Mark Goodson

Taking A Stand … In Time?

VTR Date: February 10, 1991

Guest: Goodson, Mark


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Mark Goodson
Title: “Taking a Stand…in Time?”
VTR: 2/10/91

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on THE OPEN MIND.

Now to some people today – quite probably even to most people today – it may seem really like just such a small thing – so long ago and presumably so far away. To others, of course, it doesn’t, never could or did seem that way, that remote…especially to those in the world of entertainment and information. To them, the blacklisting that took place 40 years ago In the media even now is painful to recall.

As my OPEN MIND guest today began a recent, totally intriguing New York Times Sunday magazine article entitled, “If I’d Stood Up Earlier”: “The dark terror of the television blacklisting days (1950-1955) now seems for a off, and most of us who were caught in the middle of the storm have developed fuzzy memories – perhaps deliberately. And we dig into our consciences to examine the part we played in that shameful era. Like the French after the liberation, we all claim to have been part of the resistance. None of us were collaborators. Or were we? Was I?”

Well, Mark Goodson is one of American television’s most successful and prolific producers whose popular programs have included “What’s My Line?”, “To Tell the Truth”, “I’ve Got a Secret”, “Password”, and “Family Feud”.

His article, of course, recounts his own chagrin that thought at length he did choose a place to stand against blacklisting – an act of courage too few in the media had the stomach for – what if he’d stood up sooner? And he concludes his article: “I can’t help the feeling that if I’d shown more courage, if I’d stood up earlier, if more of us had been willing to take the heat, we could have brought that disgraceful era to a more rapid close. But that’s hindsight”.

Well, putting aside hindsight, I want to begin today by asking Mark Goodson if there is now, or is ever likely to be, anything akin to the blacklisting in the media of 40 years ago? Mr. Goodson?

Goodson: I’m not a prophet. I can’t tell. But, you know, was it Sinclair Lewis who wrote a book called It Can’t Happen Here? And, of course, by that he meant that it could. I…yes, I believe that hysteria could take place again. And if we hate somebody enough…we hated anything connected with the Communists…that much in the fifties, so that anyone even vaguely connected with anything on the Left ws suspect.

Heffner: Was there anything that one could have said, legitimately, for the people who were involved…maybe not in the horror of blacklisting itself, but those who feared what they considered to be the influence and the power of Communists, or Leftists in the media in the fifties?

Goodson: Yes, I, I think that there was a pervasive fear of, of Communism in those days. But I think that…as a matter of fact I think if you would have taken a poll in those days…average person…man in the street, as you now take a poll about the Gulf War, and “do you believe in the blacklisting”…”do you believe that people who have any suspicions of being Left should be excluded from television?” I think most people would have said “Yes, get rid of them”. I think there would have been…there would be very little applause for the people who were blacklisted, and I look back then and those few of us…I was essentially non-political, which enabled me to get away with a lot, I had very little support, simply because it was…seemed silly to get in the way of this onslaught…why fight a headache…was, was the major theme. And, by the way, I…in my article…because The New York Times had to cut a few pieces out, they left out something which I said, which was, “By 1962”, when I was a witness in the trial, where John Henry Faulk sued Aware, Incorporated, one of the blacklisting organizations, “By 1962, David Susskind and I were both witnesses for John Henry Faulk, who was suing, was no big deal”. I mean we could all say, “Oh, what brave people you were to be witnesses”…in ’62 it was nothing. But in ’50 it was something. ’51, ’52…in those times it was really tough to stand up…but by ’62 it was nothing, and then by ’72, they did a movie called “Fear on Trial” based on John Henry Faulk’s book and David and I were both…played ourselves, as witnesses. And that was sort of fun. It was cocktail party conversation. It was easy. But the early days were, were the difficult ones. And everybody in the business that…and I would say, with almost no exception…even the…and particularly the Liberal network at CBS…they were the most frightened, and therefore had the most…gave us the most problems.

Heffner: Most frightened because they thought they were the most vulnerable?

Goodson: Yes. I mean…in, in the…Congressmen at that time often called CBS the “Communist Broadcasting System”. They didn’t like Ed Murrow. They were very uneasy about commentators who were on the air, and Bill Paley was very nervous…Frank Stanton was very nervous. I think also the fact that networks were operated by, by Jews…Bill Paley, Sarnoff at NBC…

Heffner: Goldenson…

Goodson: Goldenson…made them extremely nervous, very uneasy about being called “un-American”. This was also true, by the way, of Hollywood…you see, of the possibility of Jewish control of entertainment…always a very sensitive topic. So, everyone leaned over backwards to be doubly American. Now if you add to that the pressure on…of advertisers, you had a chilling atmosphere.

Heffner: I gather from what you’ve written, and from what I remember of the period, that the advertisers did not, generally, stand up to be counted.

Goodson: I don’t know any who did. No, I dealt mainly with advertising agencies, and they were…I was young and they were young…the men I dealt with…Yong and Rubicam or BBD&O, or the others, and really the feeling was…if there’s any doubt whatsoever, just don’t use these people. And, and the criterion was generally one of the lists…one of which was put out by Red Channels, and also you must remember at that time, the press had tremendous power, and a columnist like Ed Sullivan, or Walter Winchell, or Jack O’Brien, who was a television editor of the newspaper of the…I think the American Hearst paper here…all it took was one mention and, and the person who was being hired would be dropped. I remember Jack Guilford, who was one of the blacklisted actors…and he finally go someone to give him a commercial for an ice cream, in the middle 1950s, and I think it was Jack O’Brien printed in his column, said “Well, I see Jack Guilford is back to work peddling ice cream…it must be pink ice cream”, and he was gone the next day…that was the end. It didn’t take much.

Heffner: Now, you know that…you talked about television and you’ve just mentioned Hollywood. In your piece, you also say that the theater was not affected in the same way…that the theater people seemed to stand their ground. How do you account for that?

Goodson: I’m not sure. I think that…let’s try to examine it on the basis of what did cause the blacklisting, and why it was not present in, in the Broadway theater. In the first place, in New York you had advertising support and advertisers are naturally very sensitive to any threat of being blacklisted. In, in the case of products, Lawrence Johnson, who ran a series of chain stores in Syracuse…if he didn’t like the people that you were hiring in a show, he would pass out ballots in the store and say, “Do you think we should handle the products of Swanson food”, or of this or that product, “who hire Communists on the air?” And, of course, everyone in the store would vote…stamp the ballot “no”. And then he’d pass those ballots around the country, and be finished. We would be called in by agencies for tobacco companies…and the reason for anybody’s being in Red Channels was irrelevant…I mean you could have the same name as somebody else. Or you could have put your ad…put your name on an ad for a peace conference, and you’d be finished. Now, in Hollywood…they, they…where they also had blacklisting…there was not an advertiser problem, but there was the problem of mass distribution. You had to get your pictures out into the country, and you had to distribute them. You had to invest your medicine on some money, and again I believe there was concern on the part of the major studio heads of not being considered un-American. And at the same time, a business sense that, that if they were picketed in a theater in Chicago, or in Iowa or in Minneapolis, it could be damaging in terms of business. It was a combination of political concerns and business concerns. I think Broadway, to get back finally to your earlier question, I think they gave up on Broadway. I think that the House Un-American Affairs Committee and the group who…of conservatives…thought of New York as sort of the “Red Devil Incarnate”. It was already rotten. You could not…there was not way to reform it. And, don’t even try. And I think there was that. It was also, I think, a tradition of Liberalism in New York, a tradition of doing avant garde things, of being ahead of the, of the rest of the United States, and somehow also, theater was a series of little cottage industries. There was not mass distribution. You weren’t sending out “Guys and Dolls” until ultimately you put it on the road, but “Guys and Dolls” was for…was local, so Abe Burrows was only dealing with a New York audience and they were unswayed by threats of blacklists. And I don’t believe there was ever a picket in front of a theater…I, I never saw one.

Heffner: And if there had been, it wouldn’t have been effective?

Goodson: I don’t think it would have been…no.

Heffner: But you know…it interests me that you…the programs you have done…you’ve always been identified with truly mass audience programs…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …your well-being has depended upon the acceptance…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …of the vast majority of television viewers. Why did you take a stand? You’re talking about the impact, the impact would be upon your dollars, and what you’re talking about is the fears, and not just of being identified with the political Left, but what the economic impact of that would be.

Goodson: It’s a good question. I’m not sure I have the answer. I don’t want to sound like a hero because I was not. In the beginning, I accepted the blacklist, and we had some film shows out in California like “The Rebel” and others where we had to clear every wrangler who rode a horse, every assistant director, and we cleared all those people in the beginning. As I said in my piece, Lew Untermeyer was dropped form the original panel of “What’s My Line”. I was very unhappy about it and I talked to my people, my advisers, and my lawyers who simply said, “Stay away. This is not your affair. You cannot fight this”. The unions, by the way, if you tell about AFTRA, which is the Federation of Radio and Television Artists, were engaged in…there was a tremendous split down the middle of that union, and I would say that the union did not stand up at all. We didn’t. John Henry Faulk, as a matter of fact, was blacklisted mainly because he was in that part of the union which opposed the blacklist. To get back to me…I would say that I, I became angry. I said…I didn’t, I didn’t like the unfairness of it. I didn’t like people like Henry Morgan, for example, who did a show for us called “I’ve Got a Secret”, who was a …just a funny fellow who made comments, and who was in Red Channels for some ridiculous reason, having to do with marital problems of the wife whose politics he didn’t like. It seemed nonsensical to have the tobacco companies saying “You’ve got to get rid of Henry Morgan”. So that was in 1952. And I began to realize that if I did stand up a little bit, and, and resist, it was possible to make some, make some…make stands count.

Heffner: But you know, there’s an interesting…another interesting aspect to, to this. You said before that you believed that if you had scratched the American public…if you had scratched beneath the surface, you would have found support.

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: In the fifties for blacklisting…Why then would you oppose it? You…you deal with the public. Your well-being is a reflection of the acceptance of what you put on the air of the public…

Goodson: Because…because I think if I had really had a chance to say to the public, in the kind of forum that I have right here, “Now wait a second, Henry Morgan is not a Communist, he’s nowhere near a Communist. He probably doesn’t even have lunch with Communists”. If I had said…as one of the articles in response…one of the letters in response to my article in The New York Times, said, “Goodson misses the whole point. It’s not enough to say that he fought for those who were innocent…if by innocent he means people who are not members of the Communist party. He should have fought for those, too”. That, I think, I could not have done and would not have done. And I used to say to, to the people who suggested that I do that, I said, “Well, what if we had a prominent Nazi…well-known Nazi, and I was going to use him as a panelist on ‘What’s My Line’, would that be okay with you?” And they said, “Oh, no, that’s different”. I said, “Well, the public will look on it in exactly the same way”. But these people that I became involved with were in the terms of that writer…innocent…As a little piece was also cut out of the article. Fay Emerson was on the panel…Fay Emerson was a nice, probably a Democrat, probably a Rooseveltian Democrat…

Heffner: Well, she was married to the President’s son.

Goodson: Yes. That’s right. You’re right. Well, she was on a show called “Author Meets the Critics”. You remember at the time?

Heffner: Yes.

Goodson: And, and well, she was also on our show “I’ve Got a Secret”. And they were discussing a book on the recognition of Red China, absolutely verboten at that time. And she said, “I kind of agree with this author. I think we really should consider recognition of Red China”. Well, the very next day I got a call from the William Essey Agency, saying “Get rid of Fay Emerson”. I said, “What happened?” And they told me, and I said, “This is crazy, I’m not going to drop Fay Emerson”. And they said, “Oh…”, and then they went away. But I think if I’d had a chance to talk to the public directly about that they would not have backed the blacklisting.

Heffner: But you know that does bring us, the question that came up at the Times that you mentioned. My question, too. You’re now talking about those who were “innocent”…

Goodson: Yeah…

Heffner: …as accused.

Goodson: Yeah.

Heffner: you say you would not have, if they were guilty as charged, have protected or defended some truly Left Wing leaning person…

Goodson: I…

Heffner: …from an attack.

Goodson: …I really don’t…yes, I think that’s true. I, I doubt very much if I would have booked an avowed Communist. Firs of all I think…I’m not sure whether under the Smith act it was even legal at that time. I don’t think I would have had that kind of courage, nor that kind of desire. I think that…I think the problem with McCarthyism was not the attack on Communism…you must remember that Eisenhower himself at that time was very anti-Communist, and the whole country was, was involved with a fear of everything Soviet. I think that would have been a kind of insanity to have booked such people on the show and they were, they were…whether Broadway booked the, I don’t know. Probably. Whether Paul Robeson was bookable on Broadway, I don’t know. Probably was.

Heffner: But doesn’t that lead to the question of what you would do today if you were…let’s forget Communists, anti-Communists. If, if, if those who have commented recently are correct, the end of history is here. We’re not longer…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …faced with that threat, etc. Suppose we were to relate to the day that we tape this show, in early February, 1991…we’re all very much involved in the war in the Gulf.

Goodson: Yes. Yes.

Heffner: Suppose you had those who were opposed to the American stance.

Goodson: Yes. It’s a good question.

Heffner: What would you do?

Goodson: I think I would use such people on the show. At the moment I’m not sure who had really come out openly against the war. Even those who voted against participating in the war, have in effect said, “we will support it”, and that’s really where I find myself. I was not one who felt we should fight the war. Once there, I say “absolutely back” and I notice that the anti-war movement today does not involve flag-burning, it involved flag waving on both sides. But you ask an interesting question. How would I act today? And I, I don’t know. If what I put on a, a…

Heffner: Somebody with whom you didn’t agree, and the public didn’t agree.

Goodson: Well, for example, would I put on somebody who is pro-Saddam Hussein on the panel, or on “To Tell the Truth”? The answer is “No, I would not”.

Heffner: So ideas are still the standards by which judge performers.

Goodson: I think that inevitably you have a subjective attitude towards that. Yes, I think so. I think that…I just can’t imagine on a show…for example, it would not make itself felt on the average show…but a show like “To Tell the Truth”, where we put on individuals who claim to be, and who are the real people, and we have two other individuals on who seem to be imposters…If I brought up someone whose…whose true story was that they were PLO activists…

Heffner: But you’re, you’re building a straw man…PLO sympathizers…

Goodson: Sympathizers.

Heffner: …let’s put it that way.

Goodson: Yea, yeah. I, I doubt if I would…I would use them.

Heffner: So then we haven’t come all that far from 40 years ago.

Goodson: Ah…

Heffner: Well, let me, let me, let me move to another question. We only have five minutes left, and I really wanted to ask you whether you thought that nay of the people who were accused, correctly accused now…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …of being sympathizers, Communist sympathizers, Left-leaning…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …whatever. Whether, indeed, those who were accusing them had anything at all on their side in terms of…aside from public opinion…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …because you’re already said, and I think correctly…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …that the public would have opted…

Goodson: Yes.

Heffner: …for blacklisting. But had any damage been done by these people, would one of your shows, or the dramatic shows on any of the networks, or any of the films that were made in Hollywood…had they been affected, “infected”, if the critics were…

Goodson: Well, I really must say that it’s hard for me to imagine how a, a Communist sympathizer who played the role of a cowboy in one of our Westerns, or was a stagehand would have affected the state of the Republic.

Heffner: How about the writers and the directors?

Goodson: Well, let’s take for example the writers. You know the blacklist in Hollywood was…broken by…when they allowed Howard Fast to write “Spartacus”. But I don’t think that, that those writers were really writing politically oriented scripts to begin with. But I think there was a concern, I suppose, that, that they would be influencing opinion…today I can tell you that many of my friends who, who watch television, who are very much to the Right are very suspicious of certain newscasters. I know that a friend of mine in New York feels that, that…what is the name…Peter Arnett should not be allowed to broadcast right now because he’s coming from Baghdad, because they say he’s propagandizing for, for Saddam Hussein. And, of course, I say “Well, he’s doing a marvelous service for us because he’s the only one there who can talk and we know that he’s being censored”. And yet they would like to stop him. And there, there are people who say, “Well, I think that every time I hear Peter Jennings, I think he’s anti-Israel”. So there is a feeling on the people’s part that these people in the news certainly do slant or affect what goes on. And that is possible in the news. But I really doubt it would ever be a concern of drama.

Heffner: So the American…given for pluralism really doesn’t seem to hold strongly when it comes to the mass media. We want this one off or that one off depending upon whose ox is being gored at any one particular time.

Goodson: I think so. I think that if you, if you…the whole phenomenon of the talk show, radio disc jockey host…the talk show host…indicates to what extent people will, will tune in and, and be stirred by those particular talk show hosts. You have the Right wing group going to one man, who operates on a certain channel, more Liberal groups going to another, and they are…they, they have their rooting sections.

Heffner: But that’s fair enough…having rooting sections, but rooting out of the media those with whom you don’t agree…is another, very different thing.

Goodson: Yes, but today are we rooting them out? I don’t know if we are. They’re being…has anybody been rooted out recently as in the McCarthy era? I don’t think so.

Heffner: I don’t think so either. But I…it sounds to me as thought the same kind of thinking…if he or she should be guilty of having ideas that I don’t embrace, off with his or her head. We haven’t seemed to have…fully to have gotten over that. But maybe your article and maybe what you say about blacklisting of 40 years ago will do something to push us away from that. You don’t feel that we’re in for…you said at the very beginning when I asked the question…you’re not a prophet. But you don’t, it seems to me, feel as though we’re in for another parade of blacklisting?

Goodson: Not…no, I do not think so.

Heffner: Well, I do want to thank you for joining me today. I hope that what you have said holds true. Mark Goodson, thank you very much.

Goodson: Thank you.

Heffner: And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you’ll join us again next time. And if you care to share your thoughts about today’s program, today’s subject, please write to THE OPEN MIND, P.O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150. For transcripts send $2.00 in check or money order. Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”.

Continuing production of this series has generously been made possible by grants from: The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation; The M. Weiner Foundation of New Jersey; The Edythe and Dean Dowling Foundation; The New York Times Company Foundation; The Richard Lounsbery Foundation; and, from the corporate community, Mutual of America.