Fifty years ago, the thriving movie careers of Larry Parks and Betty Garrett suddenly came to a halt amid the Red-hunting fever of Washington politicians.
No victim's story of the film industry's blacklist was more poignant than that of Parks and Miss Garrett, a tale she recounts in full for the first time in "Betty Garrett and Other Songs," written with Ron Rapoport. She tells it with grace and a surprising lack of bitterness.In 1947, Parks was riding high. He had starred in "The Jolson Story," winning an Academy Award nomination as best actor of 1946. "Jolson Sings Again" scored a similar success.
Betty Garrett, who had married Parks in 1944 when she was starring on Broadway, had appeared in five MGM musicals, including "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "On the Town."
Then one day a man appeared on the Parks' doorstep with a summons to appear before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. Parks admitted he had joined and resigned from the Communist Party, but he balked at naming other party members.
In the most eloquent speech during the entire hearings, Parks pleaded with the lawmakers: "I don't think this is American justice to make me choose . . . be in contempt of Congress . . . or crawl through the mud for no purpose." He argued that any names he would give were already known by the committee. He was required to do so anyway.
Garrett had also had a brief dalliance with the party.
"Larry told me that my name was on the list to be called, but I never was," she recalled. "I think it was because I was nine months pregnant with my second son, and they didn't think I would be a good witness."
Unlike Sterling Hayden, Lee J. Cobb, Elia Kazan and others who named names, Parks' career plummeted. The couple realized that they had been blacklisted when Columbia Pictures dropped his contract and MGM dropped hers.
"Then we were booked to appear on the Arthur Murray TV show in New York," she said in an interview at the Laurel Canyon house she and Parks bought in 1955. "Just before the broadcast we were told that we were being canceled from the show. No explanation was given, but we knew why. They paid us, but it hurt."
They felt the stigma socially as well. Garrett had been enlisted for a big Hollywood benefit for which she agreed to fill a table. When asked what name the table should be under, she replied "Larry Parks." Later she was asked not to participate.
Parks died in 1975, and his widow believes he never recovered from the blacklisting.
"He took singing and dancing lessons, and we appeared in England and Las Vegas- there was no blacklist in Vegas," she said. "Later, Larry got interested in building, and he put up several apartment houses I still own.
Parks had one more chance. John Huston encountered him on a street and admired his professorial beard. He cast Parks opposite Montgomery Clift in "Freud." The 1962 film was not a success, and no other film roles befell him.
At 78 she retains the exuberance of a starlet, taking dancing lessons and teaching classes at Theater West, the theatrical company with which she has been connected for decades.