she'd ever been a Communist. But she, in actor's classes or whatever, Screen Writers Guild, had known some that were. But she was not going to name them. She wrote a letter to the committee saying, "I will tell you all about myself waiving my rights to the Fifth Amendment if you will agree not to ask me about anybody else. And if you want information how it all worked, I'll tell you all about me." But we didn't get a reply so we got into the committee room and it was packed. It's a great big room. There were five hundred people there to see Lillian Hellman and they said, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" And she said, "Well, did you get my letter?" And they said, "Yes," or something. They have the press table there and the press reached over for a copy of the letter. Joe Rauh gave me a bundle and said, "Give them to the press." So I got up to give them to the press and the chairman said, "We don't allow Communists to hand out propaganda in our hearing room." So I looked at Joe and Joe said, "Give them the things." So I started to give them and the chairman said, "Sergeant at Arms, arrest that man." So I threw the letters at the press table and ran back and sat down on the other side of Lillian. I'd rather be thrown out than lose my job, you know. Then she said it so well. And only a playwright of great repute could…. It was a very moving statement. And they were not moved and dismissed us and we left. Now she had written a play, "The Children Upstairs" or something. It was a very famous play and they were having a re-run. It was opening on Broadway that very night. The American Legion picketed it and it closed after one showing because the publicity of "Lillian Hellman pleads the fifth before Congressional Committee."