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Eric Allen Johnston (December 21, 1896 – August 22, 1963) was a business owner, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, a Republican Party activist, president of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), and a U.S. government special projects administrator and envoy for both Democratic and Republican administrations. As president of the MPAA, he abbreviated the organization's name, convened the closed-door meeting of motion picture company executives at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that led to Waldorf Statement in 1947 and the Hollywood blacklist, and discreetly liberalized the production code. He served as president of the MPAA until his death in 1963.

Eric Johnston
Eric Allen Johnson

(1896-12-21)December 21, 1896
DiedAugust 22, 1963(1963-08-22) (aged 66)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
EmployerMotion Picture Association of America
Spouse(s)Ina Hughes Johnston

Early lifeEdit

An Episcopalian,[1] Johnston was born "Eric Johnson" in Washington, D.C. His father, a pharmacist, moved the family to Marysville, Montana, when Johnston was a year old. In 1905, the family moved to Spokane, Washington. The Johnsons divorced in 1911, and Eric's mother, Ida, changed her and her son's last name to "Johnston."[2][3]

He attended the University of Washington, where he joined the Theta Delta Chi fraternity and graduated in 1917. During this time, he worked as a stevedore, newspaper sports columnist, library clerk, and shoe salesman.[2][3]

When the United States entered World War I, Johnston enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned a second lieutenant, and became a Reserve Officers' Training Corps commander at the University of Washington in 1918. He was promoted to captain, fought with the American Expeditionary Force Siberia in the Russian Revolution, and was named military attaché in Peking. Johnston acquired some Mandarin, traveled widely in Asia, and successfully speculated in Chinese currency.[2][3][4]

While in Beijing, Johnston was assaulted by an unknown person. His skull was fractured, which led to sinus infections and lung ailments and his discharge from the Corps in 1922 for medical reasons. Johnston returned to Spokane for its dry climate, where he married his long-time girlfriend, Ina Hughes. He became a vacuum-cleaner salesman, and bought the Power Brown Co., the Pacific Northwest's largest independent appliance distribution business. In 1924, the newly renamed Brown-Johnston Company purchased the Doerr-Mitchell Electric Co., a manufacturer of electrical appliances, ironwork and glassware.[2][3][5]

Johnston was elected president of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce in 1931.[2] He became managing trustee of the bankrupt Washington Brick and Lime Co., led it out of bankruptcy, and became its chairman. Johnston also became president of the Wayne-Burnaby Company, a regional electrical contractor.[3]

Chamber of CommerceEdit

As a rising regional businessman, Johnston became active in the national Chamber of Commerce. He was appointed to its tax committee in 1933, elected a director in 1934, and elected vice president in 1941. Johnston became head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce after a revolt by younger, moderate business executives pushed several older, conservative candidates aside. He refused to antagonize the American Federation of Labor or the Congress of Industrial Organizations, and advocated labor-management cooperation. Johnston persuaded the labor federations to make a no-strike pledge during World War II.[3][4]

In 1940, Johnston ran in the Republican primary for Senator from Washington state, but placed a distant second place with only 18 percent of the vote.[3]

Johnston served on several wartime commissions for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, including the Committee for Economic Development, the War Manpower Commission, and the War Mobilization and Reconversion Committee.[3] In 1943, President Roosevelt named him chairman of the United States Commission on InterAmerican Development. He traveled widely in Latin America, reassuring heads of state that the United States intended to protect them in the event of war.[2][3]

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin invited Johnston to tour Russia in 1944. Johnston agreed, and Roosevelt appointed Johnston an emissary of the United States. Johnston spent nearly a month in the Soviet Union, and was the first American diplomat to tour the Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union. He met with Stalin for three hours at a time when Ambassador W. Averell Harriman had yet to present his credentials to the premier.[2][3][6]

Johnston retired as Chamber of Commerce president in 1945. He was awarded the Presidential Medal for Merit in 1947.[3]

Head of the MPAAEdit

Johnston was named president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors Association (MPPDAA), the predecessor of the MPAA, in 1946. He immediately changed the name of the organization to its current title, the Motion Picture Association of America.[2][3]

The blacklistEdit

In September 1947, the motion picture industry came under sharp criticism by the House Un-American Activities Committee for allegedly permitting known communist sympathizers to include pro-communist messages in motion pictures. Spurred by Red-baiting members of the MPAA as well as a fear of government censorship, Johnston agreed to institute a blacklist.[7]

On November 25, 1947, Johnston was part of a closed-door meeting with 47 motion picture company executives at New York City's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel that resulted in the "Waldorf Statement". Johnston issued a two-page press release that marked the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist.[8]

During his tenure at the MPAA, Johnston quietly liberalized the production code.[5][9] He also engaged in major initiatives to secure a significant American share of the overseas motion picture market, and to reduce restrictions on the screening of American films in foreign markets.[10]

Government appointmentsEdit

In January 1951, Johnston was appointed administrator of the Economic Stabilization Agency by President Harry S. Truman, replacing Alan Valentine. He lasted only a few months in the job.[2][11]

President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Johnston a "Special Representative of the President of the United States" to deal with the water conflict between Israel, Jordan, and Syria in 1953. He worked to solve the Middle East's water problems by negotiating the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan.[2][3][5][12][13]

Johnston traveled to the Soviet Union and met Premier Nikita Khrushchev in 1958. The following year, he hosted Khrushchev in both Washington, D.C., and California during Khrushchev's 18-day visit to the United States.[2][14]


Eric Johnston served as president of the MPAA until his death in 1963. He suffered a stroke in Washington, D.C., on June 17. He was hospitalized at George Washington University Hospital, where he suffered a second stroke on July 4. He entered a coma on August 5, and died on August 22.[3][5][15] He was succeeded at the MPAA by Jack Valenti in 1966 after a three-year search.[16]

Cultural referencesEdit

Johnston is a key character in the play The Waldorf Conference, written by Nat Segaloff, Daniel M. Kimmel, and Arnie Reisman. The play is a fictionalized account of the Waldorf Conference of 1947 and the beginning of the blacklist.


  1. ^ Doherty, "A New Lobbyist to Represent Hollywood… Why They Need One", Boston Globe, July 8, 2004.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Edgerton, "The Eric Johnston Story", The Pacific Northwesterner, Fall 1989.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Bachrach, "Eric Johnston Dies", New York Times, August 23, 1963.
  4. ^ a b "Surprise for Mr. Roosevelt", Time, June 29, 1942.
  5. ^ a b c d "Milestones", Time, August 30, 1963.
  6. ^ Lawrence, "Soviet Is Pictured As Big U.S. Market", New York Times, June 20, 1944; Reston, "Johnston Extols Soviet Peace Aim", New York Times, July 14, 1944.
  7. ^ "Movies Pledge Aid in Inquiry on Reds", New York Times, September 30, 1947; Tower, "Critics of Film Inquiry Assailed, Disney Denounces 'Communists'", New York Times, October 25, 1947; Tower, "Film Men Admit Activity By Reds", New York Times, October 21, 1947.
  8. ^ "Movies to Oust Ten Cited For Contempt of Congress", New York Times, November 26, 1947; "Film Leaders to Map Communist Policy", New York Times, November 25, 1947; "Film Industry to Ban 'Known Communists'", New York Times, November 22, 1947; "Asks Rule on Jobs for Communists", New York Times. November 20, 1947; Schary, Heyday: An Autobiography, 1979, pp. 164–67.
  9. ^ Canby, "A New Movie Code Ends Some Taboos", New York Times, September 21, 1966; "Old Movie Taboos Eased in New Code For Film Industry", New York Times, December 12, 1956.
  10. ^ After World War II, many nations placed limits on the number of foreign-produced films which could be shown. These restrictions were designed to promote domestic film production. Since Hollywood produced more motion pictures than most of the world combined, these restrictions severely limited foreign distribution of American films. See Zeiler, Free Trade, Free World: The Advent of GATT, 1999; "Heads Film Export Unit", Associated Press, October 2, 1945.
  11. ^ Loftus, "Johnston Is Named Stabilizing Chief", New York Times, January 20, 1951; "Johnston Leaving Defense Job Nov. 30", New York Times, November 16, 1951.
  12. ^ Cronin, p. 189.
  13. ^ The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) commissioned a plan for the development of the Jordan River; this became widely known as "The Johnston plan". The plan was modelled on the Tennessee Valley Authority development plan for the development of the Jordan River as a single unit. See: Shapland, p. 14.
  14. ^ Frankel, "U.S., Soviet Agree to Film Exchange", New York Times, October 10, 1958; Schumach, "Khrushchev Sets Hollywood Agog", New York Times, September 10, 1959.
  15. ^ "Eric Johnston Has Stroke", Associated Press, July 5, 1963; "Eric Johnston in Coma", Associated Press, August 5, 1963.
  16. ^ Crowther, "New Czar on the Job", New York Times, May 1, 1966.


  • "Asks Rule on Jobs for Communists." New York Times. November 20, 1947.
  • Bachrach, Fabian. "Eric Johnston Dies." New York Times. August 23, 1963.
  • Canby, Vincent. "A New Movie Code Ends Some Taboos." New York Times. September 21, 1966.
  • "The Censors." Time. January 11, 1954.
  • Cronin, Patrick M. The Evolution of Strategic Thought. New York: Routledge, 2008.
  • Crowther, Bosley. "New Czar on the Job." New York Times. May 1, 1966.
  • Dart, Peter. "Breaking the Code: A Historical Footnote." Cinema Journal. 8:1 (Autumn 1968).
  • Doherty, Thomas. "A New Lobbyist to Represent Hollywood… Why They Need One." Boston Globe. July 8, 2004.
  • Edgerton, Ralph A. "The Eric Johnston Story." The Pacific Northwesterner. 33:4 (Fall 1989).
  • "Eric Johnston Has Stroke." Associated Press. July 5, 1963.
  • "Eric Johnston in Coma." Associated Press. August 5, 1963.
  • "Film Industry to Ban 'Known Communists.'" New York Times. November 22, 1947.
  • "Film Leaders to Map Communist Policy." New York Times. November 25, 1947.
  • Frankel, Max. "U.S., Soviet Agree to Film Exchange." New York Times. October 10, 1958.
  • "From the Word Factory." Time. January 31, 1949.
  • "Heads Film Export Unit." Associated Press. October 2, 1945.
  • "Johnston Leaving Defense Job Nov. 30." New York Times. November 16, 1951.
  • Lawrence, W.H. "Soviet Is Pictured As Big U.S. Market." New York Times. June 20, 1944.
  • Loftus, Joseph A. "Johnston Is Named Stabilizing Chief." New York Times. January 20, 1951.
  • "Milestones." Time. August 30, 1963.
  • "Movies Pledge Aid in Inquiry on Reds." New York Times. September 30, 1947.
  • "Movies to Oust Ten Cited For Contempt of Congress." New York Times. November 26, 1947.
  • "Old Movie Taboos Eased in New Code For Film Industry." New York Times. December 12, 1956.
  • "'Political' Blacklisting in the Motion Picture Industry: A Sherman Act Violation." Yale Law Journal. 74:3 (January 1965).
  • Reston, James B. "Johnston Extols Soviet Peace Aim." New York Times. July 14, 1944.
  • Schary, Dore. Heyday: An Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.
  • Schumach, Murray. "Khrushchev Sets Hollywood Agog." New York Times. September 10, 1959.
  • Shapland, Greg. Rivers of Discord: International Water Disputes in the Middle East. New York: C. Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1997.
  • "Surprise for Mr. Roosevelt." Time. June 29, 1942.
  • Tower, Samuel A. "Critics of Film Inquiry Assailed, Disney Denounces 'Communists'." New York Times. October 25, 1947.
  • Tower, Samuel A. "Film Men Admit Activity By Reds." New York Times. October 21, 1947.
  • Zeiler, Thomas W. Free Trade, Free World: The Advent of GATT. Wilmington, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8078-2458-5

External linksEdit

Non-profit organization positions
Preceded by
William H. Hays
Chairman of the Motion Picture Association of America
Succeeded by
Jack Valenti