Blogs > Cliopatria > Ronald Radosh: Review of David Everitt's A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television

Sep 24, 2007 6:54 pm

Ronald Radosh: Review of David Everitt's A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television

There have been scores of accounts — in books, articles, documentary films, television, and Hollywood movies — of the blacklist in the movie industry. But virtually nothing has been written about the blacklist on the East Coast in radio and television. It is the merit of David Everitt's most readable and superbly researched "A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television" ( Ivan R. Dee, 411 pages, $27.50) that the author has disclosed that untold story and broken new ground with major revelations about what took place 50 years ago in the culture industry on the Eastern seaboard. He makes a strong case that this blacklist was more pervasive than the one enacted by the film industry that took down the now-famous Hollywood Ten. At mid-century, radio and television produced a livelihood for far greater numbers, and the medium reached many thousands more Americans than film.

Unlike in Hollywood, where the impetus for a blacklist came from producers caving to pressure from the House Committee on Un-American Activities, the East Coast version was the work of a very few anticommunist zealots. The effort was led by three ex- FBI agents who teamed up with an upstate New York grocery chain magnate, Laurence Johnson, and later a former naval intelligence officer, Vincent Hartnett. The outwardly powerful industry quaked in its boots when the group began its crusade to fire those Johnson suspected of being Reds. Through the publications Counterattack and later Red Channels, and the activist group AWARE Inc., members of the media industry in New York were given notice to be careful about the kinds of people they employed.

The result was staggering. Radio and television personalities — many of them genuine stars — began to lose their jobs. The list included Irene Wicker, the "Singing Lady" who had a popular children's television show; Philip Loeb, who played the father on the popular sitcom "The Goldbergs," and who committed suicide after he was fired; the actress Jean Muir; the great stage actor and comic Zero Mostel; the folk group the Weavers, who had topped the charts with "Goodnight Irene"; the actor Everett Sloane, confused by the blacklisters with someone more suspicious named Allen Sloane; the actresses Lee Grant and Kim Hunter, who followed Mr. Hartnett's instructions to redeem herself politically — opposing the left-wing faction in Actors Equity and publicly criticizing AFTRA's resolution against AWARE — and managed to stay in the business as a result.

The most significant public personality to be targeted was the man who broke the blacklist with his famous lawsuit, first filed in 1957, the Texas humorist and radio commentator John Henry Faulk. He has been lionized by his lawyer Louis Nizer in the bestselling book "The Jury Returns" (1966), and in a network television docudrama based on his court case. Now largely forgotten — Faulk ended his career on the country television show "Hee-Haw" — Faulk was once a CBS radio commentator who held a large and devoted audience. He would become enraged at the blacklist, vow to fight it, and organize to bring an end to it. Portraying himself as an innocent good liberal who believed in the cause of free speech, he won the libel suit in 1962 by knocking down Mr. Hartnett's sloppy and inaccurate attacks on him. Faulk was awarded a half-million dollars in damages, and became radio and TV's equivalent to Dalton Trumbo, who broke the movie industry blacklist during the same period.

Mr. Everitt does much more than simply retell the story of Faulk's fight against the blacklist. He also skillfully examines the false persona concocted by Faulk to protect himself against charges such as those made by Mr. Hartnett. Though he presented himself as a well-meaning, even naïve, liberal, Faulk was in fact a hardened left-winger with communist sympathies who privately denigrated the country he lived in. He was hardly the "Southern liberal … who detested Communism," as Nizer put it on the witness stand; he even believed the Korean War had been planned by John Foster Dulles and Douglas MacArthur in conjunction with the pro- Chiang Kai-shek China lobby, each determined to introduce a policy that would offset the effects of the American abandonment of China. Faulk lied when he said he had never supported Henry Wallace's 1948 presidential campaign and hid his opinion of Harry Truman as a "sick whore." Even years later, at a forum held in 1967, Faulk defended the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, calling the rebels "stylish" poseurs, who wanted to set up a government that would bring Hitlerism back to Hungary

And yet, his adopted persona convinced contemporaries. Even the anticommunist liberal journalist Murray Kempton was taken in by the performance, calling Faulk a "red, white, and blue fellow." Mr. Everitt proves false much of Faulk's public testimony and ends his book with the bombshell that, in an affidavit for CBS, Faulk lied when he said he had never been a communist. A statement by Faulk admitting membership in the Young Communist League in the 1930s was found in the ACLU files of writer Merle Miller.

Despite the culpability of some of its targets, by the time of Faulk's lawsuit the blacklist had become "revolting despite its cloak of anti-Communist patriotism," the influential liberal journalist Max Lerner wrote. With Faulk's triumph in court, the crusade had been brought to its knees. Soon, Faulk not only found work, but was able to publish a bestseller about his ordeal, "Fear on Trial"(1964).

It is Mr. Everitt's accomplishment to get beyond the conventional, black and white moral simplicity of most readings of the era, with all the good guys on one side and the bad guys on the other. "Neither side," he concludes, "was especially interested in fair play for its enemies." Once, during Faulk's trial, a friend asked him if the charges were true. Faulk answered: "Oh, honey. What does that matter? Don't you see these people are fascists. If they didn't have something on us, they'd have made something up." In fact, Faulk was an anti-anticommunist who "had been passed off as a Truman Democrat," and those defending him did so on false premises. Faulk's real political position was that of the typical fellow-traveling lefty of that era. Those who held his politics were reluctant to criticize totalitarian regimes abroad and had a "tendency to find fault first with America."

If Faulk and his defenders dissembled, the blacklisters only helped their cause. "Their extremism, their willingness to put people out of work," Mr. Everitt writes, "helped delegitimize anti-Communism for many years." The extremists on both sides paralyzed the sane middle, composed of Americans who remained unable to hold their own in the battle of the ideologues. Had the center "insisted on a sense of perspective and balance," Mr. Everitt concludes, the "crisis might not have occurred at all." It is a lesson never too late to learn.

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Michael Green - 11/12/2007

I am not here to defend John Henry Faulk's position on anything, but to ask whether Mr. Radosh thinks that if Mr. Faulk had the positions he attributes to him, he should have been blacklisted. I ask because Mr. Faulk was blacklisted for his past actions, but did the TV show he had at the time promote communism? And can or would Mr. Radosh deny the truth in Mr. Faulk's statement that if his accusers had nothing on him, they would still make something up? Because it seems self-evident that those who created the blacklist had as much interest in truth as I do in tiddlywinks--meaning none.

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