Zero Mostel’s master class on How To Behave In A Star Chamber:
It began with the committee’s counsel immediately launching his attack. “Mr. Mostel, are you or are you not a Communist?”
Zero leaped out of his chair behind the counsel’s table, knocking the microphones to the floor, and reached for the throat of HUAC’s attorney while shouting, “That man called me a Communist! Get him out of here! He asked me if I’m a Communist! Get him out of here!”
The committee was roaring with laughter. They were delighted. Here they had Zero Mostel all to themselves, on stage, in a private dining room. Zero went on playing and parlaying with them for at least twenty minutes, responding to their questions by reciting each amendment in the Bill of Rights.
Finally, HUAC’s lawyers cautiously said, “Mr. Mostel, we know all about those amendments. We simply want to know are you, or are you not, claiming the Fifth Amendment.”
He didn’t ask Zero, “Are you or are you not a Communist.” He asked him, “Are you or are you not claiming the Fifth Amendment.” What they wanted him to say was “Yes.”
After another ten minutes of sparring, Zero said, “Yes, I’m claiming the Fifth Amendment.”
The hearings were stopped right there. The committee’s PR guy goes to the door and opens it. He doesn’t say a word to the crowd of reporters. He just holds up five fingers, and the press dashes off to the telephones there in the hotel. The headlines the next morning: “Zero Mostel Pleads Fifth Amendment at HUAC Meeting.”
Note: Mostel rocketed to stardom after his refusal to testify, more proof that the “ruined careers” myth of the Hollywood Ten is just that: b.s. Those ten screenwriters continued to work and get paid — they just had to use fake names. Some gulag…
Mostel’s performance is also proof that defiance, not submission, is a proven defence against bullies, rapists and kangaroo courts.