Description: Slang term for “Communist.” Perhaps the most famous example of the “Communist witch-hunt” happened on September 12, 1953 when the Los Angeles Herald Express newspaper broke the story of Lucille Ball’s alleged association with communism with a front page banner headline in huge 4-inch red letters that proclaimed, “LUCILLE BALL WAS RED IN 1936."
Their evidence was a Photostatted copy of a 1936 registration card on which Lucy indicated her intention to vote for the Communist Party candidate in the 1936 election. She had only registered to please her grandfather.
When the news broke, the phone lines at Desilu Studios (Hollywood 9-5981) were jammed with inquiries. To help dispel public doubt, Desi Arnaz defended Lucy in a Friday night pre-show warm up of the audience.
“Welcome to the first I LOVE LUCY show of the season,” he began. “We are glad to have you back and we are glad to be back ourselves. But before we go on, I want to talk to you about something serious. Something very serious. You all know what it is. The papers have been full of it all day. Lucille Ball is no Communist! Lucy has never been a Communist. Not now and never will be. I was kicked out of Cuba because of Communism. We both despise the Communists for everything they stand for. Lucille Ball is one hundred percent American. She’s as American as Barney Baruch and Ike Eisenhower. Tomorrow morning, the complete transcript of Lucille’s testimony will be released to the papers and you can read it for yourself. Then, you will know this is all a pack of lies. Please ladies and gentlemen, don’t believe every piece of bunk you read in today's papers. And now I want you to meet my wife, my favorite redhead, in fact, that’s the only thing RED about her and even that's not legitimate.”
As Desi finished, a devoted and supportive audience rose and cheered. Lucy sobbed. With her career on the line, Lucy appeared before the “Committee for Un-American Activities” who later exonerated her of all charges. The Los Angeles Times newspaper vindicated her with the banner headline “LUCILLE BALL NOT RED, REP. JACKSON DECLARES.”
Note: The term “Red Scare” refers to times in American History when fear of Communism reached a fever pitch as during 1919-1920 when US attorney general Mitchell Palmer arrested and deported hundreds after a bomb exploded at his home; or during the McCarthy Era when Joseph McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin began a campaign to eradicate supposed Communist in the Federal Government. The 1953 play The Crucible by Arthur Miller equated the Communist “witch-hunts” of the 1950s with the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.
A TV series that helped fan the flames of the Red Scare was the drama I LED THREE LIVES/SYN/1953-56 which began “This is the fantastically true story of Herbert A. Philbrick (Richard Carlson), who for nine frightening years did lead three lives - average citizen, member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the FBI...the story is based on fact.”
The program was approved by J. Edgar Hoover and was most influential television for its time. A popular sentiment at the time stated, “I rather be dead then Red!” Other pejorative terms for Communists are “Commies” and “Pinko” (someone who sympathized with the Communists).
The motion picture The Front (1976) starring Woody Allen told the tale of a writer enlisted by blacklisted writers (accused of Communist affiliations) to put his name on their scripts. At one point in the film an angry man yells, “...you crawl in the gutter you Red bastard, you Commie son of a bitch!”
And, in the film Key Largo (1948) when mobster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) got deported, he complains, “After living in the U.S.A. for more that 30 years they called me an undesirable alien, me Johnny Rocco! Like, I was a dirty Red or something!”
Other motion pictures using the term “Red”:
- Red Dawn (1984) starring Patrick Swayze about small town teenagers who become guerrilla fighters when the US is invaded by the Russians
- Red Kiss (1986) starring Charlotte Valandrey as a Stalinist teenager coming of age in Paris of the 1950s
- Red Heat (1988) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Soviet policeman who comes to Chicago to track down a drug dealer.