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History remembers Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood’s first superstar. At the height of his career, the FBI considered him and other figures from the film industry something else: a threat to the United States. His granddaughter, Oona Chaplin, tells the story of how Hollywood became a battleground for the soul of America. Hollywood Exiles is a story of glamour, duplicity, and the US government’s decades-long campaign to root out communism in Tinseltown. Premieres 22 January 2024.

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(The BBC World Service)

History remembers Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood's first superstar. At the height of his career, the FBI considered him and other figures from the film industry something else: a threat to the United States. His granddaughter, Oona Chaplin, tells the story of how Hollywood became a battleground for the soul of America.

Hollywood Exiles is a story of glamour, duplicity, and the US government's decades-long campaign to root out communism in Tinseltown.

Premieres 22 January 2024.

Episode 10: Exile

Although the blacklist era ends, the scars remain. Dalton Trumbo discovers a backdoor to Hollywood screenwriting work. Families of Hollywood workers reckon with the fallout in generations to come. Charlie Chaplin is finally honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He returns to America to receive an Academy Award Oscar for Lifetime Achievement. Ellen Geer recalls the effects of the blacklist on her father Will Geer, who refused to expose his friends. Oona Chaplin reflects on the lasting effects of anti-communist fervour on her family and the wider culture. 

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Episode 9: Naming Names

After years of allegations and suspicion, those accused of unamerican political beliefs are driven from the movie industry. Mitzi Trumbo recalls visiting her father Dalton in prison. Host Oona Chaplin speaks to some of those whose careers were ruined and friendships fractured as anti communist fervour pushed witnesses to expose the names of alleged communists. Norma Barzman describes this as a period of political exile. Charlie Chaplin faces FBI interrogators who let him know he’s not welcome in the USA anymore. 

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Episode 8: The Un-Americans

Hollywood producers gather at the Waldorf Hotel to plot strategy. They push back against allegations of subversive content. The Motion Picture Association of America president makes the case that movies are a force for moral good. He also calls for a hardline: he pushes studios to purge communists and sympathizers from their payrolls. This marks the beginning of the so-called “blacklist” era in Hollywood. Screenwriter Norma Barzman recalls this as a repressive period when creative people were self censoring their political beliefs.

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Episode 7: Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been

The House Unamerican Activities Committee begins its hearings into communist subversion in the movie business. The hearings cement a phrase in American history: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?” Friendly witnesses, including actors Gary Cooper & Robert Taylor are called to the stand, along with movie mogul Jack Warner of Warner Brothers. Walt Disney uses the opportunity to call out alleged communists among members of the striking animators’ union. Dalton Trumbo and his allies challenge the legitimacy of HUAC and its hearings.

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Episode 6: Hollywood on Trial

The notorious House Unamerican Activities Committee starts calling witnesses. Their hearings with Tinseltown celebrities create a sensation and put Hollywood communists in the spotlight. Dalton Trumbo is among those summoned to Washington for hearings. Oona Chaplin explains why her grandfather Charlie was not called to appear despite his reputation as a leftist. Actress Katherine Hepburn takes a public stand against HUAC, publicly mocking its hearings at a Los Angeles rally.       

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Episode 5: Billy's List

Rumours of communist infiltration in the movie business had circulated for years. Movie biz insider Billy Wilkerson iis the first to publicly name alleged tinseltown ‘communists’ – including Dalton Trumbo – in his paper, the Hollywood Reporter. William R. Wilkerson III speaks about his father’s friendship with billionaire producer Howard Hughes — a rabid anti-communist. He describes how his mostly apolitical father’s anti-communist stance was shaped by a visit to the Soviet Union. Wilkerson III recalls how his father’s close connections with stars like Jimmy Cagney gave him political influence in Hollywood. Oona Chaplin learns how future president Ronald Reagan operated as an FBI informant.

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Episode 4: Hearts and Minds

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and conservative allies like Ayn Rand were convinced that Hollywood was infested with communists. Now they started scouring the movies themselves for evidence of red propaganda fearing moral corruption. Anti-communist figures in the movie business, including John Wayne and Gary Cooper create the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals to counter left leaning groups like the Writers Guild. Even all-American classics like It’s a Wonderful Life came under FBI scrutiny. Studios like Warner Brothers began to feel the pressure – even changing seemingly innocuous scripts to avoid political heat.

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Episode 3: The Case Against Charlie Chaplin

Chaplin’s scandalous sex life sparks legal woes as FBI and gossip columnists conspire against him. Hedda Hopper, known as the queen of Hollywood gossip, was Chaplin’s nemesis and she deemed him "unamerican.” Joan Barry was just 22 years old when she arrived in Hollywood with dreams of stardom. She soon met Charlie Chaplin and the pair became romantically entwined. When the relationship went sour, Chaplin’s enemies – including J Edgar Hoover and columnist and radio star Hopper – saw an opportunity. Chaplin soon landed in court facing charges under the White-Slave Traffic Act.

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Episode 2: Red Menace

Dalton Trumbo’s career as a screenwriter blossoms just as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover makes Hollywood a focus of his anti-communist obsession. Charlie Chaplin makes influential friends on the political left. Trumbo becomes active in the Screen Writers Guild, a harbour for radical politics. With his first talking film, Chaplin, draws critical praise and unwanted attention with a rousing speech in The Great Dictator. Shifting alliances between Soviets and Nazis force an awkward political reckoning in the US. Host, Oona Chaplin explores the FBI's covert operations which targeted alleged communists. We learn how Hollywood became the battleground for the soul of America.

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Episode 1: An American Dream

Charlie Chaplin was one of Hollywood’s first and biggest stars and he helped create the art and industry of movies. But by the 1960s, he was exiled. Oona Chaplin follows her grandfather’s rise from the grinding poverty of his childhood in Victorian London to wealth and fame in Hollywood. In many ways it seemed like the embodiment of the American Dream. But almost as soon as he hit the big time Chaplin made some powerful enemies. Federal investigators were suspicious of his political beliefs and they began to build a file on him. We learn how Hollywood became the battleground for the soul of America.

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Hollywood Exiles Trailer

History remembers Charlie Chaplin as Hollywood’s first superstar. At the height of his career, the FBI considered him and other figures from the film industry something else: a threat to the United States. His granddaughter, Oona Chaplin, tells the story of how Hollywood became a battleground for the soul of America. Hollywood Exiles is a story of glamour, duplicity, and the US government’s decades-long campaign to root out communism in Tinseltown. Premieres 22 January 2024.

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