Lester Cole in 1947
June 19, 1904|
New York, New York
August 15, 1985 (aged 81)|
San Francisco, California
Born to a Jewish family in New York City, the son of Polish immigrants to the United States, his father was a Marxist garment industry union organiser, and Cole was a dedicated socialist from childhood.
Lester Cole began his career as an actor but soon turned to screenwriting. His first work was If I Had a Million. In 1933, he joined with John Howard Lawson and Samuel Ornitz to establish the Writers Guild of America.
In 1934, Cole joined the American Communist Party. He became one of the Hollywood Ten, who refused to answer questions before the House Committee on Un-American Activities about their Communist Party membership. Cole was convicted of Contempt of Congress, fined $1,000 and sentenced to twelve months' confinement at the Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, Connecticut, of which he served ten months.
As a result of his refusal to testify, Cole was blacklisted by studio executives. Between 1932 and 1947, Cole wrote more than forty screenplays that were made into motion pictures. After being blacklisted, just three screenplays were made into films and only after friends Gerald L.C. Copley, Lewis Copley, and J. Redmond Prior, submitted the screenplays under their names.
His best-known screenplay was that for the highly successful Born Free (1966), credited to Gerald L.C. Copley.
In 1981, Cole published his autobiography, entitled Hollywood Red: The Autobiography of Lester Cole. In it, he recounted a 1978 incident when he called into a radio talk show on which ex-Communist Budd Schulberg was a guest. According to Cole, he berated Schulberg (who had testified before HUAC as a friendly witness) on the air as a "canary" and a "stool pigeon" before he was cut off:
Aren't you the canary who sang before the un-American Committee? Aren't you that canary? Or are you another bird, a pigeon – the stool kind....
Just sing, canary, sing, you bastard!
About this incident, Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley (Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry) comments, "Whether this actually happened is uncertain, but one can guess."
Lester Cole died of a heart attack in San Francisco, California, in 1985. Ronald Radosh, Emeritus Professor of History at City University of New York, wrote that Cole "remained a hardcore Communist" until his death.
- Walls of Gold (1933)
- Nothing More Than a Woman (1934)
- The Crime of Doctor Hallet (1938)
- Among the Living (1941)
- None Shall Escape (1944)
- Blood on the Sun (1945)
- Objective, Burma! (1945)
- Men in Her Diary (1945)
- The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947)
- High Wall (1947)
- Cones, John. Motion Picture Biographies: The Hollywood Spin on Historical Figures. p. 35. ISBN 9781628941166.
- Brook, Vincent (December 15, 2016). From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood: Chapter 1: Still an Empire of Their Own: How Jews Remain Atop a Reinvented Hollywood. Purdue University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9781557537638.
- "Alvah Bessie (1904 – 1985) - The Hollywood Ten: The Men Who Refused to Name Names".
- Reynold Humphries (2008). Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 54–. ISBN 978-0-7486-2455-3. Retrieved 2013-08-04.
Lester Cole, also one of the Ten, wrote two scripts dealing with war subjects: Hostages (1943) and None Shall Escape (1944).
- Cole, Lester (1981). Hollywood Red: The Autobiography of Lester Cole. Berkeley, Calif.: Ramparts Press. p. 428. ISBN 0-87867-085-8. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- Billingsley, Kenneth Lloyd (1998). Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930s and 1940s. Rocklin, Calif.: Prima Publishing. p. 267. ISBN 0-7615-1376-0. Retrieved March 9, 2011.
- Radosh, Ronald; Allis Radosh (2005). Red Star Over Hollywood. San Francisco: Encounter Books. p. 29. ISBN 1-893554-96-1. Retrieved March 9, 2011.