AP WAS THERE: Pete Seeger’s HUAC testimony
EDITOR’S NOTE — On Aug. 18, 1955, The Associated Press reported that Pete Seeger and others testified before a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing in New York investigating alleged communist activities in the entertainment industry. Seeger, then 36, refused to answer any questions about his “associations, philosophy or religion.” That refusal led to his conviction for contempt of Congress in 1961; the conviction was later overturned. Reporting on the 1955 hearing, the AP described Seeger as a “lanky man wearing a brown suit, plaid shirt and yellow tie” who called himself a “banjo picker.” He told the committee: “I have sung to many audiences. I have sung in hobo jungles and I’ve sung for the Rockefellers. I’ve never refused to sing for anybody. That’s the only answer I can give. I’m proud I’ve sung for Americans of every political persuasion.” Fifty-nine years after its original publication, the AP is making this report of the HUAC hearing, which includes Seeger’s comments, available.
NIGHT LEAD HOUSE COMMITTEE
NEW YORK, AUG. 18 (AP) — A former television producer who said he handled a budget of $100,000 a week refused today to tell the house un-American activities committee whether he was a communist then or now.
He was Tony Kraber, 50, once a Columbia Broadcasting System executive.
The committee, investigating communist infiltration of show business, wound up its hearings in New York by questioning six witnesses today.
Rep. Francis E. Walter (D-PA) said the next hearing may be held in Washington in January.
Walter also disclosed that Elizabeth Bentley, self-admitted former Russian spy ring courier, had been hired by the committee two weeks ago as a paid consultant. He said her job was temporary and would last about another month. Her salary is $500 monthly.
The committee heard 23 witnesses in New York. Only one, actor George Hall, admitted he had a communist past.
The committee encountered a stone wall with all six of today’s witnesses in its probe of red activity in the entertainment world. Besides Kraber, they were:
Ivan Black, 53, a public relations man, who cited the 1st, 5th, 6th, 10th and 14th amendments to the constitution, the most of any of the 20 witnesses heard this week.
Peter Seeger, 36, a banjo-playing folk singer, who offered to play his banjo for the committee, but the committee declined.
Alan Manson, 36, a Broadway and television actor and war veteran. He cited the 1st, 5th, and 9th amendments.
Harold J. Salemson, 44, a foreign film importer and former Hollywood free lance writer.
David Kanter, 46, production stage manager.
Salemson denied being a communist but refused to comment on his associations or beliefs prior to July 1, 1948, invoking the 1st and 5th amendments.
Salemson said he would have been more inclined to cooperate with the committee had not Walter “associated himself on Monday night with elements which I feel should be investigated.”
His reference was to the chairman’s speech at a New York rally of The Alliance, Inc., described as an anti-communist organization.
“This was a biased political meeting,” declared Salemson.
“Obviously this committee is here not to investigate but convict. The chairman associates with un-American elements.”
This brought a laugh from spectators.
Walter quickly retorted:
“I was proud to be at the meeting Monday night and I assure you there was no person there who would ever invoke the Fifth Amendment.”
Kraber said he was an executive producer at CBS, handling the $100,000 a week budget in 1949 and 1950, and that in 1951 he was director of special events for the CBS radio network.
(CBS said its records showed Kraber was executive assistant in its short wave division from 1942 to 1948, when he went to the Dumont Television Network. He returned to CBS in September, 1949, as a producer in its television division. CBS said that in December of the same year he became assistant director of special events for CBS Radio and that he “resigned by mutual consent” in September, 1951.)
Kraber accused the committee of having been instrumental in getting him “fired” from CBS. He asserted he now was an actor and American folk singer, although some people mistakenly had called him a guitar player. “I don’t care if you’re a guitar player or a piccolo player,” said Walter. “Just answer the questions and find out why you are here.”
Frank Tavenner Jr., committee counsel, told Kraber that Elia Kazan, director of the movie “On the Waterfront,” and Clifford Odets, playwright, had identified him as a communist. Asked if this was correct. Kraber declined to answer, citing the 1st and 5th amendments, but remarked: “Is this the same Kazan who signed a contract for $500,000 the day after he gave names to your committee?”
Black said he once was known as “the number one Starmaker” through his publicizing of theatrical people but that he now devoted his time to giving public relations advice to industries and industrial executives.
Black cited the five amendments when asked whether he had been a member of the Patrick Henry Communist Club of New York city about 1936.
The publicity man said his success in his business resulted from his policy of never giving an editor “a bum steer. Honesty is the best policy.” Picking up the phrase, Rep. Gordon H. Scherer (R-Ohio) said: “Honesty is the best policy here.” ″I think the 14th amendment is being violated,” Black replied. ′
“All communists think so,” said Scherer. Black replied: “That’s what Hitler said: ‘If you’re against me you are a communist.’”
Seeger, a lanky man wearing a brown suit, plaid shirt and yellow tie and describing himself as a ‘banjo picker,’ told the committee he would not answer any questions concerning, “my associations, philosophy or religion.”
To questions whether he had been a communist or had appeared at red-sponsored entertainments, he said the committee had no right to question him on such matters.
“I have sung to many audiences,” he said. “I have sung in hobo jungles and I’ve sung for the Rockefellers. I’ve never refused to sing for anybody. That’s the only answer I can give. I’m proud I’ve sung for Americans of every political persuasion.”
Manson, the actor, declined to say whether he had been a communist “since I have a feeling of political privacy.”
Asked if he would reveal any knowledge he might have of present or past communist party activities he replied: “Those matters lie in a province that is hallowed and for which I fought five years in the army.”
Tavenner said two scheduled witnesses, Sam Jaffe, actor, and Jerome Chodorov, writer, had been excused from appearing at the current hearing because their attorney had a previous commitment.
The amendments cited by the witnesses are as follows: the first guarantees free speech. The fifth involves possible self-incrimination. The sixth relates to the right of a speedy and public trial. The ninth holds that rights of the people are not limited to those enumerated in the constitution. The 10th reserves to the states powers not delegated to the government.