Bette Davis Playing Victim of McCarthyism, 1956
|Why It's Interesting|
Bette Davis portrays here librarian Alicia Hull, who is fired and branded a Communist for refusing to remove from a library’s collection a book called The Communist Dream. The film is Storm Center (1956). Wikipedia calls Storm Center “the first overtly anti-McCarthyism film to be produced in Hollywood.” In it an ambitious politician creates a witchhunt against her that divides the town. Storm Center was written by Daniel Taradash, who finally got it produced by directing it himself. This would be the only film he ever directed. In true Hollywood fashion, the town would eventually rally to Davis’ defense [in a way that seldom occurred with genuine McCarthyite victims].
Woody Allen’s The Front holds up well as a spotlight on the desperation and misery endured by anyone that a handful of self-appointed “super-patriots” chose to persecute, with or without evidence. When I rewatched it recently I was struck by the prominence of a photograph of Adolphe Menjou hanging on the walls of the chief-persecutor’s office. Menjou, of course, remains notorious as the star who cooperated most zealously with the House Un-American Activities Committee at the very dawn of the Blacklisting era–before McCarthy himself even jumped onto and took the reins of the juggernaut that soon squashed many promising authors and artists.
The image seen here is the left two-thirds of a still from the film. Davis is shown examining the plans for a new childrens’ wing for the library, just before the storm struck.
This website seeks to encourage researchers and collectors to discover and study obscure ephemera that document American culture and life. Worldcat reveals that most of the items that I post cannot be found in more than a few research libraries–often none at all. Alternately, research libraries do not bother to catalog ephemeral publications like these. I believe, however, that because these were distributed free, or at nominal cost, to consumers, they were the publications most likely to make their way into homes and be read by large numbers of Americans.
I acquire pre-1960 examples of the kinds of publications that prove so useful when scholars study 19th-Century America. The limited competition that I encounter for them suggests that libraries, which could easily outbid me, have little interest in post-Civil War and 20th-century ephemeral publications in general.
I try to anticipate what materials future historians will find useful. Being an historian first and a collector second, I organized this website to encourage others to do this too—even if this means new competition for me. I am aware that I could be wrong in prizing particular ephemera or even whole classes of ephemera. I may even be wrong to encourage scholars to study obscure ephemeral publications; these may be obscure for good reason.
Ephemerastudies.org will permit me to share with others the information and imagery that I am acquiring, and to benefit from the knowledge, intelligence and experience of other scholars and collectors. Please contact me with your impressions of the site.