10 Celebrities Named in the Communist Scare

Orson Welles at a demonstration in New York City
Orson Welles at a demonstration in New York City
Getty Images

On June 8, 1949, the FBI named a slew of celebrities as members of the Communist Party. They may have been right to suspect some, but others were just completely ridiculous. Either way, here are 10 people who were accused at some point during the Red Scare.

1. HELEN KELLER

We think of her as the nearly saint-like woman based on the amazing story of how she learned to communicate despite being blind and deaf. But as an adult, Helen Keller was fairly radical in her political thinking, and the FBI definitely took notice. Although a "formal investigation" never took place, the FBI did monitor Keller enough to know that she had sent "loving birthday greetings to Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, a prominent communist leader, on her 65th birthday."

2. LEONARD BERNSTEIN


By The Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

The composer and conductor fell under the FBI's watchful eyes for more than 30 years. He was targeted as a communist during the whole McCarthy era, even though he swore on an affidavit that "I am not now or at any time have ever been a member of the Communist Party." The FBI was never able to officially verify that he was a member of the Communist Party, but they continued to monitor his activities when he supported Vietnam protesters and became friends with a member of the Black Panthers. In fact, in 1970, J. Edgar Hoover documented his intentions to run a smear campaign against Bernstein specifically because of his Black Panther ties.

3. BURL IVES

Burl Ives was called out in the 1950 Red Channels pamphlet, a brochure that named 151 supposed Communists in the entertainment industry who should be avoided. He adamantly denied being a Communist and said that any union activity he had participated in was simply to keep in touch with "working folk." Because of his cooperation with the House Un-American Activities Committee, he was removed from the blacklist. However, friends such as Pete Seeger felt that Ives had sold them out in order to get back to work and severed ties with him for many years.

4. PETE SEEGER

Folk singer Pete Seeger was a member of both the Young Communist League and the Communist Party and made no bones about it. "My father, Charles Seeger, got me into the Communist movement," he said, but later apologized for "following the party line so slavishly, for not seeing that Stalin was a supremely cruel misleader." When he was called to testify in front of HUAC in 1955, Seeger refused to plead the Fifth, but also refused to name any names. He was held in contempt of Congress and was sentenced to serve 10 years in jail for it, but the conviction was overturned.

5. ARTIE SHAW

Artie Shaw, also named in the Red Channels pamphlet, was brought before HUAC in 1953 for statements supporting the Communist Party and for allegedly attending a couple of meetings. Shaw didn't dispute that he had been present at a number of gatherings, but said that it was simply because of his interest in social justice and world peace.

"I hate to admit that I was a dupe, but I guess I was," he told the committee. But if you believe Olivia de Havilland, Shaw was definitely behind Communism all the way. During a meeting of the Independent Citizens' Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions, Shaw started talking about how the Soviet constitution should be the standard-setter when it came to democracy. Years later, de Havilland recalled, "He said to me, 'Have you read the Russian constitution?' And I said, 'No I haven't—and how recently have you read ours?'"

6. ZERO MOSTEL


By Graphic House, New York - eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Zero Mostel was named to the list of suspected Communist Party members in 1952, and although he didn't appear before HUAC until 1955, the accusation was enough to kill his career. When he finally got to testify, Mostel took the opportunity to exercise the comedic chops which had been in hibernation since the public accusation. When the committee's counsel asked, "Mr. Mostel, are you or are you not a Communist?" he leapt out of his chair and acted like he was grabbing for the attorney's throat, yelling, "That man called me a Communist! Get him out of here! He asked me if I'm a Communist! Get him out of here!"

He pretty much owned the trial after that, mocking the counsel and indirectly refusing to name names (directly refusing to name names would have landed him a jail sentence like Pete Seeger's). Needless to say, this didn't win them over, and he remained blacklisted.

7. CHARLIE CHAPLIN

Charlie Chaplin was such a worry to the FBI during the Red Scare that J. Edgar Hoover tried to have him deported. When he left the country in 1952 to promote his movie Limelight, Hoover collaborated with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to revoke Chaplin's reentry permit. Instead of fighting it, Chaplin made the choice to stay in Europe, making his home in Switzerland. He issued the following statement:

"... Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States."

The iconic filmmaker only ever came back to the U.S. very briefly, to collect an Honorary Oscar in 1972.

8. LANGSTON HUGHES

Langston Hughes was involved in several Communist-supported groups and activities but was never actually a party member (according to him, anyway; obviously HUAC felt otherwise). Because the Communist Party of the United States often used his poetry in their newspaper and because Hughes had expressed interest in Marxist ideas in the 1930s, he was called to testify in 1953. He refused to give up any names, but freely answered all questions around his own writing and political views. He said he had never joined the Communist Party because "It was based on strict discipline and the acceptance of directives that I, as a writer, did not wish to accept." After the hearing, he began to distance himself from some of his more radical poetry.

9. AND 10. ORSON WELLES AND DOLORES DEL RÍO

Despite being a strong Roosevelt supporter, Orson Welles was considered one to watch by the FBI. A 1941 memo from the Bureau stated that "this office has never been able to establish that Welles is an actual member of the former Communist Party or the present Communist Political Association ... he has consistently followed the Communist Party line and has been active in numerous front organizations." They placed him on a list of people who should be taken into custody should the U.S. have a national emergency, and it was recommended that his phone be tapped. Although he said otherwise, many speculate that the Red Scare and all of the accusations were the reason that Welles left the U.S. for Europe from 1948 to 1956. Mexican actress Dolores del Río was presumably blacklisted simply for her romantic relationship with Welles.

26 Fascinating Facts About Fossils

Mental Floss via YouTube
Mental Floss via YouTube

If you’ve never visited the Big Bone Room, you’re in luck. Check out our visit to New York City's American Museum of Natural History for a rundown on fossils, which provide invaluable insight into our understanding of history and its once-living occupants.

In this edition of "The List Show," editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy explains the ins and outs of excavation, fossil follies (extinct giants were a big miss), and the terrorizing prospect of a 3-foot-tall parrot.

For more episodes like this one, be sure to subscribe here!

14 Festive Facts About A Charlie Brown Christmas

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

More than 50 years since its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas remains one of the most beloved holiday specials of all time. Like Charlie Brown himself, the flaws—scratchy voice recordings, rushed animation—have proven endearing. Take a look at some facts behind the show that killed aluminum trees, the struggles to animate Chuck’s round noggin, and why Willie Mays is the unsung hero of Peanuts.

1. Charles Schulz wasn't really interested in getting into animation.

Since the debut of Peanuts in 1955, Charles Schulz and United Press Syndicate (which distributed the comic strip) had gotten a steady stream of offers to adapt the characters for film and television; the artist was also directly petitioned by young readers, who would write Schulz asking when Snoopy would come to some kind of animated life. His stock reply: “There are some greater things in the world than TV animated cartoons.”

He relented for Ford Motors—he had only ever driven a Ford—and allowed Charlie Brown to appear in a series of commercials for the Ford Falcon in the early 1960s. The spots were animated by Bill Melendez, who earned Schulz’s favor by keeping the art simple and not using the exaggerated movements of the Disney films—Bambi, Dumbo—Melendez had worked on previously.

2. Willie Mays played a part in getting it made.

Schulz capitulated to a full-length special based on the professional reputations of his two collaborators. The cartoonist had seen and enjoyed executive producer Lee Mendelson’s documentary on baseball player Willie Mays, A Man Named Mays; when Mendelson proposed a similar project on Schulz and his strip, he agreed—but only if they enlisted Melendez of the Ford commercials. The finished documentary and its brief snippet of animation cemented Schulz's working relationship with the two and led Schulz to agree when Mendelson called him about a Christmas special.

3. CBS and Coca-Cola only gave them $76,000 to produce it.

When Coke executives got a look at the Schulz documentary and caught Charlie Brown on the April 1965 cover of Time, they inquired about the possibility of sponsoring an hour-long animated holiday special. Melendez felt the short lead time—only six months—made that impossible. Instead, he proposed a half-hour, but had no idea how much the show should be budgeted for; when he called colleague Bill Hanna (of Hanna-Barbera fame) for advice, Hanna refused to give out any trade secrets. Melendez wound up getting a paltry $76,000 to cover production costs. (It evened out: Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez wound up earning roughly $5 million total for the special through 2000.)

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas was going to have a laugh track.

In the ‘60s, it was standard procedure to lay a laugh track over virtually any half-hour comedy, even if the performers were drawn in: The Flintstones was among the series that used a canned “studio audience” to help cue viewers for jokes. When Mendelson told Schulz he didn’t see the Peanuts special being any different, the artist got up and left the room for several minutes before coming in and continuing as if nothing had happened. Mendelson got the hint.

5. Snoopy's voice is just sped-up nonsense.

The early Peanuts specials made use of both untrained kids and professional actors: Peter Robbins (Charlie Brown) and Christopher Shea (Linus) were working child performers, while the rest of the cast consisted of "regular" kids coached by Melendez in the studio. When Schulz told Melendez that Snoopy couldn’t have any lines in the show—he’s a dog, and Schulz’s dogs didn’t talk—the animator decided to bark and chuff into a microphone himself, then speed up the recording to give it a more emotive quality.

6. Charles Schulz hated jazz.

The breezy instrumental score by composer Vince Guaraldi would go on to become synonymous with Peanuts animation—but it wasn’t up to Schulz. He left the music decisions to Mendelson, telling a reporter shortly after the special aired that he thought jazz was “awful.”

7. Charlie Brown's head was a nightmare to animate.

Because Melendez was unwilling to stray from Schulz’s distinctive character designs—which were never intended to be animated—he found himself in a contentious battle with Charlie Brown’s noggin. Its round shape made it difficult to depict Charlie turning around; as with most of the characters, his arms were too tiny to scratch his head. Snoopy, in contrast, was free of a ball-shaped cranium and became the show’s easiest figure to animate.

8. Charles Schulz was embarrassed by one scene.

Careful (or repeated) viewings of the special reveal a continuity error: in scenes where Charlie Brown is standing near his tree, the branches appear to grow from moment to moment. The goof annoyed Schulz, who blamed the mistake on two animators who didn’t know what the other was doing.

9. A Charlie Brown Christmas almost got scrapped by Coke.

Mendelson recently told USA Today that an executive from McCann-Erikson—the ad agency behind Coke—paid him an impromptu visit while he was midway through production. Without hearing the music or seeing the finished animation, the ad man thought it looked disastrous and cautioned that if he shared his thoughts with Coca-Cola, they’d pull the plug. Mendelson argued that the charm of Schulz’s characters would come through; the exec kept his opinion to himself.

10. CBS hated A Charlie Brown Christmas.

After toiling on the special for six months, Melendez and Mendelson screened it for CBS executives just three weeks before it was set to air. The mood in the room was less than enthusiastic: the network found it slow and lacking in energy, telling Melendez they weren’t interested in any more specials. To add insult, someone had misspelled Schulz in the credits, adding a “T” to his last name. (Schulz himself thought the whole project was a “disaster” due to the crude animation.)

11. Half the country watched A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Viewers weren’t nearly as cynical about Charlie Brown’s holiday woes as his corporate benefactors. Preempting a 7:30 p.m. EST episode of The Munsters, A Charlie Brown Christmas pulled a 50 share, meaning half of all households with a television turned on were watching it. (That amounted to roughly 15 million people, behind only Bonanza.) CBS finally acknowledged it was a winner, but not without one of the executives getting in one last dig and telling Mendelson that his “aunt in New Jersey didn’t like it.”

12. A Charlie Brown Christmas killed aluminum tree sales.

Aluminum Christmas trees were marketed beginning in 1958 and enjoyed fairly strong sales by eliminating pesky needles and tree sap. But the annual airings of A Charlie Brown Christmas swayed public thinking: In the special, Charlie Brown refuses to get a fake tree. Viewers began to do the same, and the product was virtually phased out by 1969. The leftovers are now collector’s items.

13. There's a live-action play version of A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Up until 2013, anyone staging a live-action rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas for their local school or theater had one thing in common: they were copyright infringers. The official rights to the story and characters weren’t offered until recently. Tams-Witmark fields licensing requests for the play, which includes permission to perform original songs and advertise with the Peanuts characters—Snoopy costume not included.

14. In 2015, the voice of Charlie Brown was arrested.

Peter Robbins continued voicing Charlie Brown until he turned 13 years old, at which point puberty prohibited him from continuing. In November 2015, the 59-year-old Robbins pleaded guilty to making criminal threats against a mobile home park manager and a sheriff. According to CBS News, the troubled former actor claimed that schizophrenia and bipolar disorder led him to make the threats. He was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison.

Additional Sources:
The Art and Making of Peanuts Animation
Schulz and Peanuts
A Charlie Brown Christmas: The Making of a Tradition
.

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