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Guild finally gives blacklisted '50s screenwriters their due

The screen-writing credits on 23 films written by blacklisted writers in the 1950s, including "An Affair to Remember" and "Cry, the Beloved Country," have been restored by the Writers Guild of America.

The guild's board of directors made the decision earlier this week and planned to announce it on Wednesday."Our goal is to give back to these writers, or their families, the dignity every artist is entitled to: recognition for their work," said Daniel Petrie Jr., president of the West Coast branch of the Writers Guild. "In so doing we are also correcting the cultural history of American film."

Many of the screenwriters blacklisted during the McCarthy era either wrote under pseudonyms or had "fronts" - sometimes friends or relatives - whose names were used in place of the real author's. Bernard Gordon, for example, whose credit was restored on the 1954 film "The Law vs. Billy the Kid," used the name of a friend, John T. Williams, a camera shop salesman in the Westwood section of Los Angeles.

Gordon, 78, said in a telephone interview Tuesday, "You did what you could. I knew so many people who were blacklisted. They scattered all over. They went to Mexico or London or Paris to find work. Some succeeded, some didn't. Some wrote under pseudonyms or had fronts; some started to sell insurance or became salesmen. It was not a good time."

Six months ago the Writers Guild restored the credits on 24 films, including "The Robe" and "Inherit the Wind." Cheryl Rhoden, a spokeswoman for the guild, said the union would continue the process and would also start focusing on television dramas and comedies produced in the 1950s and '60s by writers accused of being communists or communist sympathizers.

The practical effect of the Writers Guild move will be the alteration of screen credits on new home video or screen releases of the movies. Rhoden said those whose credits are being restored would receive no financial advantage because residuals were not paid to screenwriters, actors and directors for work before 1960. She said the Writers Guild was asking Congress to amend the Copyright Term Extension Act to allow residuals for works dating before 1960.

One film with credits to be altered is the 1957 drama "An Affair to Remember," starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. The film was a remake of the 1939 movie "Love Affair," which was written by, among others, Donald Ogden Stew-art, who was later blacklisted. Stewart's name was omitted from the credits in the 1957 film. "It seems clear that Stewart would have received credit but for the blacklist," said a guild statement.

One of the affected films, "Go, Man, Go!" (1953), about the Harlem Globetrotters, will be credited to Alfred Palca. The film's original credit was Arnold Becker, a cousin of Palca's who is a retired pediatrician in Avon, Conn.

"I was not a communist; I was a lefty," Palca, a 77-year-old writer, said Tuesday from his home in New York City. "I was told if my name was on the movie it would not be distributed, and the people at United Artists said, `Get another name.' So I used my cousin." United Artists later distributed the movie.

The process of restoring credits is complicated, Rhoden said, partly because many of the writers involved have died and letters and supporting material are hard to gather. Moreover, the use of "fronts" still causes difficulties. Gordon, for example, said the screenwriting credit on one of his films was given to the producer.

"Now he still refuses to take it off," Gordon said.