Sixty years ago today, Jean Muir was fired from the radio show The Aldrich Family.
The Aldrich Family was family entertainment, after all, and General Mills just couldn’t risk having a known Communist sympathizer in the cast.
Jean Muir had been a stage actress, gone to Hollywood for a few disappointing years, then returned to New York and the theater. How her Communist leanings came to be known isn’t clear, but it was obvious she must be un-American. It was right there in black and white, after all, in Red Channels.
Jean Muir was listed along with Gypsy Rose Lee and Leonard Bernstein and Orson Welles and about 150 other people who were highly suspect.
The purpose of Red Channels was to expose the plot by the communist party to use radio and television to present ‘commercially sponsored dramatic series [to be] used as sounding boards, particularly with reference to current issues in which the Party is critically interested: “academic freedom,” “civil rights,” “peace,” the H-bomb, etc….’
It’s not often you get to see ‘peace’ in quotes like that.
Red Channels did not present much in the way of evidence, but it also carefully avoided libel. It merely listed groups and activities it considered subversive that the listees had participated in. Burgess Meredith, for instance, had been chairman of the Winter Clothing Campaign for the American Committee for Yugoslav Relief. Well, there you are.
This nasty bit of work was produced by the anti-Communist newsletter Counterattack, a publication funded by a wealthy businessman named Alfred Kohlberg. a supporter of Joe McCarthy and friend of Robert Welch. Together, Kohlberg and Welch founded the John Birch Society.
Interestingly, another founding member was Fred Koch, head of Koch Industries. His sons, Charles and David, are also very active politically and were recently profiled in The New Yorker. Full circle, as it were.
None of the blacklisted performers whose names appeared in Red Channels sued the publication, though all suffered real and dramatic loss of income as a result – with the exception of an actor named Joseph Julian. He lost his case.
Jean Muir reportedly spent the next ten years battling a drinking problem , but recovered and returned to the stage in the 60s. Later, she taught at Stephens College. She died in Mesa, Arizona in 1996, aged 85.