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When Charlie Chaplin Put Dan James In The Movies

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Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

The outlaw Jesse James agitated Daniel Lewis James Sr. a great deal. D.L. could not make up his mind. Was cousin Jesse really an outlaw and criminal? Or was Jesse James something more? D.L. wondered, was Jesse more like D.L.’s son, Dan James Jr. – a champion and warrior for social justice?

When Charlie Chaplin put Dan James into Chaplin’s movies, the answer became clear. In the House on Un-American Activities Committee, America blacklisted Chaplin and Dan from movie making.  The U.S. Government assassinated Charlie Chaplin and Dan James …just like Jesse James.

Frank & Jesse James – Warriors for Social Justice

“All For the Underdog”

An Excerpt from Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I, Behind the Family Wall of Stigma and Silence, by Eric F. James

Fresh from his graduation from Andover, Dan James Jr. clerked briefly in T.M. James & Sons in Kansas City. But beyond the door of the family store, social reform summoned him.

The era of the post-Depression was a turbulent and violent one. Workers were losing jobs. Families were losing homes. People were starving.

Dan read the writings of Karl Marx. In Texas and Oklahoma, Dan organized field workers, while working the oil fields, hauling truckloads of number six pipe. By the mid-1930s, he joined the Young Marxist League. Participating in a public demonstration in Kansas City sponsored by the League landed Dan in jail, about the same time his cousin Barbara James-McGreevy was jailed for demonstrating on behalf of birth control.

Bailing out Dan from jail, D.L. suggested Dan commit his politics to paper. Father and son collaborated on a play, titled Pier 19, about the General Strike of San Francisco in 1934, known as “Bloody Thursday.” Dan had worked with the longshoremen’s organizer, Harry Bridges, as an errand gopher. Shortly thereafter, Dan realized, “I was not supporting myself, and it was time to join my comrades in the working class.”

Finding himself with Charlie Chaplin, who was a neighbor on Fountain Avenue in Hollywood and occasionally a guest at Seaward, the James family retreat in the Highlands above Carmel-By-The Sea in northern California, Dan James and Chaplin authored the movie The Great Dictator.

Dan observed the improvisations of the British mime upon a draft outline, taking detailed notes at every turn. The two collaborated on the story. More important to them both were the themes of the story. The process was repeated until Chaplin was satisfied his story and message was captured on celluloid.

In Chaplin’s new talkie, Dan provided distinctly American verbiage that the British born Chaplin could not. Dan embedded his own themes. The film opens in Dan James’ words, spoken by Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator

“This is the story of the period between two world wars, an interim during which insanity cut loose, liberty took a nose dive, and humanity was kicked around somewhat.”

Giving voice to America’s most beloved mime, Dan James broke his family heritage of silence to openly challenge governmental authority, once more in the name of liberty.

Just as his cousin Jesse James had done against unjust authority. Just as his great-grandfather’s band of rebel preachers had done with federal government. Dan James challenged no less than the tyrannical governments of Germany’s Hitler and Italy’s Mussolini.

The collaborative relationship between Chaplin and Dan James was close. In Chaplin, Dan James found his mentor. He called Chaplin his surrogate father. At extended lunches between filming, the two argued strenuously over social issues.

At night, the Communist Party provided Dan a social life, filled with fundraising events for numerous social causes. Chaplin has been regarded historically as being a member of the Communist Party, although Dan’s daughter Barbara states Dan never saw Chaplin at meetings.

“He did not know whether Chaplin was a communist, but from working with him closely for four years and some odd months, he doubted it very much. He thought Charlie was too sensitive to oppressive institutions to be fooled into joining the Communist Party.”

End of excerpt.

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The Bloody San Francisco Longshoremen’s Strike of 1934

While making movies, Dan James told Charlie Chaplin of his experience in San Francisco when Dan worked for Harry Bridges, the longshoremen’s organizer. Chaplin seized upon Dan’s story immediately and put the scene into his 1936 movie Modern Times.

In Modern Times, Chaplin’s lovable and classic Tramp, representing everyman, stumbles onto a seaside dock. He notices the dock’s shipping building is shut down. A truck passing by drops a red warning flag, from its load. The Tramp picks up the red flag, signaling to the disappearing driver. As the truck disappears, the Tramp finds himself engulfed by the striking dock workers on the march. Authorities arrive. They seize the Tramp. Based solely upon guilt by association, the Tramp disappears into the justice system and is removed from society.

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In Chaplin’s 1940 movie The Great Dictator, Charlie Chaplin drew upon the extraordinary writing skills of Daniel Lewis James Jr. to present an authentic American voice of protest for social justice.

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More from “All For the Underdog”

“The House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC] had commenced its investigations into Communism in the entertainment community and wreaked havoc with our whole world. The studios helped with their patriotic duty to expose Communist propaganda by refusing to hire anyone who did not cooperate with the Committee. This was the famous ‘Blacklist.’ People often think of the Blacklist as something the government did, but it was the ‘patriotic’ studio heads who instituted it.  The government just forced people into the position where they had to deal with it. Cooperation meant recanting your communism and naming all the people that you knew were (or had been) in the Party.

The catch 22 was that you couldn’t tell the truth about yourself without being a stool pigeon. At the outset, there was no clear way to address the problem without going to jail or ratting. That was when the Hollywood Ten went to prison. They were our friends and acquaintances.”

The House Un-American Activities Committee – HUAC Second from right sits the future U. S. President Richard M. Nixon

…Under investigation in the HUAC hearings, Barbara [Barbara James, Dan’s daughter] perceived that “Pop and Mama and other ex-Commies in the same boat, got given three basic choices.

“Tell the Committee that you have a right to free association under the First Amendment, and your political beliefs are protected from government interference. People who did this went to jail for the rest of the term of the Congress in session, which was generally about 10 months.

“Tell the Committee that you are not a Communist and that you will not tell them whether you have ever been a Communist. After the Smith Act became law, the Party was an illegal organization, so you could refuse to answer questions about people who were in the Party by citing the Fifth Amendment prohibition against self-incrimination. You didn’t go to jail, but the studios blacklisted you and you could not get work. You may wonder why the Studios invented and used the Blacklist. In one word – union busting. It was a great way to break the Screen Writers’ and Screen Actors’ Guilds, as well as to get cited as patriots.

“Tell the Committee you were a Communist; you are ever so sorry, and name everybody you know who was in the Party with you, including your closest friends. You may also wonder why the Congressmen on the HUAC were so adamant about ‘naming names.’ Politicians need publicity, and any time they could get someone to name a celebrity, they would get big media coverage. Pop was a very small fish, but I think their main object in grilling him was the hope that he would name Chaplin. They had the wrong small fish.”

The copy of Voltaire’s Candide, owned by Daniel Lewis James Sr.

…Dan James had hoped to produce his father’s first edition of the book Candide. The author Voltaire had published the book under the pseudonym, Monsieur Le Docteur Ralph. With his visual aid in hand, Dan intended to confront HUAC.

If HUAC continued to prevail in their ruthlessness, if Congress continued to deprive one’s freedom of association, and if the United States government continued to despoil freedom of expression, all writers would be forced to disguise their identities like Voltaire.

Dan was cut off. As Barbara said, “He got run over by a well-oiled train. They didn’t let him get his book out of his pocket, and he was only allowed to say that he refused to incriminate himself.” Dan James was blacklisted as a Hollywood screenwriter. In effect, his own federal government had exiled him. Just as Dan James predicted, his identity as a writer was forced underground.

…Dan James watched as his screenwriting career expired in slow motion.

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Jesse James Soul Liberty, Vol. I

Behind the Family Wall of Stigma and Silence

Jesse James oul Liberty, Vol. I

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RELATED

First Preview of a Play About Daniel Lewis James Jr.

Words Spoken by Charlie Chaplin – Written by Daniel Lewis James

Beating the Bushes for How Daniel Lewis James Jr. Died

Banned Books Validate Superior Intelligence & Worthwhile Reading

Studs Terkel & Victor S. Navasky discuss blacklisting of entertainers

What is Your Favorite Story About the James Family?

Kathy Griffin’s Life on the Blacklist

Dixie-Chicking – Blacklisting in the Entertainment Industry


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Wednesday September 15th, 2021
Stray Leaves

Have you considered it? ... See MoreSee Less

Have you considered it?
Tuesday September 7th, 2021
Stray Leaves

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . "My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021" - Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane "Polly" Carrell. ... See MoreSee Less

COVID HAS STRUCK THE JAMES FAMILY AGAIN . . . My foundation and the love of my life. R.I.P 9/5/2021 - Judy Rae Davis-Gibson, spouse of Robert Melvin Gibson Sr. and 3rd great-granddaughter of John J. James & Mary Jane Polly Carrell.
Wednesday September 1st, 2021
Stray Leaves

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago:
"I'm currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and I'm asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!"
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory "Greg" James. Greg's first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Greg's James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.
... See MoreSee Less

Greg James posted the following to his immediate family a few hours ago: 
Im currently dealing with a heavy heart and confusion. My wife Judy suddenly passed away today and Im asking for prayers and good thoughts. Thank you!
Judy is the second wife of John Gregory Greg James. Gregs first wife, Beverly Ann Brown, is the mother of Gregs James descendants. Regardless, we send Greg our sympathies and condolences.

Comment on Facebook

So sorry to hear about your wife Judy`s passing! Our prayers are with you!🙏

Deepest condolences. 🙏

Tuesday August 31st, 2021
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Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below. ... See MoreSee Less

Very sad news. Frank Younger has died. Details of his memorial service appear in the Comments below.

Comment on Facebook

FRANK YOUNGER'S MEMORIAL SERVICE . . . November 18, 1940 – August 28, 2021. Frank Younger sadly passed away suddenly at age 80 as a result of an accident in his home. Frank was predeceased by his parents, Paul and Margaret (and stepmother Irene). He is survived by his wife, Sharon, and their three children, Pauline (Mike), Matt (Zoe), and Tom (Tamara), and grandson, Paul. Frank loved his family and always enjoyed sharing his encouragement, wisdom, and inimitable sense of humor with them. His contributions to the lives of many include his commitment to his career as an Astronomer at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics), his ongoing participation in local classical orchestras (including the odd instrument repair), and mentoring of many friends in any way he could. Frank’s recent endeavors included attending and helping run the James Younger Gang club as well as writing and reading his poetry. Frank has often enjoyed and been seen as having contrasting traits including riding his Harley motorcycle to a string quartet practice or cleaning his antique gun collection prior to reading his latest poetry writings to gangster club members. His unique character and compassion for all of his friends and family will be missed. You are invited to Frank Younger’s online Memorial Service. Please feel free to share the meeting link below as you see fit. You can join from any web browser using a computer, tablet, or smartphone. This will be a short memorial (20 - 30 minutes). We will not be able to provide any technical support on the day of the memorial. If you have any questions about how to join us using Zoom, please contact Zoë Younger at 778-828-9971 before Friday. We will be recording the memorial, so if you have difficulty logging in, or if you miss it, you will be able to view it at a different time. There will not be an opportunity to speak to all attendees during the service, however, if you wish to share a story with the family via email, we will be assembling a collection before the weekend. Please click the link below to join us. Topic: Frank Younger’s Memorial Service Time: Sep 3, 2021 03:00 PM Vancouver Join Zoom Meeting us02web.zoom.us/j/89203244337?pwd=QkU5b01uNzdZMWZNWmIwTUVPYllVUT09 Meeting ID: 892 0324 4337 Passcode: Frank Thank you, Join our Cloud HD Video Meeting us02web.zoom.us

I was devastated when I received the email. I spoke to Frank and Sharon a month or so ago. We had a nice talk. I will miss him dearly.

I was fortunate enough to have met and talked with Frank. He impressed me as a nice and knowledgeable man.

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