Alan Arkin's Father Was A Victim Of The Red Scare For This Simple Reason

In 1952, in the midst of the Red Scare that gripped the United States with a fear that Communists had infiltrated every aspect of American life, the California Legislature enacted a loyalty oath for all teachers. This new law, flying in the face of the Bill of Rights' Fifth Amendment, forced educators to answer any question put to them by Congress or the state legislature, according to the Los Angeles Times.

David Arkin stood up to them, one among only a handful of teachers in Los Angeles to do so, and refused to answer any questions under the state's Dilworth Act about whether he was or had been a member of the Communist Party, per the Clarion-Ledger. The Los Angeles school board fired David, the father of actor Alan Arkin, and the family suffered for it. They were barely able to get by and were haunted by the taint of being labeled Communists, per The Guardian.

Heading West

David Arkin, an artist and writer, moved with his wife and three sons from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after World War II when Alan was 11 years old, according to the Associated Press. David had a family connection in the film business and hoped to get a job as a scenic painter in Hollywood, but his timing was bad.

"Consistent with a lot of my father's luck, the job didn't pan out," Alan Arkin recalled in his book "An Improvised Life: A Memoir." "The week we arrived in Los Angeles a strike was called in the studios that lasted six months, and my father's first and only opportunity in the movie business dried up." David's teaching career didn't fair much better after he refused to answer any questions from an anti-communist committee. Alan Arkin remembered their life in the aftermath of his father's firing. "I grew up dirt poor in L.A. and still recall the discomfort, the embarrassment of my family's situation," he said in 1998 (via The Gazette).

Posthumously cleared

Even as his son's film career took off, David Arkin fought to clear his name. He filed a civil suit against the Los Angeles School District, as did several other teachers who were also fired in the 1950s, according to the Clarion-Ledger. But David died in 1980 before receiving any redress. In 1982, the school district settled with David Arkin's estate and five other maligned teachers, who were symbolically reinstated to their old jobs and given a $200,000 settlement.

By the late 1960s, the school district had stopped enforcing the law. But it remains on the books in California, along with other related laws the legislature passed at the height of the Red Scare, according to The Fresno Bee. Alan Arkin went on to become an Oscar-winning actor who had roles in such films as "Catch-22," "Argo," and "Little Miss Sunshine," for which he won a best supporting actor Academy Award in 2007, before his death at 89 on June 29, 2023.