The Hollywood Blacklist Then And Now: The Late Actor Orson Bean On Anti-American 'Propaganda'

Orson Bean conservative hollywood
Actor Orson Bean, a conservative in liberal Hollywood, attends the premiere of Columbia Picture's 'The Equalizer 2' at TCL Chinese Theatre on July 17, 2018 in Hollywood, California. Bean was killed in a car accident on February 7, 2020. Getty/Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

I had my first conversation with actor Orson Bean shortly after the 2012 death of his son-in-law, Andrew Breitbart, the political commentator who was a sworn enemy of activist progressives. I spoke with him again last year at a gathering with a half-dozen other celebrities who shared his politics. Bean expressed his passion for his Christian faith and conservative values while cursing like the proverbial sailor.

On both occasions, the actor reminisced about being blacklisted as a suspected Communist in the 1950's, comparing that era to modern-day Hollywood. He asked me not to publish these comments while he was alive. Bean died Feb. 7 after two cars struck him as he walked in the Venice area of Los Angeles.

Since then, Newsweek has learned that a miniseries is in the works with the working title The Orson Bean Show, which touches on his political transformation and his eventual embrace of Christianity and explores the actor-comedian's long tenure in Hollywood. He was instrumental in launching Barbra Streisand's career when he booked her on The Tonight Show while guest-hosting for Jack Paar, for example. "Orson Bean was so sweet. So kind. He put me on my first TV show," Streisand tweeted after Bean was killed at age 91.

The five-part series, which is seeking a home on a TV network or streaming service, is directed by Julian Whatley and produced by Frank Samuel; it features appearances by dozens of celebrities, alive and dead, such as Johnny Carson, Joan Rivers, Dustin Hoffman and Sonny and Cher.

Prior to his death, Bean could be seen at parties thrown by "Friends of Abe." Known as FOA, it was a private group of 2,500 people in film, music and television who didn't share Hollywood's famous liberalism. Founded by actors Gary Sinise, Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and others, the group disbanded after about a decade when the press "outed" its existence.

Adhering to his directive that our conversations remain off the record until after his death, here are excerpts from both of my interviews with Bean, published for the first time.

Tell me about the blacklist era.

You mean now, or the Communist blacklist from years ago?

The Communist one.

I wasn't a Communist, but I was horny for a Communist girl so I went to some meetings with her. I was a big lefty, as you're supposed to be when you're in your 20s, and I got involved with the union, which was so split that in meetings if you sat on the left side you were seen as a Communist and if you were seated on the right you were seen as supportive of the blacklist. And the right-wingers were angry because they knew there were Communist filmmakers who only hired other Communists, so they felt like they had been blacklisted for years.

Did your name appear on a list or something? How'd you know you were blacklisted?

That's the problem. You never knew for sure. But I clearly was. I'd see actors cross the street to avoid being seen with me. Even the doorman at CBS would turn away from me. It was that bad. I was blacklisted and overnight my TV appearances dried up. Ed Sullivan called to cancel my appearance and said he'd help me when he could, and a year later he did. Only a few wackos wanted the blacklist. It was a protection racket. Networks would pay a service 50 bucks a week to "clear" actors who were regulars on their shows. And businesses, like the head of Campbell's Soup at the time, wouldn't advertise on a show if a Communist was there.

Did this Communist girl you were interested in make it big?

No. She never did. Her name was Nola. She was a real hot piece. Everyone back then wanted to f*ck a Communist girl.

Did you know other Communists back then?

I knew people who were real Communists but never made it onto the blacklist and kept on working. There were also people reputed to be Communists who weren't. I remember Lucille Ball once voted for a candidate who was supposed to be a Communist and some people wanted her blacklisted, and her husband, Desi Arnaz, stood up and defended her as a brilliant businesswoman in Hollywood. "You know Lucy," he said. "She doesn't know who she's voting for. She doesn't know anything about politics," and people laughed and it all blew over.

Did the Soviets really tell Hollywood Communists what to do with their movies and TV shows, as the FBI has alleged?

Nola's friend told me that they did, and clearly there were films being made by the Hollywood 10 that were pro-Soviet propaganda. But in a free market there can be films on both sides and people can make up their own minds—and there's more propaganda today than there was then, with all the devaluing of American culture in movies and TV shows nowadays.

Really?

Yes. Sitcoms and movies today hate old-fashioned values. There's more anti-American propaganda today than the Soviets could have ever worked into our culture through their covert party members who were writing screenplays.

What movies from back then are you referring to as Soviet propaganda?

Mission to Moscow, obviously. But look at a classic like The Grapes of Wrath from director John Ford who stood against the blacklist. Henry Fonda, who was my buddy and I loved him, delivers a speech in that movie that could have been written by Karl Marx, where man doesn't have his own soul—only a piece of the collective, and Americans don't realize they're oppressed and all that. It's amazing. There are lots of others with climactic speeches that read like Marxist dialectic propaganda.

When I first asked you about the blacklist, you asked, "then or now?" What did you mean?

Well. Nobody knows if being a conservative, attending an FOA meeting, has an effect on hiring or not. But the fact is, that after my three seasons on Desperate Housewives, I have barely worked, and that coincides with people learning my politics and realizing Andrew Breitbart, whom I loved so much, was my son-in-law. But there's a famous story about Willie Nelson when the government seized his stuff for taxes and he said something like: "Too bad they're doing it to somebody who doesn't give a shit!" I feel the same way. But I smell a blacklist today the same way I smelled it back then. You just can't get it on paper.

Did they know your politics on Desperate Housewives?

That one worked in reverse for me. Every famous old geezer in the business was at the audition, and, I know I'm not supposed to "out" anybody at FOA, but as I was leaving the audition a producer told me, "I saw you at FOA." I said, "Ooooh." And the next day I got the job.

And you said there's propaganda in today's movies and shows?

I can't remember titles. I just wrapped a little Christmas movie and I don't even remember what it's called. TV and film are always slipping in political messages, not ones designed to bring us together but to divide us. Hollywood is very divisive.

The Hollywood Blacklist Then And Now: The Late Actor Orson Bean On Anti-American 'Propaganda' | Culture