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.

10 Juicy Facts About Leeches

Ian Cook
Ian Cook

Leeches get a bad rap, but they’re actually pretty cool once you get to know them—and we're finding out more about them, even today. Recently, a team led by Anna Phillips, curator of parasitic worms at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, discovered a new species of medicinal leech (pictured above) in a Maryland swamp. We asked parasite expert and curator at the American Museum of Natural History Mark E. Siddall to share some surprising facts about the worms we love to hate. 

1. Not all leeches suck blood.

Hematophagous, or blood-feeding, species are only one type of leech. “The vast majority of species are [hematophagous],” Siddall tells Mental Floss, “but it depends on the environment. In North America, there are probably more freshwater leeches that don’t feed on blood than there are blood-feeders.” And even among the hematophagous species, there are not too many who are after you. “Very few of them are interested in feeding on human blood,” Siddall says. “Certainly they’ll do it, if they’re given the opportunity, but they’re not what they’re spending most of their time feeding on.” 

2. Leeches are everywhere.

Japanese leech on a log
Pieria, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

“Every continent on the planet has leeches, with the exception of Antarctica,” Siddall says. “And even then there are marine leeches in Antarctic waters.” Humans have co-existed with leeches for so long, according to Siddall, that just about every language has a word for leech. 

3. Leeches have made a comeback in medicine.

Bloodletting for bloodletting’s sake has fallen out of favor with Western physicians, but that doesn’t mean medicinal leeches are enjoying a cushy retirement. Today, surgeons keep them on hand in the operating room and use them as mini-vacuums to clean up blood. “That is a perfectly sensible use of leeches,” Siddall says. Other uses, though, are less sensible: “The more naturopathic application of leeches in order to get rid of bad blood or to cure, I don’t know, whatever happens to ail you, is complete hooey,” he says. How on Earth would leeches take away bad blood and leave good blood? It’s silly.” 

4. Novelist Amy Tan has her own species of leeches.

Land-based leeches made an appearance in Tan’s 2005 book Saving Fish from Drowning, a fact that instantly put the author in leech researchers’ good graces. “There are not a lot of novels out there with terrestrial leeches in them,” Siddall says. So when he and his colleagues identified a new species of tiny terrestrial leeches, they gave the leech Tan’s name. The author loved it. “I am thrilled to be immortalized as Chtonobdella tanae,” Tan said in a press statement. “I am now planning my trip to Queensland, Australia, where I hope to take leisurely walks through the jungle, accompanied by a dozen or so of my namesake feeding on my ankles.”

5. Leeches can get pretty big.

The giant Amazon leech (Haementeria ghilianii) can grow up to 18 inches and live up to 20 years. And yes, this one’s a blood-feeder. Like all hematophagous species, H. ghilianii sticks its proboscis (which can be up to 6 inches long) into a host, drinks its fill, and falls off. Scientists thought the species was extinct until a zoologist found two specimens in the 1970s, one of whom he named Grandma Moses. We are not making this up.

6. Leeches make good bait.

Many walleye anglers swear by leeches. “A leech on any presentation moves more than other types of live bait," pro fisher Jerry Hein told Fishing League Worldwide. "I grew up fishing them, and I think they're the most effective live bait around no matter where you go." There’s an entire leech industry to provide fishers with their bait. One year, weather conditions kept the leeches from showing up in their typical habitats, which prevented their collection and sale. Speaking to CBS news, one tackle shop owner called the absence of leeches “the worst nightmare in the bait industry.”

7. Leech scientists use themselves as bait.

Siddall and his colleagues collect and study wild leeches. That means hours of trekking through leech territory, looking for specimens. “Whether we’re wandering in water or traipsing through a bamboo forest,” Siddall says, “we are relying on the fact that leeches are attracted to us.” Do the leeches feed on them? “Oh my god, yes. We try to get them before they feed on us … but sometimes, obviously, you can’t help it.”

8. Leech sex is mesmerizing.

Like many worms, leeches are all hermaphroditic. The specifics of mating vary by species, but most twine themselves together and trade sperm packets. (The two leeches in the video above are both named Norbert.)

9. Some leech species make surprisingly caring parents. 

“There’s a whole family of leeches that, when they lay their eggs, will cover them with their own bodies,” Siddall says. “They’ll lay the eggs, cover them with their bodies, and fan the eggs to prevent fungus or bacteria from getting on them, and then when the eggs hatch, they will attach to the parent. They’re not feeding on the parent, just hanging on, and then when the parent leech goes to its next blood meal it’s carrying its offspring to its next blood meal. That’s pretty profound parental care, especially for invertebrates.”

10. You might be the next to discover a new leech species. 

Despite living side-by-side with leeches for thousands of years, we’ve still got a lot to learn about them. Scientists are aware of about 700 different species, but they know there are many more out there. “I’ll tell you what I wish for,” Siddall says. “If you ever get fed on by a leech, rather than tearing off and burning it and throwing it in the trash, maybe observe it and see if you can see any color patterns. Understand that there’s a real possibility that it could be a new species. So watch them, let them finish. They’re not gonna take much blood. And who knows? It could be scientifically useful.”

22 Weird Jobs From 100 Years Ago

Metal Floss via YouTube
Metal Floss via YouTube

Before everyone started working in tech, people actually had their choice of eclectic and strange vocations that put food on their old-timey tables. Discover what lamplighters, lectores, and knocker-uppers did back in the day as Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy runs down 22 Weird Old Jobs from 100 Years Ago.

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

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