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Alfred Lewis and Helen Levitt Papers
WGF-MS-103  
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Collection Overview
 
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Description
The Al and Helen Levitt Papers consist of much of their creative work written over their lives as writers in the entertainment industry. The collection also includes extensive records from their work on the board and committees of the Writers Guild of America, especially dealing with pension payments to blacklisted writers.
Background
Alfred Lewis Levitt was a screenwriter who was blacklisted during the 1950s for his involvement with the Communist Party. Born June 3, 1916 in the Bronx, New York, he began his writing career as the sports editor for the school paper at New York University’s Bronx campus. He joined several political groups as a student, including the Young Communist League in 1932. Levitt married Helen Slote in 1938 and moved to Hollywood to work as a script reader in 1939. He was drafted during WWII in 1942 and was stationed for a time at Fort Roach with the First Motion Picture Unit. He was sent to England in 1944. At the end of the war Levitt was sent to France where he met and worked with Henri Cartier-Bresson, already a famous photographer, who was making a film about the repatriation of prisoners of war and concentration camp survivors. Levitt helped write the narration for the film “Reunion” (“Le Retour” in French) and later said he used the film to help get writing work in Hollywood. His first movie credit was “The Boy With Green Hair” in 1948. He shared credit with Betsy Beaton (story) and Ben Barzman (screenplay). Levitt was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee but was not charged with any crime. His hearing was in Los Angeles in September 1951, where he took the Fifth Amendment instead of acknowledging his Communist ties. He brought a statement to read, but he was not allowed to do so. In it he defended the right to freedom of speech and expression of individual conscience. Soon after his own hearing, Levitt got calls from several Hollywood colleagues who had been subpoenaed. They asked him for help, and he wrote a speech for them to deliver at their hearings. He never revealed their names. The hearing damaged his career and he had trouble finding work. He wrote for television using a front, Jerry Davis, and an assumed name, Tom August. In the late 1950s, August and Davis worked as a writing team on shows such as Bachelor Father and the Donna Reed Show. During this period, Helen Levitt learned to write for television and she assumed the name Helen August. Al and Helen August wrote many TV episodes as a team during the 1960s and 1970s, including The Brady Bunch, That Girl, My Living Doll, and All in the Family as well as several Disney movies. In the 1960s and 1970s, Al Levitt taught dramatic writing classes at several schools, including Cal State Northridge, AFI and Sherwood Oaks Experimental College (with Helen). Levitt was very active in the Writers Guild of America during the 1970s and 1980s. He served on the Guild’s board from 1981-1984 and 1989-1991 and was Secretary-Treasurer from 1985-1989. He was also active in a number of committees and activities, including revising the screen and television credits manuals, arbitrations, and MBA negotiations. The Levitts led the effort in the 1980s to supplement the pensions of blacklisted writers. Stemming from this effort, during the 1990s, the WGA restored film credits to dozens of blacklisted writers. In 1995, the Writers Guild of America West honored the Levitts for work with its Morgan Cox Award, given for service to the Guild. By then the WGA had restored accurate screen credits to 82 films, including those of the Levitts. Al died November 16, 2002 in Los Angeles of heart failure, at age 87. He was survived by son Tom, daughter Ann, two grandchildren and a brother. Helen Slote Levitt was born on December 6, 1916 in Brooklyn. She majored in English at Brooklyn College and became politically active during this period. She married Al Levitt on April 2, 1938 and by the next year they moved to Los Angeles where Al found work. In addition to serving as John Garfield’ s secretary, Helen was involved in the Communist Party and helped found the Actor’s Lab in 1941, where she worked until Al returned from war in 1945. They had two children after the war, Thomas and Annie. In 1951, after Taking the Fifth Amendment before HUAC, Al was blacklisted from working in Hollywood. Helen eventually learned to write for TV and adopted the pseudonym Helen August. She and Al shared television credits on many TV shows. Careful to disguise themselves during the anti-communist 1950s, the Levitts later learned that many celebrities, including Donna Reed, knew their identity and kept them working. She died of cancer on April 3, 1993 in Encino, CA at age 76. At the time of her death, Levitt chaired a committee for the USC School of Film and Television to memorialize blacklist-era writers. (Information adapted from Los Angeles Times obituaries)
Extent
23.75 linear feet or 19 record cartons
Restrictions
The responsibility to secure copyright and publication permission rests with the researcher.
Availability
Open for research, available by appointment only.