John Berry (September 6, 1917 – November 29, 1999) was an American film director, who went into self-exile in France when his career was interrupted by the Hollywood blacklist.
John Berry was born Jak Szold in The Bronx, New York, the son of a Polish Jewish father and a Romanian mother. He began his entertainment career by as a child performer in vaudeville, first going on stage at the age of 4. In his teens, he briefly worked as a boxerunder the name Jackie Sold. Berry's father was a restaurateur, and at one point he owned 28 restaurants around New York City. His father went out of business during the Great Depression, and Berry sought to support himself by working as a comedian and actor.
Mercury Theatre and Hollywood
His first big break came when he was hired by the Mercury Theatre for a presentation of Julius Caesar that was produced by John Houseman and directed by Orson Welles. Berry acted in other roles with the theater and assisted Welles in directing the 1942 production of Native Son. In a late-life interview with The New York Times, Berry spoke positively of his association with Welles and Houseman. "It was like living near the center of a volcano of creating inspiration and fury, glamorous and exciting, full of the kind of theatricality that seems lost forever," he said.
In 1943, Houseman was producing films in Hollywood at Paramount Pictures and he hired Berry to direct the film Miss Susie Slagle's starring Veronica Lake and Lillian Gish. Berry stayed in Hollywood and directed other features, most notably From This Day Forward starring Joan Fontaine, Cross My Heart with Betty Hutton, the musical Casbah with Tony Martin and Yvonne De Carlo, and He Ran All the Way (1951) starring John Garfield and Shelley Winters.
In 1950, Berry agreed to direct a short documentary on the Hollywood 10, a group of directors and writers who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in their pursuit of supposed Communist Party infiltration within the U.S. film industry. After directing the crime drama "He Ran All the Way", Berry was named as a communist by fellow director Edward Dmytryk, a Hollywood Ten member who had been jailed for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with HUAC. After being released from prison, Dmytryk had gone into exile in England, but subsequently, he sought to reenter the Hollywood film industry. Thus, ex-Party member Dymytrk voluntarily testified before HUAC in April 1951, clearing himself by "naming names."
Berry was one of the 26 alleged "communists" named by Dmytryk (who went on to become a mainstream Hollywood director after the rehabilitation triggered by his Congressional mea culpa). Berry was also named as a communist by ex-Communist Party member Frank Tuttle. (Tuttle also testified before HUAC in 1951, after returning from Vienna, Austria to clear his name and regain employment in Hollywood by "naming names". ) Unable to secure work, Berry left the U.S. and resettled with his family in Paris. "He Ran All the Way" would be the last American film Berry directed for nearly a quarter of a century.
In France, Berry was hired to co-direct Atoll K, a comedy film starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. However, the blacklisted Berry did not receive screen credit; only French director Léo Joannon was credited as director.
During the 1950s, Berry directed two films starring Eddie Constantine, Ça va barder (1953) and Je suis un sentimental (1955), and he also directed Tamango (1958), a film about a slave uprising that starred Dorothy Dandridge.
The blacklist was broken in 1960 with the release of two films written by blacklisted Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo, Exodus and Spartacus, which gave Trumbo (one of the most prominent of the Ten) his first screen credits since being blackballed by Hollywood. With the blacklist broken, Berry returned to the U.S. in the early 1960s, where he directed episodes of the TV shows East Side/West Side and Seaway.
He continued to work in France, but again returned to the U.S in the 1970s and directed several films, most notably Claudine (1974), starring Diahann Carroll in an Academy Award-nominated performance, and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan (1978). At the time of his death, he was editing Boesman and Lena, a film version of the Athol Fugard play starring Danny Glover and Angela Bassett.
John Berry divided the remainder of his career between theater direction in London and film direction in Paris. His experiences during the Hollywood blacklist era were the inspiration of the character played by Robert De Niro in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion. (The director had played Ben, the night club owner, in the movie Round Midnight, which had been produced by Irwin Winkler, the writer-director of Guilty by Suspicion.)
Berry, looking back at his career for an interview with Newsday, remarked: "I wouldn’t give up my life for anything. I have been a curiously blessed individual despite all I’ve lived through."