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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Refugees from Hollywood: A Journal of the Blacklist Years By Jean Ronverol. University of New Mexico Press. 277 pages. $21.88. S creenwriter Jean Rouverol’s spirited account of fleeing the United States during the Hollywood blacklist year domesticates the genre. Were it not for the unusual circumstances surrounding her family’s sojourn in Mexico, Refiigees_from Hollywood would have been a family history rather than the chronicle of a political era. But thanks to the writer’s focus and conversational tone she manages to achieve both. Such memoirs have generally been written by menmost recently by Ring Lardner Jr.,Walter Ber ‘s tein, and Bernard Gordon. These dwell on the consequences of their left-wing affiliations: the legal battles, unemployment and, in the worst of cases, prison. Rouverol’s concerns are more down to earth: How do you run a home, care for four children under the age of 10, continue your career as a screenwriter and radio actress, arid dodge a subpoena without your father-in-law finding out? When do you decide to pack up, lock the door behind you, and take off for Mexico? Some years ago I had the opportunity to ask her. At the time I was doing research on American political refugees who, like Jean and my parents, had moved to Mexico during the ’50s. Our interview took place in her com, fortably cluttered Santa Monica apartment with its few pieces of sturdy furniture and floor-to-ceiling bookcases, jammed with well-thumbed books, taking up most of the floor space. Jean is as unpretentious as her apartment and she answered me in much the same way she writes, simply but with great energy and humor. Her hair has gone gray, and her ‘face and figure are fuller than I remembered but she moves ,swiftly, with grace. Her voice, the same voice that answered my long-4go phone calls to her son Mike with a cheery eStien6? is still vibrant and enthusiastic, negating the worry lines etched deeply into her forehead. The sound of that voice took me back to my adolescence in the ’50s when Jean was never without a baby cradled in one arm, a small child resting against her hip. Everything within her orbit moved, giving .offan energy of its own.The Only time I ever saw her alone was when I caught an occasional glimpse of her back through a partially opened door. Seated behind her desk, typing or taking notes, she became an object of awe for mea woman writer, the only one I knew Even then I. recognized that the Butlerswe didn’t know her by her professional name in those dayswere unlike the majority of Americans residing in Mexico:They read books, tried to learn Spanish, weren’t Republicans, and didn’t work for the US.Embassy or a large American company. At the time of our interview, the first of many, ean was still writing Refugees from Hollywood and, as she does in the book, she began with the events leading up to their flight:Two men wearing hats. According to Jean, the only men in southern California who wore hats were FBI agents. After they dropped by looking for her husband, screenwriter Hugo Butler, the Couple decided to disappeartemporarily. They left their home and possessions behind and lied, saying they were off on a holiday in order to spare Hugo’s father, who suffered from a heart condition and disapproved of his son’s politics.The two grandmothers took charge of the children and the cat. Hugo and Jean moved from one friend’s home to another or spent the night in motels, with Jean occasionally joining the two younger children at her mother’s. Each morning they reported to work at Columbia Studios, often dressed in yesterday’s clothes, fearful a subpoena might be delivered to them at the studio. They lived with other fears as well. What would they do if the blacklist caught up with them and the work ran out? Was it possible that former Japanese internment camps were being reconditioned as “relocation camps” and that they and others like them were in danger of detention under the provisions of the McCarran Act? If this were indeed true, where would they go without passports, routinely denied to anyone with a political history? All countries required them with the exceptions of Mexico and Canada. They might have continued living in the United States, as did the majority of those under suspicion, had it not been for news Jean overheard on the radio during the spring: Attempts to serve subpoenas on several Hollywood professionals, including Hugo, were continuing. He decided to leave for ‘Mexico immediately and investigate the possibility of earning a living there. Meanwhile, Jean emptied their Los Angeles home with the intention of joining him with the children in Ensenada as soon as the school term was over: As she explains in her memoir: By now the storage people had come and gone, and our parachute bags, typewriters, etc. were fitted, along with the children and cat, into the twelve-year old Cadillac limousine we’d bought just before the crisis, a tall, black, stately vehicle complete with holders for bud Memories of an Almost Perfect Exile BY DIANA ANHALT 26 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5/11/01