Saturday 3 September 2022

Cartoon Commies

The McCarthy era destroyed people’s lives and drove some to suicide. All because of 1950s paranoia that, somehow, Communism would enslave America. It was an era where anyone could accuse anyone of anything, and if you said “Where’s your proof?” then you must be a Commie, too.

The ridiculous hunt for Communists touched the animation business.

Most readers here, I suspect, know of “Disney’s Revenge,” when less-than-affable Uncle Walt testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and claimed certain union leaders and others involved in the strike at his studio six years earlier were under the influence of “Reds.” His testimony can easily be found on the web. Hell hath no fury than corporate leaders scorned by unions.

The FBI spent the 1940s hunting for Communists in the cartoon business, accepting the say-so of informants playing judge and jury. Bill Higgins—who worked in the 1950s for the most right-wing animation corporation, John Sutherland Productions—was supposedly “pro-Russian,” whatever that was supposed to mean. Art Babbitt was accused of influencing Disney “employees to become interested in Communist matters,” which is a pretty slanted way of saying he tried to sign up people for a union and got fired for it. Long-time Disney animator Bob Carlson “received Communist literature at the YMCA” on a trip to El Paso.

Nine pages of FBI documentation about the situation can be found on I don’t know what the hand-written notations mean. Ronald Reagan’s name is on each page, presumably because he was the head of SAG.

I’d invite you to laugh as you read how one accuser knew someone’s wife was a Communist but didn’t know her name, except this was not a funny time in American history. Ask actor Philip Loeb. Oh, yeah, you can’t. He killed himself after being blacklisted thanks to gossip mongers who smeared people in Red Channels.

The names you likely will recognise are those who lead the Screen Cartoonists Guild as of mid-1947. However, the implication is they were elected because they were not under Communist influence (Volus Jones’ name is misspelled). Cecil Beard was an ex-Disneyite and writer for George Pal Productions (he co-wrote the anti-Nazi short Tulips Will Grow) who was involved in television cartoons in the ‘50s and ‘60s. He was also active in trade unionism. He died in 1987. The Writers Guild of America was still trying to find him in 1991.

Each page can be enlarged. If you’re interest in the entire documentation, you can find it on this site.

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