Tag Archives: Communism

“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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Unexpected Detours and the Kindness of Strangers: A 1,001 Movies Update

A funny thing happened since my last movie project update — I accidentally watched a few movies that aren’t on the official list.

After you stop laughing, you might ask yourself just how on earth I managed that. In the case of The Phantom Lover, it’s simple: I don’t speak or read Chinese.  The movie I should have been looking for was a 1937 film called Song at Midnight, but since I used the Mandarin title, Yè bàn gē shēng, in my WorldCat keyword search, and then didn’t realize there was more than one movie using that title, I accidentally requested the wrong one. What makes this doubly hilarious is that Song at Midnight is, itself, an adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera, and The Phantom Lover is one of two remakes of Song at Midnight.  Layers upon layers of textual goodness to unpack!  However, with its lavish sets and costumes, lovely singing, and Romeo and Juliet allusions, The Phantom Lover is so wonderful that I’m hard-pressed to see how Song at Midnight can compare. 

Another blunder that led to an interesting cinematic experience was mistaking George Cukor’s Camille for Gregory Mackenzie’s Camille.  Instead of a swanky retelling of a Dumas novel, I accidentally subjected myself to 90 minutes of Sienna Miller playing an undead newlywed.  It wasn’t a horrible film, but it was definitely bizarre, and a little unsettling.  After all, if your husband doesn’t fall in love with you until after you’re a slowly rotting corpse, your relationship has issues that probably can’t be satisfactorily resolved in a 90-minute movie.  If only I had read the descriptive essay from the book before I checked out the wrong film!  On the bright side, David Carradine’s supporting role as a sad, philosophical cowboy made the movie a little more pleasant to watch, if still a bit puzzling. (Multi-colored horses?  Really?)

On the even brighter side, getting my hands on the right movies most of the time has been a snap thanks to the wonderful staff in the Film and Audio Department and a number of libraries elsewhere in the country who graciously sent me their films via interlibrary loan.  Not every library can buy every item its patrons want, for a variety of reasons, so it’s great that so many libraries are willing to share their collections, often for no charge.   Talk about the kindness of strangers!  And the ability to request interlibrary loans through the Carnegie Library is available to everybody with an Allegheny County library card, so don’t be shy about putting in those requests.

One incredible film that came via ILL was Karel Kachyňa’s Ucho [The Ear], a psychological nerve-bender about Ludvik, a minor Communist party official, and Anna, his grumpy wife.  The couple spends most of their tenth anniversary arguing with each other about whether or not the Communist party has bugged their house, as well as whether or not the authorities are on their way over to arrest Ludvik.  Beautifully demonstrating the principle that just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you, Ludvik and Anna scramble around their house setting documents on fire, hunting for hidden microphones, and hiding precious objects in their son’s school bag, all the while taking verbal potshots at each other a la Edward Albee. Just when the tension is about to become unbearable, the conflict is resolved in a “happy” ending. And if you want to know what I mean by that, you’ll definitely have to request the film yourself, or–if you don’t mind being stapled to your computer or small-screen gadget–watch it on YouTube.

Here’s a list of the (correct!) films I watched in this round of the “1,001 Movies” project:

  1. Ucho [The Ear], graciously loaned by the Wellesley College library system
  2. The Cow, graciously loaned by the Old Dominion University library system
  3. The Hangover
  4. Kes
  5. The House is Black
  6. Cinema Paradiso
  7. I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang
  8. M*A*S*H
  9. Rear Window
  10. Metropolis
  11. Network
  12. Slumdog Millionaire
  13. Badlands
  14. To Kill A Mockingbird

This brings my total movie-watching count up to a neat 220, and I’m still having a wonderful time, especially with this round’s wealth of classic films. I’m a little in love with Gregory Peck and not ashamed to admit it, either. I do wonder, however, when real life concerns and the cumulative lack of sleep are going to catch up with me.  I suppose I’ll just have to burn that bridge when I get to it.

Until next time, movie fans!

Leigh Anne

who also somehow managed to finish reading A Storm of Swords and is chomping at the bit for her turn with A Dance With Dragons


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Goulash and Fruit Salad

My wife Mara and I spent a wonderful week in Budapest, Hungary at the beginning of the month.  After suffering delays here and at JFK (as an aside you’d think terminal number whatever would have something higher caliber to eat in than a Burger King,) we arrived to a city singularly suited for visitors. That is if you like history, food, walking, convenient trains and buses, architecture, music and literature.  For bonus points you can throw in public mineral baths too.

Very sunburned men playing chess in water.

104 degree sulphur pool.

Beyond just wandering around we took some self guided walking tours and 2 quasi-organized group tours with an organization called Free Budapest Walking Tours.

Chain Bridge

Walking over to Buda.

The company ostensibly makes its money on tips.  I refer to them as quasi-organized because while the tour is scheduled and well-prepared – who comes and how many people there are isn’t.  The information simply says to meet at the Lion Fountain at Vörösmarty square at 9:30 or 3:30. (For future reference you should note that the public fountains in Budapest with cherubs, people, animals or gods spitting water are suitable for drinking from; it’s all potable and refreshing.) One of the tours we took was the Free Communist Walking Tour.  It was about two and a half hours, and was more about the whats, rather than the wheres; the specific sites were less important than learning about what happened.  The tour touched on the

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet Liberation Memorial

Soviet “liberation” of Hungary in 1945, Hungary as a Warsaw Pact nation, the 1956 uprising, daily life, and the collapse of the Communist regime(s) in 1989-1990.

Our guide, Gabor, was 39 year old university educated political economist who labeled himself a “Cold War Kid.”  He gave a good overview of  the history and personalities,  as well as an honest assessment of how he grew up; what being a “communist” meant as a child, and how the collapse of the iron curtain affected him and the country.  There were only a few of us in a group of 25 who actually grew up and remembered the period.  We were fascinated to find out that his Saturday mornings were almost like ours – watching Tom & Jerry, the Flintstones, some English cartoons and Czech animations.  He never felt any sense of deprivation or that he was missing something since his standards of comparison were not the same as ours.  There were some specific socio-economic barometers he mentioned though, that were indicative of the differences between east and west at the time.

Three “events” stood out for him.  The first was the arrival of bananas, which only came 3-4 times a year and activated the universal neighborhood grapevine system (like how we all knew the ice cream truck was around.)  Somehow the word got out, and mothers across the neighborhood would send their children out to stand in line for them.  The second happening was the arrival of fresh citrus, like the bananas an occasion necessitating the use of the local grapevine and juvenile line sitters. The last indicator of ideological feast/famine were the several parades held each year.  May Day, Liberation Day and Independence Day were all celebrated with parades and mass gatherings – kind of like Red Square without the ICBMs and Brezhnev.  Why were they significant?  Balloons.  The only time Gabor and his friends remember being able to get balloons were at these parades. Of all the things we might take for granted.

– Richard

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