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Lawson, John Howard | Southern Illinois University Special Collections Research Center

Name: Lawson, John Howard

Historical Note: John Howard Lawson (1894-1977) was a writer, and head of the Hollywood division of the American Communist Party.  Lawson was born in New York City, New York in 1894. After studying at Williams College, he became a successful playwright. In 1928, Lawson moved to Hollywood where he wrote scripts for films such as The Ship for Shanghai, Bachelor Apartment, and Goodbye Love. In 1933, Lawson joined with Lester Cole and Samuel Ornitz to establish the Screen Writers Guild and was the organization's first president. Lawson, who joined the American Communist Party in 1934, made several films that were political, including Blockade (1938), for which he received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Story. After World War II, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. Lawson appeared before the HUAC 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 where he began writing Marxist interpretations of drama and film-making such as The Hidden Heritage (1950), Film in the Battle of Ideas (1953) and Film: The Creative Process (1964). He also wrote one of the first anti-apartheid movies, Cry, The Beloved Country (1951) under a pseudonym John Howard Lawson died in San Francisco on 14th August, 1977.

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