Just how serious was the “Red Menace” inside the U.S.?
Baby boomers in the 1950s and 1960s came of age amidst widespread fears of a communist plot to take over America.
FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover worried that these boomers were vulnerable targets. Subtle and not-so-subtle anti-communist themes permeated entertainment, schools and churches. The popular 1962 documentary movie Communist Target: Youth, with an introduction by Robert Kennedy, detailed how the left preyed on naive young people around the world. The message was clear: hearts and minds of American boomers could be corrupted, too.
There was smoke, but not much fire. A few Americans in government and science, sympathetic to the Soviet Union, did pass secret information. There was significant left-wing, even pro-Soviet sentiment in Hollywood. Communists tried to infiltrate labor unions and schools.
The question was asked over and over: Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? Or a “front” group?
Most of the accused weren’t disloyal and severed their connections once the Cold War began. Invoking the 5th Amendment was often treated as a guilty plea in the court of public opinion. But contrition could bring instant redemption. Lucille Ball registered as a Communist years earlier. I was young, she explained to the House Un-American Activities Committee, and only did to please my dear old socialist grandfather. She was back on the set of I Love Lucy faster than you could say “you got some ‘splaining to do!”
By the time boomers were becoming teenagers, the Communist Party had shrunk to a mere 5000 and gone underground. During that time, according to J. Edgar Hoover, some 1500 of those “members” were FBI agents. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the U.S. government kept the Communist Party in business. “If it were not for me,” Hoover bragged, apparently missing the irony, “there would not be a Communist Party of the United States. Because I financed the Communist Party, in order to know what they are doing.”
When a baby boomer generation of left-wing activists formed in the mid-1960s, they were careful to disassociate their activity from the discredited organizations of the past. It was the “New Left.”
Baby Boomer Trivia Questions
►Anti-Communist movies abounded in the 1950s. Only one of the following titles was not real.
I Married a Communist
Shack Out on 101
►What prominent new left boomer radical ran as a Vice-Presidential candidate on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984?
►Many baby boomer Hollywood favorites were publicly accused of membership in the Communist Party or a front group. Pick out the one who was not.
Gypsy Rose Lee
Edward G. Robinson
Answers at end of post
►It’s hard to believe that Teenage Communist was never a movie. The 1955 thriller Shack Out on 101 had quite a cast for a grade-B film: A waitress (Terry Moore) working in an isolated café owned by Keenan Wynn discovers that her physicist main squeeze (Frank Lovejoy) and the crazy, violent cook (Lee Marvin) are in cahoots smuggling nuclear secrets to guess who? The patriotic sparks fly with Lovejoy sarcastically asking Moore between kisses: “What form of government is this?” Returning the lip lock, she quips: “The best.”
►Angela Davis ran as the Vice-Presidential candidate on the Communist Party ticket in 1980 and 1984.
►Actor Jimmy Stewart was never called or considered a Communist. His political views always leaned right.