Men in Suits by
100
(147 Stories)

Prompted By Broadcast News

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The Brown family, a farming family with roots in the American Revolution, invited my family to watch the McCarthy hearings on television. We didn’t have a TV and, like most of the established families in our little Massachusetts town, the Browns wanted us to know they didn’t like Joe McCarthy and his witch hunt one bit.

So, one day, after services at the Unitarian church, Wilbur and Mary Brown invited us to sit in the living room of their rambling old farmhouse and watch Republican Senator Joe McCarthy allege that the U.S. State Department and other government institutions had been infiltrated by Americans with communist leanings.

No one, including Joe McCarthy, knew what a communist was — and they still don’t. Communism has never existed anywhere on the planet in the form defined by Marx, Engels, Trotsky, and Lenin — but Joe McCarthy was confident that he knew what communism was and that he could spot a Communist — with an upper-case “C” — from across any Senate hearing room.

The hearings began in 1950 after the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) had laid the ground for McCarthy’s alcoholic inquisition with a spectacular attack on Hollywood’s allegedly hammered-and-sickled Babylon. The Hollywood attacks began in 1947, before anyone had a television.*

I must have been about six or seven when the Brown family invited us to watch the suited Senator Joe McCarthy et al grill the suited alleged communists. There were no women Senators involved or any woman communists. I remember a mob of men in suits, white shirts, and neckties sitting behind microphones at the hearing tables. I remember the televised sound had a harsh, tinny ring to it, and McCarthy droned over the proceedings in a malicious monotone.

Joseph Welch (seated) and Senator McCarthy, just before Welch famously said, “have you no shame, Sir?”

I recall watching the black and white figures leaning into the microphones, while the Browns and my parents expressed their outrage at the proceedings. We attended several sessions at the Browns, but Steve and Derek Brown usually lured me out to the barn to build hay bale forts in the hay loft.

At four o’clock, Wilbur Brown would amble into the barn to begin the evening milking. He would keep the radio tuned to a classical music station. No McCarthy hearings for Wilbur’s Holsteins. They preferred Strauss waltzes.

#  #  #

*Friend and classmate Tony Kahn, was, like me, the son of a blacklisted American. Tony’s father, Gordon Kahn, had been fired from Warner Bros studios after being subpoenaed during HUAC’s 1947 hearings. Much, much later, Tony wrote and produced “Blacklisted,” a powerful radio docudrama about his father’s — and his family’s — fate under fire. Highly recommended!

Profile photo of Charles Degelman Charles Degelman
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles. 

Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.

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Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Thanx for another look into your radical (sometimes misspent?) youth Charles, and glad those cows eschewed the news for the soothing classical music.

    I commented on a past story telling you my screenwriter uncle was called before HUAC – needless to say our family was glued to the hearings.

    • Yeah, Dana. I was depraved on accounta bein’ deprived resulting in a misspent yout’. What’s a poor boy to do? Loved your cud-eschewing cows!

      I do remember your uncle’s equally depraved outing as commie sympathizer. You might want to visit the link to Tony Kahn’s “Blacklist.”

  2. I just opened the link, “Blacklist” a must-see, will watch with my family.
    Thanx Charles!

  3. Marian says:

    Thanks, Charles, while I’m a couple of years too young to have understood what I was watching at the time, I’ve seen many tapes of McCarthy. The cows have the right idea.

  4. susanrubin says:

    This is a vivid portrait of an ugly time in our history. As always this writer makes smart, intriguing observations. For me having gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse on Bleecker and 6th, it is especially powerful: all of my teachers were blacklisted professors now relegated to teaching elementary school. Some did better with this injustice than others. Thanks for the clarity, we are in another dark time in the USA and it’s good to remember that no, they have no shame. But yes, they will fall on the garbage dump of history.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thanks for this vivid reminder of another shameful moment in our country’s past (we never seem to learn from the past, since this country loves our demagogues and are not well educated – the demagogues go after the educated; we are a threat).

    A few phrases stuck in my mind: “alcoholic inquisition”, “malicious monotone”; even when angry you write great prose! Glad you got to escape to the barn and some Strauss.

    • Thanks, Betsy! We do love our demagogues, lost as we are. Lost in America. And it doesn’t help that the rulers, shaken by the uppity working and middle class (us) they had educated post-WWII, de-educated us back to the good old days. As a kid, I was usually (not often) red-baited by working-class kids. I’m pretty sure that most of the 50-something MAGA people suffered from that de-education. The real flashbacks to those days comes from the sights and sounds — McCarthy’s voice, the microphoned witnesses and those suits. Suits everywhere. Cows can be very peaceful companions and Strauss on a tinny, fly-specked barn radio had its charm. Be well.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    We both remembered that ugly time, Charles. While I didn’t really understand what I was watching, I knew McCarthy was evil. His sidekick, Roy Cohen, mentored Trump. Need I say more?

    • And Roy Cohn, in turn, had been mentored the devil. As I said to Betsy, the flashbacks come, not from the content of the hearings but the sights and sounds. Tony Kahn’s audio docudrama “Blacklisted” brings it all back home in a flash.

  7. Suzy says:

    I was hoping people would be prompted to write about the first news story they remembered, and I’m so happy that you did (as did Betsy and I). Of course that was a horrific time, and I’m sure it didn’t make any sense to you at age 6 or 7 – since it didn’t to thinking people of any age. Glad you had Steve and Derek Brown to lure you out to the barn to play. Thanks for the reminder of a terrible time and some truly evil people, perhaps making us think that if we could get through that, we can get through what is going on now!

    • Thanks, Suzy, I’m glad that you took your closing remarks up with such a powerful resolve. I join you in your thinking. We’ve been through worse and learned from our experience. We have met the enemy and they are blowing it!

  8. I never saw the hearings in the original form but for anyone else who didn’t, the documentary “Point of order,” which I did see more than once, offers a suitable alternative. I can hear again the droning and sinister voice of McCarthy, thanks to your good description of the scenario.
    My favorite part of your narrative, I have to admit, is the final lines, regarding the Holsteins! Wonderful counterpoint.

    • Thanks, Dale. I think I’ve seen “Point of Order” although I’ll check on IMDB. There was also a powerful satirical rendering, maybe Lenny Bruce that was probably LP length.

      After having lived through all that McCarthy crap, I, too, prefer the memory of the barn, the molasses smell of the bran feed, and the Holsteins!

  9. Khati Hendry says:

    Great memories. I am still amazed that “Have you no decency?” had the effect that it did–at some point someone stood up and pointed out the obvious. In the current situation, indeed no one seems to have any sense of decency or shame, despite having it pointed out in excruciating detail, and the tide still hasn’t turned. Unless it is actually starting to a bit now. If only.

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