Over the past few years, Paul Buhle—the indefatigable labor historian, comic book maven, C.L.R. James expert, and gentile Yiddishist—has gone Hollywood. All but cornering the market in blacklist studies, Buhle and his associates now occupy nearly half my shelf on the subject. The wonderful oral history Tender Comrades, compiled with ace interviewer Patrick McGilligan, was published in 1997; it was followed in 2001 by Buhle and political journalist Dave Wagner’s biography of blacklistee Abraham Polonsky and a year later by their history of movieland leftists, Radical Hollywood.
With Hide in Plain Sight, Buhle and Wagner track the careers of their tender comrades through the wasteland of the ’50s (TV, genre movies, European exile) and then, after the thaw of the early ’60s, back to Hollywood. Like Radical Hollywood, its sequel is at once shrewd and sanguine in its analysis, marred by sloppy fact-checking, and generally more interested in the human story than the one on-screen. There are exceptions: The book’s treatment of certain mid-’50s sci-fi films is new and persuasive, and the writers are affectionate bloodhounds at tracking the peregrinations of the Popular Front mentalité.
Having created a multi-volume, half-century-plus history of the Hollywood left, Buhle and Wagner add a pop addendum in Blacklisted: The Film Lover’s Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist. Closer to the cultish Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film than to Leonard Maltin’s ongoing Movie and Video Guide (but less obsessive than either), Blacklisted is eccentric in its inclusions but can be readily mined for fun facts: Who knew that True Grit, the movie that gave John Wayne his 1969 Oscar, was written by a blacklisted former Communist?