Beverly Dennis

Blacklisted actress

The 1950s saw the publication of a small paperback called
Red Channels: the report of Communist influence in radio and television, price one dollar. The book was nothing more than a frequently misspelled list of over 100 names of show-business people, together with the alleged Communist or Communist-front organisations with which each was said to be connected.

Beverly Maxine Omensky (Beverly Dennis), actress and psychotherapist: born Rahway, New Jersey 12 December 1925; married 1944 Russell Dennis (died 1963), 1967 Jerry Kramer (died 1983; one daughter); died Los Angeles 20 January 2005.

The 1950s saw the publication of a small paperback called Red Channels: the report of Communist influence in radio and television, price one dollar. The book was nothing more than a frequently misspelled list of over 100 names of show-business people, together with the alleged Communist or Communist-front organisations with which each was said to be connected.

Although the careers of Judy Holliday, José Ferrer, Gypsy Rose Lee and the writers Lillian Hellman, Irwin Shaw, Dorothy Parker and James Thurber survived the smears of Red Channels, the career of the actress Beverly Dennis did not. When her name was mentioned in its pages, she was appearing in the successful television series The Red Buttons Show. Before you could say "unemployable", a one-dollar paperback blighted a career that had begun 16 years earlier, when she was only 10.

The New Jersey-born Beverly Maxine Omensky grew up in Chicago, where she became, at the age of 10, a busy broadcaster and stage performer. In the late 1940s she left the Windy City to try her luck in the Broadway theatre. A vibrant performance in a live television play attracted the attention of the veteran film director William "Wild Bill" Wellman, who brought her to Hollywood to play a pithy role in MGM's Westward the Women (1951).

Based on an original story by Frank Capra, this unusual western starred Robert Taylor as an Indian Scout, leading a wagon train full of nubile mail-order females on a 150-mile trek from Chicago to California to help their settler husbands populate the wild frontier. While on the West Coast, Dennis also acted in 20th Century-Fox's Take Care of My Little Girl (1951), an exposé of snobbism in American college sororities.

The following year, the comedian Red Buttons, who had seen Dennis give impressive performances at the Actors Studio, invited her to take over the role of his television wife. She was splendid in the role, a perfect foil for Buttons, and received welcoming reviews. Ah, but the 1950s were what Lillian Hellman called "Scoundrel Time" and, after Red Channels added the name "Beverly Dennis" to its list, the panicky network replaced her at the start of the show's 1953-54 season.

With films, radio and television closed to her, only the theatre was left. In 1953 she acted with José Ferrer in a Broadway production of Charley's Aunt, which he directed and starred in. She also appeared in a revival of Arthur Miller's play All My Sons, but was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the world of entertainment. So was her first husband, the actor Russell Dennis; also blacklisted, he eventually became a doctor (he died in 1963).

Beverly Dennis beat the blacklist by outliving it; after studies at New York University and Columbia University, she became a psychotherapist, spending the last 28 years of her life treating clients, many of them film people, in Los Angeles.

Dick Vosburgh



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