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)
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.
- The Citizen Machine: Governing by Television in 1950s America
- Hide in Plain Sight: The Hollywood Blacklistees in Film and Television, 1950-2002
- The Inquisition in Hollywood: Politics in the Film Community, 1930-1960
- A Shadow of Red: Communism and the Blacklist in Radio and Television
- Shut Up He Explained: The Memoir of a Blacklisted Kid
- Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist
- Upstaging the Cold War: American Dissent and Cultural Diplomacy
For easy, clickable fun, here are a few web resources.
- Online bookseller AbeBooks calls Red Channels “America’s Scariest Book” in this blog post. Check out Pete Seeger’s list of crimes!
- The Authentic History Center (I know, I’ve never heard of it either, and normally I wouldn’t link to an unfamilar site – but it does host some primary sources that I can vouch for) has a page called The Cold War Home Font: Political Reactionism that contains a very detailed timeline and a link to some sample pages from Red Channels.
- Learn more about Counterattack and Red Channels from Blacklisting: Two Key Documents by John Cogley and Merle Miller, which is available through Google Books – or if you have a valid Allegheny County library card, I bet that we can get this for you via Interlibrary Loan (there are lots of copies in print).
- The Museum of Broadcast Communications has a fine article about blacklisting. Here’s a quote for you to ponder: Though the scholarship of Red Channels was slipshod–the actors listed ranged from unapologetic Communist Party members, to mainstream liberals, to bewildered innocents–its impact was immediate and long-lasting.
- Listen to Reliving The Scare: Looking Back On ‘Red Channels’, a NPR story about the 60th anniversary of this strange and influential little book. (I admit it, I’m late to the party.)
- The Wikipedia article on Red Channels gives a little more background information and a nice list of other resources. (Remember kids, while you don’t want to do all of your research on Wikipedia, it’s not a bad place to start.)
Amy (once again not writing about Film or Audio)