Millard Lampell was a true multi-threat artist -- a singer, songwriter, and author who survived the blacklist to become a successful playwright and an award-winning screenwriter in movies and television. Lampell was born in Paterson, NJ, and earned a football scholarship to the University of West Virginia. His horizons quickly moved beyond sports, however -- while in West Virginia, he became fascinated by the rural folk music that he heard. and his social conscience evolved as well in the mid-'30s, especially after he visited the home of a college roommate and discovered the conditions under which coal miners worked and lived; he also saw first-hand the battles waged between the United Mine Workers and the mine owners.
Lampell's goal after leaving college was to be a writer, and he headed to New York City, where he became part of the small but burgeoning colony of music, literary, and social iconoclasts who had taken root in Greenwich Village. He became a roommate of singer/activist/organizerLee Hays who, with Pete Seeger, had begun singing folk-style union songs at worker rallies, and soon Lampell was working with them as well. According to some accounts, while no one would or could ever question the sincerity of their dedication to the cause of labor and workers' rights, it was also the chance to meet members of the fairer sex afforded by a singing career that drew Lampell (and Seeger) into this activity. Whatever the full range of their motivations, the trio evolved into the Almanac Singers, which also included Woody Guthrie and (at one point) Josh White in their ranks, and became popular on the radio, eventually earning a recording contract as well. Their fortunes ebbed when right-wing pundits began attacking the group for its members' pro-Soviet political ties, but during their time together Lampell had a chance to write topical political songs with Guthrie, most notably "Union Maid."
Following America's entry into the Second World War, Lampell joined the U.S. Army Air Forces, and his experiences in uniform also became the basis for his first book, The Long Way Home. He continued to write short stories, poetry, and the novel The Hero, the latter of which was eventually turned into the movie Saturday's Hero (1951) starring John Derek and Donna Reed. And his service in the Almanac Singers proved an entrée to the larger musical world -- he collaborated with composer Earl Robinson on a cantata called "Abe Lincoln Comes Home" aka "The Lonesome Train," which was later performed on television and recorded on an album. That work, in turn, led to Lampell and Robinson co-authoring the series of folk-style ballads used to score the movie A Walk in the Sun (1945). Those ballads, which were among the earliest examples of folk ballads used as scoring for a feature film (a technique turned into a commercial gold mine when utilized by Dimitri Tiomkin, Ned Washington, and Tex Ritter in the movie High Noon), were later recorded by Robinson for the Folkways label, and were issued on CD in 2008. Meanwhile, in addition to his music activities, Lampell found himself in demand as a speaker -- he had made an appearance on the radio show Town Hall of the Air, discussing the needs of returning GI's, which led to invitations to speak before public gatherings all over the country.
Lampell's career was once more derailed by politics in 1950, as he became a victim of the Red Scare. In 1952, after two years of coping with ever-fewer opportunities to write or work, he was subpoenaed by the Senate Committee on Internal Security, and refused to testify about his past associations. Fortunately for Lampell, as a writer he was able to work surreptitiously in the 1950s and early '60s, and he authored several screenplays that were credited to other hands. Additionally, Broadway was still open to him -- in 1960, he adapted John Hersey's book The Wall, about the Warsaw ghetto, into a Broadway show that was also brought to Europe and later adapted into an award-winning television production. By the mid-'60s, he was working openly and winning awards for episodes of television series such as East Side, West Side and the drama Eagle in a Cage, for which he received an Emmy in 1966. At the presentation, in his acceptance speech, he had the temerity to bring up the fact of the blacklist, and revealed his uncredited authorship of several well-known scripts. His later television credits included The Adams Chronicles, Rich Man, Poor Man (the drama that began the mini-series boom), and The Orphan Train. He never forgot the roots of his career, however, and late in life published a book, co-authored with his wife, about Appalachian folk artists. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi