10 Celebrities Named in the Communist Scare
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
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
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.