Navasky interviewed many of those who appeared before the committee. He asked them why they testified as they did. He wanted to know what effect it had had on their lives.
He concluded, "They named the names because they thought nobody would remember, and it turned out to be the one thing that nobody can forget." No other story typifies the entire era more than that of famed playwright Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan, the great director and successful novelist.
Kazan had directed Miller's plays All My Sons and Death of a Salesman. These men were the hottest team in the American theatre.
But Miller broke with Kazan when the latter appeared before the committee and named names.
A few days after Kazan testified another witness was asked if he was a friend of Kazan's.
The witness replied, "Is this the Kazan that signed a contract for $500,000 the day after he gave names to this committee?" A story is told that Miller later sent his play about informers, A View From the Bridge, to Kazan.
Kazan is said to have sent back word that he would be pleased to direct the play.
"You don't understand," Miller replied. "I didn't send it to you because I wanted you to direct it. I sent it to you because I wanted you to know what I thought about stool pigeons." For years, the two men didn't speak.
They had planned to collaborate on a movie about the New York waterfront but that was put off because Hollywood wanted Miller to make the bad guys Communists rather than Mafia.
So Kazan did his own film in collaboration with the writer Budd Schulberg, who had also testified and given names to the committee.
It was called On the Waterfront, now considered one of the best films of all time.
The climax of that film comes when Terry Molloy, played by Marlon Brando, decides to inform on his fellow criminals.
There is a memorable passage in Navasky's book that relives the days when Kazan was agonizing over the decision to testify.
The account comes in the words of the late Kermit Bloomgarden, who was the producer of Death of a Salesman. "I had an office at 1545 Broadway on the first floor. Kazan had one on the fourth floor. My office had a window then. He waved to me through the window to come have a drink with him at Dinty Moore's. He told me he'd been to Washington and met with J. Edgar Hoover and Spyros Skouras, and they wanted him to give names and he was going to call the people whom he had to name. Gadg [Kazan's nickname] wanted to know what I thought, and I said, `Everyone must do what his conscience tells him to do.'
"He said, `I've got to think of my kids.' And I said, `This, too, shall pass, and then you'll be an informer in the eyes of your kids, think of that.' Finally, we left Dinty Moore's and we walked down the block, and he went his way and I went mine, and we didn't see or speak to each other for fifteen years.
"I immediately called Miller and I said to Arthur that I was 99 percent sure that Gadg was going to give names. Miller went over to see Gadg and then he and Gadg walked through the woods in Roxbury, Connecticut, where Miller told him he would regret it for the rest of his life and tried to talk him out of what he was going to do. When he couldn't, Gadg went to Washington and Miller went right up to Salem and wrote The Crucible [a play about witchcraft and the moral cowardice involved in selling people out]." Years later, Navasky interviewed Kazan and asked him how he now felt about giving testimony.
Kazan said he couldn't talk about it because he was writing a book about his life experiences in which he would tell the story himself.
Kazan never explained his reason even when he did write his book. All we are left with as an explanation from Kazan is a quotation from Jean Renoir: "Everyone has his reasons." Miller and Kazan finally reunited after twenty years when Kazan directed the Miller play After the Fall. The play opened shortly after the death of Miller's former wife Marilyn Monroe. The leading female character was thought to be Miss Monroe and people turned on Miller for writing the play.