Saturday, July 14, 2012

Something Rash

“What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists?” a Floridian asked at a Tea Party.

“That’s a fair question. I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party,” answered an elected member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Allen West, Republican.  He said that is what he has “heard.”  What I heard was that 80 Communists wandering the halls of the Capitol had off-loaded from two tour busses of Beijing business men, Cantonese cut-rate factory chiefs, and Chinese currency manipulators.  For clarification, Congressman West’s spokesperson said, “call it what you may, but these (Democrat) members are clearly not proponents of capitalism, free markets or individual economic freedom."  Sit Rep. West with Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor, John Boehner, Michele Bachman, et al, in the corner with the dunce caps.  Has there ever been more ignorance in the U.S. Congress? 

Well, yes.  In 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) compiled a list of Hollywood actors, writers, and directors to answer the question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”  

Actor Ronald Reagan, president of the Screen Actors Guild, and Walt Disney, father of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, led off HUAC testimony warning that Communists were a serious threat by way of the movie making business. Disney co-founded a Political Action Group that advised Hollywood avoid “subtle Communistic touches” in films: “Don't smear the free-enterprise system ... Don't smear industrialists ... Don't smear wealth ... Don't smear the profit motive ... Don't deify the 'common man' ... Don't glorify the collective.” 

Others protested HUAC and organized the Committee for the First Amendment.  Of 43 on the HUAC witness list, 11 were subpoenaed.  Ten of them refused to testify, based on their rights of freedom of speech and assembly under the U.S. Constitution.  All ten were convicted and jailed for contempt of Congress.  The one HUAC “unfriendly witness” who testified was Bertolt Brecht, German poet and playwright, in the United States because he had been chased out of Europe by the Nazis. 

Members of the House Un-American Activities committee during the 1947 Hollywood Ten hearings included freshman congressman Richard Nixon (R-California), John S Wood (D-Ga), an open-secret Ku Klux Klansman, and chief Inquisitor Robert E. Stripling of Texas.  Chairman was John Parnell Thomas (R-NJ), later convicted of fraud and taking kickbacks, then imprisoned in the same Danbury, Ct., Federal Correctional Facility as members of the Hollywood Ten.

Bertolt Brecht, the Hollywood Eleventh, testified before HUAC:

MR. STRIPLING: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party of any country?
MR. BRECHT: Mr. Chairman, I have heard my colleagues when they
considered this question not as proper, but I am a guest in this country and
do not want to enter into any legal arguments, so I will answer your ques-
tion fully as well I can. I was not a member, or am not a member, of any
Communist Party.
MR. STRIPLING: Mr. Brecht, is it true that you have written a number
of very revolutionary poems, plays, and other writings?
MR. BRECHT: I have written a number of poems and songs and plays in
the fight against Hitler and, of course, they can be considered, therefore, as
revolutionary because I, of course, was for the overthrow of that govern-
MR. STRIPLING: Mr. Brecht, may I interrupt you? Would you consider
the play to be pro-Communist or anti-Communist, or would it take a neu-
tral position regarding Communists?
MR. BRECHT: No, I would say-you see, literature has the right and
the duty to give to the public the ideas of the time. Now, in this play-of
course, I wrote about twenty plays-but in this play I tried to express the
feelings and the ideas of the German workers who then fought against Hit-
ler. I also formulated in an artistic-
MR. STRIPLING: Fighting against Hitler, did you say?
MR. STRIPLING: Written in 1930?
MR. BRECHT: Yes, yes. Oh, yes, that fight started in 1923.

Brecht explained, “I myself escaped being sentenced because, as a non-American, I had to answer the question; I was not protected by the Constitution.  My American colleagues were protected by the Constitution; it was the Constitution that was not protected.” 

Most remembered of Brecht's literary work The Three Penny Opera (Die Dreigoschenoper) contains the song "Mack the Knife" ("Die Moritat von Mackie Messer").  Bobby Darin won a Grammy with his version of "Mack the Knife."  Television disk jockey Dick Clark had advised Darin against making the recording, as not a good career move for the young Rock and Roll singer of "Splish Splash."  Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Ertha Kitt, Bill Haley, and Sting also recorded "Mack the Knife," presumably generating significant songwriter royalties for Brecht's estate.  Here Brecht himself sings "Die Moritat von Mackie Messer."

1 comment:

Tina said...

Good job, Bill. The hearings at last exhausted the patience of the public and became a topic of ridicule for many. Even so those were scary, witch-hunting times. When ideology trumps rationality we are all in trouble.


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