In 1930, prolific playwright, screenwriter, author and educator, John Howard Lawson moved to a large mansion at Palisades Del Rey/Playa Del Rey at 7440 Rindge Avenue, at the corner of Redlands Avenue.
He was for several years head of the Hollywood division of the Communist Party USA. He was also the organization's cultural manager and answered directly to V.J. Jerome, the Party's New York-based cultural chief. He was the first president of the Writers Guild of America, West after the Screen Writers Guild divided into two regional organizations.
Lawson was born in New York City, New York on September 25, 1894 to Simeon Levy and Belle Hart Lawson. His father would change their name from Levy to Lawson before Johnathon was born, his reason for which was so that his son could "obtain reservations at expensive resort hotels." When he was five, his mother died. She had named her children after people she admired: John Howard Lawson was named after John Howard, his sister Adelaide Jaffery Lawson was named after a friend of hers who was socially active, and Wendell Holmes Lawson was named after Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
After serving in WWI as an ambulance driver, and living in Europe for some time, Larson returned to the United States to continue a career in writing.
In 1928, Lawson moved to Hollywood where he wrote scripts for films such as The Ship for Shanghai, Bachelor Apartment, and Goodbye Love. In the winter of 1930-1931, it was at this time during the Great Depression that Lawson wrote Success Story. The Theatre Guild rejected the script, but Harold Clurman, a reader for them, had recently just formed the Group Theatre (New York) and needed new scripts. Clurman and Lawson reworked the play during the summer of 1932, and Success Story opened on September 26, 1932 for 121 performances. Lawson would also pen the screenplay based on the play, Success at Any Price in 1934.
After World War II, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as "friendly witnesses." During their interviews they named several individuals whom they accused of holding left-wing views.
Lawson appeared before the HUAC on October 29, 1947, but like Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Albert Maltz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, Samuel Ornitz and Ring Lardner Jr, he refused to answer any questions.
Known as the Hollywood Ten, they claimed that the First Amendment of the United States Constitution gave them the right to do this. The HUAC and U.S. appeals courts, however, disagreed and all were found guilty of contempt of Congress and Lawson was sentenced to twelve months in Ashland Prison and fined $1,000. In his 1951 HUAC testimony, Edward Dmytryk testified that Lawson, amongst others, had pressured him to put communist propaganda in his films.
Larwon was blacklisted. He moved to Mexico for a time, before returning to the US to serve his jail time.
Lawson later taught classes at Loyola University, today called Loyola Marymount University.
His testimony in front of the HUAC Committee, can be seen and heard here: