lie shrewd social comment, razor-keen report ing, skillful satire, and a deep appreciation of the poetic imagery of plain folks’ faith.” By 1951 he was with CBS, with “The John Henry Faulk Show” on the network’s flagship radio station. Four hours daily of downto-earth humor were mixed with music, weather, and call-in opinions from listeners on issues of the day. As those issues became dominated by fear of internal communist subversion and by the Korean War, John Henry grew despondent. But by 1954 Joe McCarthy had been censured by the Senate and the red scare had lost its impetus. Yet it persisted here and there, and the McCarthyite blacklist system was too deeply entrenched in radio, television, and Hollywood to disappear quietly or easily. In the 1950s, Aware Inc., was one of the three major “smear and clear” organizations that successfully blacklisted alleged communists in this industry. These racketeers charged fees for undercover reports, for each person’s clearance to the networks, and for various other services, and basically controlled who worked and who did not work in the entertainment industry. There were not enough actual communists, of course, to keep the scam running, so the real targets were liberals. Targeted artists who would not confess to anything were thrown into exile by the industry. In December 1954, the Aware slate won its 18th consecutive election victory in the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in New York, but the McCarthyites were clearly perturbed that a growing number of people were willing to speak out against them. In May 1955 the New York membership condemned Aware, 197-149. Blacklisted members and other opponents of Aware urged newscaster Charles Collingwood, comedian Orson Bean and Faulk, who had not been open targets, to run for the highest union offices. Their Middle of the Road slate, pledged to end blacklisting, won a smashing victory in December 1955. Supermarket magnate and war veteran Lawrence Johnson, allied with the American Legion, was a powerful friend of Vincent Hartnett, founder of Aware. Johnson was influential in the National Association of Retail Grocers, which called on all sponsors of television and radio programs to ferret out subversive forces on their programs. Johnson mailed blacklists to various companies and greatly aided Hartnett in pressuring the sponsoring companies to demand the dismissals of alleged communist sympathizers. Aware, of course, quickly attacked Collingwood, Bean, and especially Faulk with lies and innuendos questioning their patriotism. The trio fired back, but were stunned by the relentless campaign against them. Collingwood had sufficient prestige to fend off the blow and, along with Edward R. Murrow, secretly helped protect Faulk at CBS. Collingwood warned that AFTRA would investigate CBS’ acceptance of blacklisting if Faulk were fired. But Collingwood AFTRA in December 1956, and Aware took back control of the union. John Henry was offered a way out, which some of his own friends thought was acceptable. He could appear before the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, which had a cozy relationship with Aware, and name any union members whom he suspected of having subversive ties. Also, he would have to inform Aware that he appreciated its antiCommunist work. Faulk was aghast at the thought of saving himself by ruining the reputations. of others. His ratings still high, John Henry took his family on vacation in Jamaica in August 1957, unaware of his vulnerability at CBS. Collingwood was out of union office and Murrow was overseas. Aware was continuing to smear Faulk within the industry, claiming that it had some devastating evidence on him. The gutless network fired Faulk while he was on vacation, explaining that his ratings had slipped. The publicity of the blacklist and the lawsuit, especially after he was fired, made him untouchable in the industry and among many of his erstwhile friends. In 1957 Faulk still hoped to resume his career, but he did not anticipate that Aware’s new chief counsel, Roy Cohn, would be able to delay the trial for five long years. The blacklisting, meanwhile, not only plunged John Henry into hard economic times, but also drained his creativity. He kept trying to work in the industry; but the blacklist always caught up with him. He landed a spot on Austin’s KNOW radio in February 1959, with an endorsement from Walter Cronkite among others, but the show was canceled before the first broadcast. He moved back to Austin at the end of 1959 and tried to stay afloat financially. At the trial, attorney Louis Nizer brought out the horrors of Aware’s tactics, such as an eight-year-old actress blacklisted, Daily Worker clippings used as supposedly conclusive evidence of subversion, and Hartnett’s taking down the names of people testifying against Aware at the trial. Aware’s supposed evidence against Faulk amounted to no more than hearsay. The jury awarded Faulk what was then the largest libel award in American history, some $3,500,000. Aware and blacklisting were destroyed and John Henry Faulk was vindicated. John Henry’s Fear on Trial The Jury Returns ably recount Faulk’ s trial. The award was later scaled down, and Johnson’s estate could only come up with $175,000. In 1943 John Henry believed that the American government was doing little to halt the advance of Adolph Hitler. That is what Communists around the world believed. John Henry’s belief in the 1950s that the Korean War was planned by the CIA and the Pentagonwhile not inherently preposterous, given their Cold War activitiesis nevertheless leftist fantasy, refuted by all available evidence. In the 1980s one scholar, whom Faulk and I both knew reasonably well, asked John Henry about the Communists he knew in Austin in the late 1930s and early 1940s. John Henry responded by going into one of acts. In his second book, The Uncensored John Henry Faulk his essay praising Cuba makes light of the absence of free speech there and of Castro’s cynical deportation of criminals and misfits , from Mariel. Faulk neglects even to mention the lack of other freedoms, such as travel and entrepreneurship, and fails to observe that the Soviets propped .up the Cuban economy at that time with about $13,000,000 per day. Could the unthinkable be true, could John Henry have actually been a Communist or joined the Party? Not hardly, as we say in Texas. John Henry yearned to take action, to do something about America’s shortcomings, especially McCarthyism and capitalism’s Cold War crimes. Liberals led these worthy fights, but sometimes they got carried away or too frustrated; John Henry seemed to be afflicted occasionally with what Richard Hofstadter labeled the paranoid style in American politics, a conspiratorial view of history. His random thoughts on communism and the Cold War, I think, were less sophisticated than his abilities to teach and to entertain. Burton does not deal with this issue; but he does note that John Henry’s case did not confront one of the basic issues of the blacklist, namely the activities of quasi-official bodies, such as HUAC, that were prying into the political beliefs of individuals. Nizer and his colleagues had to try the case as a libel suit, and they proved to the satisfaction of the jury that John Henry had never been a Communist, that the accusations against him were deliberately malicious. But why should any entertainer be blacklisted, even one who was a Communist? The ruling did nothing to erase previous legal injustices against a number of entertainers. And John Henry himself received no job offers from the networks, who were embarrassed by the trial’s exposure of their collaboration with Aware. John Henry did not really miss New York and he spent his 28 years after the trial mostly in Texas and on the national lecture circuit. He played bit roles in two movies and on the TV program, Hee Haw. In 1975 his experiences were featured in CBS’ docu-drama, “Fear on Trial,” with William Devane as John Henry and George C. Scott as Louis Nizer. He died in 1990. As for the obligatory niggling criticisms of Burton’s book, I guess I find it a bit dubious that J. Frank Dobie became a political activist solely because his prize student was feeding him literature on the Spanish Civil War and the likelihood of a second world 18 JANUARY 28, 1994
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