Isobel Lennart

Isobel Lennart

Isobel Lennart was born in Brooklyn, New York 1915. She moved to Hollywood where she found work in the MGM mail room. A member of the Young Communist League, she was sacked in 1934 when she attempted to organize a union. Lennart joined the Communist Party in 1939 but left five years later.

Lennart's first script, The Affairs of Martha, was filmed in 1942. This was followed by A Stranger in Town (1943), Lost Angel (1943), Anchors Aweigh (1945), Holiday in Mexico (1946) and It Happened in Brooklyn (1947).

In 1947 the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. The HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses". During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views.

One of those named, Bertolt Brecht, an emigrant playwright, gave evidence and then left for East Germany. Ten others: Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Samuel Ornitz,, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Dmytryk, Ring Lardner Jr., John Howard Lawson and Alvah Bessie refused to answer any questions.

Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The House of Un-American Activities Committee and the courts during appeals disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of congress and each was sentenced to between six and twelve months in prison.

Lennart was one of those named and was asked to appear before the HUAC. Her employers, MGM, told her she had to testify if she wanted to remain a scriptwriter in Hollywood. On 25th May, 1952, she gave the names of twenty-one people who she knew had been members of the Communist Party.

After her testimony Lennart was removed from the blacklist. Other films that she wrote included The Girl Next Door (1953), Love Me or Leave Me (1955), Meet Me in Las Vagas (1956), Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958), The Sundowners (1960), Two for the Seesaw(1962) and Funny Girl (1968). Isobel Lennart died on 25th January, 1971.

Primary Sources

(1) Isobel Lennart was interviewed by Robert Vaughn in 1970.

The FBI asked me a million questions. They said they had information that I had been a member of the Young Communist League when I was sixteen in New York. They wanted to know about John Garfield and Bromberg. I had two sessions when they asked me about names and I answered quite honestly. Then MGM called me in and said: "We can't protect you any longer and this time you're going to have to testify."

(2) Isobel Lennart was interviewed by Frank Tavenner of the House of Un-American Activities Committee on 25th May, 1952.

Frank Tavenner: When you look back upon your experience don't you agree that a person cannot be a member of the Communist Party without doing harm, because by being a member you are lending your moral assistance and your aid to those of the Communist Party who are out, unquestionably, to do harm.

Isobel Lennart: I most certainly believe that now. Most certainly. I believe with you. You can't be as irresponsible as to think that what you specifically are doing is all there is to it. You have to see how this ties in with what other people are doing, and you have to consider yourself a party to it, and that is why I did not want to be in it.

(3) Isobel Lennart was interviewed by Robert Vaughn in 1970.

I believe with all my heart that it was wrong to cooperate with this terrible Committee in any way, and I believe that I was wrong. I believe I did a minimum of damage, but I still believe it was wrong. I had a much bigger reaction to it than I thought I would. I've never gotten over it. I've always felt an inferior citizen because of this.

(4) John Harding was interviewed by Victor Navasky after the death of his wife in 1971.

Her decision (to testify before the HUAC) was one she regretted all her life. Isobel's final decision was based on pressure from me and her lawyer. Our argument was that everybody she knew had been named so she would not be hurting anybody.