For a short time I had two offices, one at the Museum, the other at the CBS building. I was in an office next door to a man who never said hello and was constantly on the phone. His voice was low.
The Cold War was overheated with threats of nuclear exchanges. Undercover, as a United Nations force, America was at war with North Korea—a country itself under the cover of Communist China.
CBS was under attack by anti-communist forces. The networks were accused of harboring communists, and of including Marxist tenets in both drama and news.
There were two sets of accusers, the government and the private sector. The government’s investigators included the House Un-American Activities Committee and the staff of Joseph McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin, in his second term of office.
McCarthy was investigating us and we were investigating him. His first term had been undistinguished. He had taken a bribe from Pepsi Cola to lead the fight for continued government regulation of sugar prices. McCarthy successfully kept the government ceiling on the price of sugar. His dalliance was so embarrassingly blatant that his fellow senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, and Senator Everett Dirksen of Illinois sarcastically dubbed him the “Pepsi-Cola Kid.” At the time I knew nothing of this. Decades later, when I interviewed Frank Stanton for the oral history section of Columbia University I learned the details of Stanton’s back channel connections in the Senate. The president of the corporation had talked to Nelson and Dirksen.
Because of the scandal and the approaching campaign for re-election, Senator McCarthy consulted with his closest advisers, including a priest who suggested that he begin a campaign to rid the government of communists. The more he thought about it, the more he saw the hunt for subversives was a sure-fire issue.
In his second term he went from obscurity to notoriety.
The rise and fall of McCarthy is a story often told, but in a small way it touched me personally. As part of the Senator’s inquiry he sent his researchers into the Overseas Library Program, a program run by the government that sent some thirty thousand books to foreign libraries. The Senators minions found communist propaganda and books written by subversive “anti-anti-communists” A few hundred books were eliminated, and some were burned.
The same Overseas Library Program circulated free books to the soldiers fighting in Korea. One was a reprint of my novel The Friend. It was in soft cover, but the dimensions were reversed; the normal horizontal and vertical dimensions were twisted so that the book could slip more easily into a soldier’s back pocket. Crown Publishers told me they had printed ten thousand copies and were back-ordered. They had changed the title to ATTACK and added on the cover “HE FIRED LOW TO BREAK BONES AND SPILL GUTS!!!” It did no good to argue that the quotation appeared nowhere in the book. Also, there would be no royalty since the novel was given free to the armed forces. Crown also told me the book was under government review.
My personal nuisance was minor compared to CBS’s problem. One threat to its revenue came early from two supermarket operators in Syracuse New York who stocked groceries from General Foods and General Mills. The operators went to these companies and told them they would not buy their goods if the food giants continued to sponsor programs containing reds or fellow travelers on the networks. (The programs they underwrote were mostly soap operas.) A number of radio and television stations affiliated with the company applauded the men from Syracuse.
Because broadcasters had to defend their business and their profits, CBS did two things: It required everyone to sign a loyalty oath—and the quiet man in the office next to mine was hired to make a list of writers and people who must not be hired.
It was called the Blacklist. It ruined many lives and careers.
The Truman Administration invented something called a loyalty oath. The government required that its employees sign a paper stating more or less they had never been communists and they were not members of the Communist Party of the United States. If they lied they could not be sent to prison, only fired.
What was good enough for the employees of the Federal Government was good enough for CBS News. Ed Murrow signed it, and so did the rest of the news division. The American Bar association, the American Medical Association and the National Education Association had instituted their own loyalty tests as well.
For some reason the paper had not been given to me.
The oath was something detestable, but it was in the open. The next step was done secretly.
There were so many attackers that compiling of the blacklist was a problem. Stanton and Paley found a solution. If there were a basic list of Communists (and one accessible to McCarthy) it had to be the one kept by the FBI in Quantico. J. Edgar Hoover had compiled the list (and also one on McCarthy’s drunkenness and homosexuality.)
CBS got access to the FBI’s blacklisting document by shrewd capitalistic enterprise. It hired away the man in charge of the names compiled by the FBI. He was the man in the office next door to me, recently a high official at Quantico. The producers of the shows would submit cast and writing credits to him, and he would get on the phone to his former employees. If the name passed the government, CBS was allowed to employ the actor or writer. If it didn’t the person was not hired. Nobody could have a more damning list than the FBI, and CBS bought it.
Other networks paid more attention to the credits than to the program. If CBS gave on-screen name credit, the other broadcasters could use the cleared talent.
I was in the men’s room with him when the man next door finally talked to me. “Wolff, somehow we never got a signed loyalty oath from you.”
“Since Murrow signed it, I’ll sign it too.”
“My younger brother was killed. I found his name listed in that book you wrote. That regimental history.”
“Really? What was his name?”
He told me, but I didn’t remember.
“You don’t have to sign the loyalty oath. Not after what you and he went through. You’re loyal.”
“Following this page is a list of the men who died in the actions of the 334th Infantry Regiment,” p. 225, Fortune Favored the Brave, A History of the 334th Infantry 84th Division, by Cpl. Perry S. Wolff, Mannheim Press, 1945