Albert Maltz Papers, 1932-1985


Playwright, novelist and screenwriter Albert Maltz was born on October 28, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Polish immigrants. He graduated from high school in 1926 and then attended Columbia University, from which he graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1930, with a major in philosophy.

An elective course in playwrighting proved more a determinant in Maltz's life than his undergraduate major. He liked the course so much that when he entered Yale University it was to study drama under Professor Baker. George Sklar was a fellow student and the two collaborated on a play, Merry-Go-Round. The play was accepted for production by the Provincetown Playhouse in New York and, consequently, Maltz left Yale and returned to New York to produce the play he and Sklar had written. Merry-Go-Round opened in 1932 and closed after fifty-six performances.

After a brief sojourn in Hollywood when the film rights to Merry-Go-Round were purchased, Maltz and Sklar found themselves again in New York. In November, 1933, the new, leftist Theatre Union, which they helped organize, presented their anti-war play, Peace on Earth, as its first offering. Black Pit (1935), written by Maltz, was also produced by the Theatre Union. He served on the Union's executive board from 1933 to 1937. In 1937 he and Margaret Larkin, the Union's executive secretary, were married.

Before Maltz moved to California in the early forties, he was a playwrighting instructor at New York University's Writing Center, School of Adult Education (1937-1941), playwrighting instructor at the Writers Conference (1939-1940), and editor of Equality magazine.

During the war years Maltz became a successful screenwriter. With W. R. Burnett he wrote the screenplay for This Gun for Hire (1942), and he collaborated with Delmer Daves on the screenplay for Destination Tokyo (1943). Other screen credits include: Moscow Strikes Back (1942), Pride of the Marines (1945), The House I Live In (1945), Cloak and Dagger (1945), and The Naked City (1948). Maltz won a special Academy Award for The House I Live In.

In 1947, as part of the investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee into supposed Communist influence in Hollywood, Maltz was summoned to testify before the Committee. He invoked the First Amendment and, together with other members of “The Hollywood Ten,” was indicated for contempt of Congress. Maltz served a prison term from June 28, 1950 to April 3, 1951, and was subsequently blacklisted by the motion picture industry.

From 1952 until 1962 Maltz chose to live and write in Mexico. He wrote a number of screenplays under pseudonyms during this time. The Robe, for which Maltz had written the screenplay in 1946, was produced during these years; Phillip Dunne was hired to revise Maltz's script and because of the blacklist was given sole screen credit for it. Two attempts to break the blacklist were unsuccessful. In April, 1949, 20th Century-Fox acquired screen rights to Maltz's novel, The Journey of Simon McKeever, and less than two weeks later the project was abandoned because of public disapproval. More than a decade later, in 1960, Frank Sinatra hired Maltz to write a screenplay for The Execution of Private Slovik; again public pressure was brought to bear against Sinatra, and he fired Maltz.

Maltz has also written many published works. His novels include The Underground Stream (1940), The Cross and the Arrow (1944), The Journey of Simon McKeever (1949), A Long Day in a Short Life (1956), and A Tale of One January (1964). His short stories have been collected in three volumes: The Way Things Are (1938), Off Broadway (1960), and Afternoon in the Jungle (1971). A collection of his speeches from 1947 to 1949 appeared in The Citizen Writer (1950). Maltz received the Silver Medal from the Commonwealth Club for The Journey of Simon McKeever; the O'Henry Memorial for his 1938 short story, “The Happiest Man on Earth”; and the 1952 Normandy Pen Award in the short story category.

Among Maltz's professional activities were terms on the Council of the Authors League of America, 1937-1940, and a term as the League's president, 1947-1948.

Maltz and his first wife were divorced in 1963; in 1964 Maltz married Rosemary Wylde.

Albert Maltz died in Los Angeles on April 26, 1985. He was survived by his third wife, Esther Maltz.