Civil Liberties

MPD for the FBI


Bill Geerhart of Conelrad has a long, fun, video-heavy post about I Led 3 Lives, the McCarthy-era TV thriller about a man who "did lead three lives: average citizen, high-level member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation." Geerhart does a decent job of outlining the show's background and content, but he leaves out one of the most interesting facts about it. In his terrific 2003 book Cold War, Cool Medium, Thomas Doherty notes that

I Led 3 Lives speaks to the blacklist with suspicious frequency: to the moral dilemma of the informer, to the problems of the prodigal politico, and to the plight of the duped liberal smeared by his past associations. As [protagonist Herbert] Philbrick's party comrades might put it, this is no accident. According to producer Frederick Ziv, blacklisted screenwriters wrote for the show under assumed names. Likes moles burrowing from within, they commented on their own dilemma, doubtless savoring the irony of using the premiere anticommunist series on television to critique anticommunist paranoia. In another episode, when Philbrick ia assigned responsibility for party security, his lesbian-coded cell leader, Comrade Jenny, orders him to hunt for subversive elements. "I needn't remind you that one of the greatest threats to communism is internal–from the party itself. Diversionists, traitors, opportunists, social patriots, reformers–you'll make every effort to discover these enemies and report them to me." The camera holds tight on her severe face as she tells him to name names: "And should you fail to report them–I'll be forced to conclude that you're one of them yourself!"