Monday, April 21, 2008

HARVEY MATUSOW 2: 1946-1960

Harvey Matusow

‘Matusow did time for telling the truth about having lied'
Emile de Antonio, filmmaker.

'Back in New York after the war, he worked various jobs (including as an agent for Dean Martin) while he drifted towards Greenwich Village hootenannies, the folk music revival and the American Communist Party.' WNFU's Beware of the Blog

His first introduction to the political left came in November 1946 when he was invited to a neighbourhood party for members of the American Youth for Democracy (AYD), which a year later would be listed as a Communist front. He enjoyed the camaraderie and the folk, union and protest songs he heard sung. He joined AYD and became the club’s education and social director. [Lichtman]

‘It didn't take long before I joined the A.Y.D., went to meetings, got petitions signed…The fear and hysteria of McCarthyism hadn't begun, nor had the Cold War moved into top-gear. Communists, communism didn't frighten me or generate any feelings of hate in me. Just fought a war allied with them. Met quite a few of them in France. They were all anti-Fascists and fought and died. Didn't understand much of what they were about, but those who I'd met, I liked. I was hungry and hooked, wanting to explore this world, to relate to and try to better understand these people. It wasn't difficult at all for me to get involved in the Left Wing. American Youth for Democracy - what could be nicer than that?’

1949-51: ‘Was part of the folk music revival of the 40s. Was a Broadway agent, worked for the agency that handled Dean Martin before he joined Jerry Lewis. As a hopeful comic, lived the night club life…Won subscription drive for Daily Worker and got free trip to Puerto Rico…met and married Kay, a working journalist for the Black newspaper The Amsterdam News’.

‘By 1950, he either sensed an opportunity for money and fame, or (according to him) needed to protect his own ass, so he contacted the FBI and began his four year long career as a paid informer for anyone in need of an anti-Communist accuser with bona fide red street cred… [he] ultimately destroyed the lives of hundreds of innocent Americans, communists and non-communists alike.’ WNFU's Beware of the Blog

1950-52: Contacted the FBI and became an informer. The Korean War began. Kay and I separated and I left New York heading for San Francisco…[but] truck broke down in Taos, New Mexico, Went to art school, ran local pool hall, became gofer for Mable Dodge and Freida Lawrence. Got called to active duty in Air Force.

1951-53: The McCarthy years. Worked my way out of US Air Force into a job as an investigator for The Ohio Un-American Activities Committee. Became the ‘darling of the Hearst press, the China lobby, the Justice Department and Congressional Committees on both the House and Senate side. Spied on trade unions. Left Ohio and became assistant editor of ‘Counterattack’, the blacklisting newsletter that also created the blacklist bible ‘Red Channels’. Involved in actors clearances in New York and Hollywood.

In 1952, went to work for Senator McCarthy…After election, went to work for [him] with specific purpose to help undermine public trust in the New York Times.

[He] once reported that 126 Communists worked in the Sunday Department of the New York Times even though the total number of employees was 100. [Wikipedia]

In 1952 he went to work for Senator Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn who put him on their payroll and encouraged his tendency to create lists of communists out of thin air. Among Matusow's targets during this period of time were The New York Times and The Girl Scouts.
WNFU's Beware of the Blog

1953-54: Married and divorced twice to McCarthy financial supporter, Arvilla Peterson Bentley. Moved into her large mansion [in Washington DC]. Suddenly find myself, a high school drop-out, in a large mansion with an upstairs maid, a housekeeper, a cook, a butler/chauffeur, a gardener, a part time laundress. It was a madness out of my league, caught up in the power vortex of America. That was the insanity of it all.

1954: Returned to New York where I buried myself in writing poetry, doing some off Broadway Theatre, and some up-tight, sometimes feeble, attempts at stand-up comedy…Did some radio and realized that I was now blacklisted, and found it almost impossible to find theatre work…Was baptised in Mormon Church (Oct. 1, 1954). Attempts to get book, ‘Blacklisting Was My Business’, published.

1954-1955: I received a message from and called Albert Kahn of the book publishing firm of Cameron & Kahn. They had heard about the book I was writing, and seemed interested in publishing it. Returned to New York, immersed myself in a Greenwich Village apartment. Wrote the book ‘False Witness’, recanted my testimony, and was overwhelmed beyond any expectation of the results of my recantation and the book. I was alone like I had never known aloneness…Estranged from most of my family (except my mother and father), and perhaps eight of my forty-two uncles and aunts. Conflict and question, "Why did I do it?" (I am amazed now that I am still alive, for I fully expected to be shot dead every day of that period.)

1954-1956: I was in such disrepute, I stopped going to Mormon Church. Was afraid to test them on forgiveness…Started to hang around my old Greenwich Village haunts: The White Horse, Louie's, and the Limelight Coffee House. Met and married third wife, Ellen Raskin… an artist doing book and record jackets and illustrations…Employment was difficult. I would get job and lose it within days. Started selling Book of Knowledge. Sold my first to unemployed actor [Jason Robards].

In 1954, either because he felt remorse over the destruction he caused, or because he sensed another quick buck, he came clean on his years of lying and perjury with his book False Witness. In it, he truthfully accused Cohn and McCarthy of keeping him on the payroll as a paid witness and a professional liar. For once, Matusow was telling the truth, but Roy Cohn didn't see it that way. Cohn accused him of lying in the book, and in the ensuing trial, Matusow was convicted of perjury and sentenced to five years in prison... As a professional liar, Matusow had been the toast of the town, but for finally telling the truth, he was imprisoned. It was then that he was dubbed "The Most Hated Man in America" by The National Enquirer, The Baltimore Sun and other papers. WNFU's Beware of the Blog

1956-1957: Trial in New York Federal Court. My word against Roy Cohn. Convicted and sentenced to five years in Federal Prison for saying that Cohn, when he was Assistant U.S. Attorney, had suborned perjury. The irony of it all was that I had committed countless acts of perjury, and the government tried and convicted me of telling the truth. Sent to prison. Made bail after three months in the Federal Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pa. Ellen and I ended two-year marriage. My father died.

[April 1st 1957]: Met fourth wife, Beatrice Swope Lysander. She was the best writer I have ever known. She was hanging out at Louis' Tavern, under The Circle In The Square Theatre, and was with our mutual friend, Steve McQueen. Steve and Lee Marvin and I used to deliver TV sets for Jerry Francis from his shop on west 10th street…Bea was also a "den mother" to many of the Village poets of the Beat Generation (Howard Hart, Sy Krim, Jack Micheline and a few others).

It was 1957, and the Warren Supreme Court, using me as a prime reason, upset almost every rule and law that the government was using to persecute the left. They refused to grant me a hearing on appeal, and I went back to prison.

On the eve of my return to prison, Bea and I went to see the Henry Fonda movie, Twelve Angry Men, and after the movie went to have a farewell party at the journalist Bill Dufty's house. Bill and his wife Maley, and the singer Billie Holiday threw a farewell party. Billie and I shared notes about Federal prisons. [Bea, Bill & I] went to the Federal Court House where I surrendered to the U.S. Marshall, and went off to prison.

1956-1960: General reflection on prison life. My work in the athletic department. Captain of the tennis team and the volley ball team. I treated prison like the university I never attended. I devoured books, attended lectures given by Bucknell University professors, painted over 200 canvases. Produced and directed four plays: ‘Stalag 17’, ‘Waiting for Godot’, ‘Mr. Roberts’, and ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’(with two Mafia types playing the old ladies). Reflections also on Frank Costello, the so-called head of the "Mafia", who I got to know well while at Lewisburg, and who I got to see after release in New York.

1956-1960: The day Wilhelm Reich died he was in the next cell…In the general population he was known as "The Sex Box Man", and the folk tales regarding his orgone box were more then surreal.

Sources: Italic quotes and bold chronological entries: from the ‘Stringless Yo-Yo’. Chronological entries edited to correct mistypings and misspellings, to shorten it and, in some cases, to make it read more fluently. Other sources indicated.

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