Modern Mythology

SCHWARTZ, STEPHEN

Modern Mythology How Stalinists became martyrs by Stephen Schwartz Who in the world was John Henry Faulk? I grew up in the 1950s, a "red-diaper baby" born to parents intoxicated with pro-Soviet...

...But I lived on the West Coast and never understood why the national press, every once in a while, spent so much time on Faulk, an apparent radio celebrity whose performances I never heard...
...Of course, it is unfortunate that one should typically have to explain, today, that the Soviet show trials of 1936-38 constituted an immense homicidal purge of the country's political, military, and cultural elite by Joseph Stalin...
...from being aired on radio, screen, and television...
...I grew up in the 1950s, a "red-diaper baby" born to parents intoxicated with pro-Soviet progressiv-ism, and especially with the radio success of the Stalino-folk ensemble The Weavers...
...Aside from I Love Lucy, which passed through a transitory crisis when it was discovered that Lucille Ball had registered as a Communist voter in the 1930s, TV shows like Danger, an early hit, or the broadcasting idol Edward R. Murrow's You Are There, have sunk without trace...
...This was understandable, since he had been a Soviet secret police agent...
...The talent and appeal of John Henry Faulk, such as they may have been, are obscure, to say the least, but his "case" is a central element of this book...
...Classic TV fare from the 1950s can seldom be seen, mainly because of the physical degradation of video stock...
...All of them said he was a symbol of opposition to anticommu-nism...
...Most of those who lost work because of their Stalinist associations were minor figures who left almost no legacy of artistic excellence...
...They were not movie stars...
...For Murrow to take on McCarthy in vengeance for the death of Duggan puts a somewhat different construction on the events portrayed in George Clooney's project...
...The claim that the Stalinists were the best radio had to offer echoes a form of special pleading well-established in the politicized historiography of movies, wherein leftist academics argue that the campaign against Communist screenwriters and a few Red actors crippled American film art beyond measure...
...Faulk is not alone on history's dust heap...
...Nevertheless, David Everitt has done a service to Cold War historians by thoroughly documenting one of the most controversial anti-Communist efforts of the 1950s: the publication of a hard-edged newsletter aimed at communism in broadcasting, titled Counterattack, accompanied by a handbook of named suspects, Red Channels...
...For those reasons alone this volume has an evanescent feeling...
...This brings up, once more, "the Faulk effect...
...But that is another story...
...Broadway was never affected by this dread phenomenon, which many observers concluded was grayer than black even in movies...
...He had been barred from employment in 1955 as an executive for Texas radio stations owned by Lady Bird Johnson...
...The true addict has seen his or her favoritesóworks like 1954's On the Waterfront, the next year's Kiss Me Deadly, and Orson Welles's Touch ofEvil (1958)ódoz-ens of times, as have most directors and screenwriters...
...In reality, of course, the 1950s, with or without the Soviet aficionados, was a golden age of the American motion picture...
...Kempton did not agree with that item of liberal piety...
...None could explain what he did to entertain people, or why that was important...
...Faulk's biggest resume item was a CBS radio feature, The John Henry Faulk Show...
...Words without images are most often lost in the air...
...Joseph McCarthy, which is widely credited with ending McCarthy's career...
...The nullity of Faulk, at the height of his career, puzzled even Hart-nett, since the Texan seemed to have leaped out of nowhere to prominence inside AFTRA...
...Complaints about the rank Stalinist propaganda purveyed before World War II by Pete Seeger and other members of The Weavers brought about the loss of their radio and record-industry income, but little of their output before or after the war was memorable enough to be performed today...
...The Murrow performance was reenacted in the limp Good Night and Good Luck (2005), directed by a current left hero, George Clooney, but (as pointed out by Everitt) Murrow's own associations and sympathies were less than pristine...
...The point is that Stalin was a mass murderer as bad or worse, in some cases, than Hitler, and that to deny the Soviet internal massacres and what they demonstrated about the regimeóin 1938 or nowówas and remains as bad as denying the Holocaust of the Jews...
...The third hardly constitutes the prettification of American law enforcement...
...they comprised middle-ranking screenwriters, directors, and producers who appeared as obstreperously defiant witnesses before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, refusing to answer any questions about their Communist advocacy, which was no secret on the Hollywood labor scene, and they were briefly jailed for contempt of Congress...
...It is even more regrettable that some conservatives have taken to condemning the victims of the purges as evil commies no better than Stalin himself...
...Murrow is described in A Shadow of Red as inflamed by the suicide of his friend Lawrence Duggan, a known Soviet spy at a high level in the State Department, and whose depredations in the service of Stalin were anything but trivial...
...This and other sympathetic accounts of anti-Communism are good evidence that America's leftist intelligentsia will not forever impose its mythologies in the academy, in which the travails of a few minor entertainment figures who lost work are balanced with the ordeals of Stalin's purge victims...
...He mounted a challenge to the anti-Communists from inside AFTRA, and was supported by news personalities such as the late Charles Colling-wood and the TV variety-show host Garry Moore, also now dead...
...policies abroad after the Second World War, considered Soviet aggression a myth, and tangled with "the blacklist," i.e., the attempt to prevent arrant Muscovite propaganda Stephen Schwartz is the author of a forthcoming study of Sufism, to be published by Doubleday...
...Counterattack had been launched by American Business Consultants, Inc., established in 1947 by three former FBI agents, and financed and otherwise supported by a small conservative business group...
...Faulk was then fired by CBS...
...The anti-Communists experienced various contretemps with Communists and pro-Communists, through the 1940s and '50s...
...The suit consumed some six years, and ended in 1962 with a judgment of a half-million dollars in Faulk's favor...
...Movies have durability...
...Modern academics teach that Stalinism and McCarthyism were the same...
...People under suspicion as Stalinists were often denied some work, but few were truly excluded from the airwaves and either the small or large screen...
...Many of us remember their names, but who listens to old radio entertainment...
...He was punctiliously cooperative with the committee, managed adroitly to evade their questioning, was not charged with anything, and immediately fled for the other side of the Iron Curtain...
...Was the public investigation of Stalinists and Sovietophiles in Hollywood, radio, and television justified...
...Faulk was convinced, and strident in his opinion, that anti-Communists were all "fascists" who would "kill the country...
...One last empirical observation...
...But few people recall his involvement in the Hollywood controversy...
...The first two are implicitly anti-Communist, and undeniably great...
...Cold War history is fading out of popular consciousness, and today it resembles nothing so much as expertise in dinosaurs or rare diseases...
...I remember my parents pronouncing his name in a tone of horror...
...But Faulk, supported by Murrow and represented by the well-known trial attorney Louis Nizer, sued Hartnett and his organization for libel...
...But we must, finally, return to John Henry Faulk, who brought Vincent Hartnett down by a legal suit...
...In his 1952 comment, however, Kempton pointed out the other obnoxious aspect of anti-blacklist hysteria: the belief that the Stalinists removed from mass entertainment were "the flower of humanity and radio artistry...
...The anti-Communist liberal Murray Kempton pointed out, in 1952, the basic claim of the anti-blacklist crowd: "That a man who signed a letter praising the Soviet Union after the Moscow trials has no reason to apologize...
...As explained in this generally excellent book, Faulk was a Texas-twanging, East Coast-based humorist who opposed U.S...
...Nevertheless, the anti-Communists seem to have won the battle of historical memory in America...
...While writing this I asked a number of educated people who were adults in the 1950s why John Henry Faulk was significant...
...Remarkably, Faulk never denied, disclaimed, apologized for, or denounced any of them, quibbling only with the fairness of their exposure and consequences for his career...
...But while "the Hollywood 10" provide a widely recognized met-onym for the struggle over Stalinism in the movie business, few individuals can name any of them...
...The most famous of the Ten was, in reality, the eleventh witness at the session, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht...
...A citation in A Shadow of Red summarizes the debate in a manner difficult to surpass...
...In addition, radio and television styles go out of date much more quickly than films...
...These were further supplemented by the tireless activism of a former naval intelligence officer, Vincent Hartnett, and an organization called Aware, Inc...
...but Hartnett became the outstanding figure in the undertaking...
...But radio and television shows are disposable...
...Everybody knows the name of the outstanding director Elia Kazan, whose reputation is still brutally assaulted, even in death, by recusant leftists because he fully declared and admitted his past Communist associations...
...All that remains is to watch the collapse of the academic edifice about the so-called blacklist and its putative evils...
...They were not, and Kempton had it right: Anyone who supported the worst crimes of Moscow and refused to account for such actions got what they deserved, and some of them deserved quite a bit more...
...The episode that has retained the greatest presence in America's collective memory is the multi-act showdown between Edward R. Murrow and Sen...
...The anti-Communists denounced Faulk in a perfunctory manner, listing his endorsement of various Soviet-controlled enterprises...
...we watch them over and over...
...The litigation grew out of a confrontation inside the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), the powerful broadcasting union, between the anti-Communist forces and the self-styled "progressives," the anti-anti-Communists...

Vol. 12 • July 2007 • No. 40


 
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