Daily Archives: June 22, 2012

“Where there’s red smoke there’s usually Communist fire.”

What do Leonard Bernstein, Dashiell Hammett, Langston HughesGypsy Rose Lee, Alan Lomax, Arthur Miller, Zero Mostel, Pete Seeger, William L. Shirer, and Orson Welles have in common?

They all appear in Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television, which was first released on this day in 1950.  The Library of Congress describes it succinctly:

In June 1950, three former FBI agents who had created American Business Consultants, a vigilante organization to combat communism, issued Red Channels, a booklet listing 151 people connected with the broadcasting industry whom they suspected of subversive activities. The publication listed organizations and activities with which each individual had “reported” associations. Along with in-house private lists, Red Channels was adopted by the radio and television industries as a blacklist to deny employment to those named.

Pretty crazy, huh? Well, it gets even crazier once you wade into it:

The purpose of this compilation is … to indicate the extent to which many prominent actors and artist have been inveigled to lend their names, according to these public records, to organizations espousing Communist causes. This regardless of whether they actually believe in, sympathise with, or even recognize the cause advanced. (p. 9)

Looks ominous.

Let’s for a moment ignore the fact that “inveigled” is an awesome word that doesn’t get used nearly often enough, and focus on the fact that you could end up on this list even if you didn’t believe in Communism. Even if you didn’t know or care about Communism. Damn, that’s harsh.

To a modern reader, the variety of “subversive activities” listed within is both confusing and hilarious. According to Red Channels, those sneaky Communists intend to destroy America by attending spring balls, supporting Paul Robeson, entertaining at anti-Fascist rallies (isn’t that a good thing?), trying to abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee (that one’s a big no-no), reviewing Russian poems, sending telegrams to the President, and sponsoring milk drives.

Telegrams and milk drives. Wow.

If you’d like to learn more about this depressing, paranoid, and just plain weird chapter in American history, look in our catalog under Blacklisting of Authors – United States and Blacklisting of Entertainers – United States. You’ll find books like these, and more.

                         

For easy, clickable fun, here are a few web resources.

I learned about Lord Haw Haw in college. Neato.

The title of this post comes from an August 15, 1949 editorial in Broadcasting magazine, quoted on p. 6 of Red Channels. The full editorial, pictured at left, is taken from AmericanRadioHistory.com.

Subversively yours,

Amy (once again not writing about Film or Audio)

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