Posted by: Ann Myers | June 7, 2010

Other People’s Letters, Part 8

On April 8, 2010, SCRC hosted a dramatic reading of a selection of letters from our collections. The event was planned and emceed by Abigail Wheetley, and we thank everyone who was able to attend. For those who were unable to attend, and for those who would like to revisit something they heard that evening, we will be posting transcriptions of the letters and introductions to them over the next few weeks.

We continue this series with a letter from Charlie Chaplin to John Howard Lawson.

A Letter of Support

John Howard Lawson MSS 16

John Howard Lawson appeared before the House on Un-American Activities Committee on October 29, 1947 but he refused to answer any questions and along with the rest of the Hollywood Ten, he was found guilty of contempt of Congress. Lawson was sentenced to twelve months in Ashland Prison and fined $1,000. Blacklisted by the Hollywood studios, Lawson moved to Mexico after his release where he continued to produce under pseudonyms. This letter, written in 1955, is from his friend Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin’s identification with the left ultimately forced him to resettle in Europe during the McCarthy era. This letter, written during this time reveals not only the incredible solidarity that existed among like-minded individuals, but also the views that Chaplin clearly held in regards to McCarthyism and the struggle that men like Lawson faced.

Charlie Chaplin letter

9th September, 1955.

This message, John, on your sixty first Birthday, is a small token of appreciation to you as an artist and a man of outstanding courage and integrity; a man who has stood resolute against those who would attempt to control thought and desecrate the true American spirit.

In these days of trumped-up hysteria, I think it is important and essential that the artist and intellectual unite and consolidate against these political forces that have instigated this deplorable police system, which attempts to turn the United States into a nation of informers.

Such morbidity, if allowed to continue, will grow into a cancer that will not only destroy American democracy, but will also destroy the soul of the American people.

Nevertheless, the true American spirit as exemplified in such men as yourself, Paul Robeson, Dalton Trumbo and legions of others, exalts my faith that the eventual outcome will be a victory for those who believe in true Americanism.

Good health and good luck to you John,

And my salutations to everyone present.

Charles Chaplin


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