ORSON WELLES defends American civil liberties in HIS HONOR THE MAYOR
The Free Company presents
HIS HONOR THE MAYOR
A radio play by
As originally broadcast on April 6, 1941 on CBS
For what avail the plow or sail, or land or life, if freedom fail.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
JAMES BOYD: Today our theme is an ancient and fundamental democratic right, which will become clear to you as you listen to the play. This week's author is Orson Welles.
Orson Welles (Narrator)
Ray Collins (Mayor Bill Knaggs)
Agnes Moorehead (Mrs. Knaggs/Mrs.Carter/Pearl Dewey)
Everett Sloane (Jerry, gas station owner/Joe E. Knocking, anarchist)
Erskine Sanford (Colonel Englehorn)
Paul Stewart (Father Hatton)
Listening to the Orson Welles radio broadcast of His Honor the Mayor in 2007, over sixty years after it's debut, it seems beyond belief that anyone could possibly attack it as the work of a "subversive" anti-American agitator.
Then again, maybe not. It's quite probable that the current Attorney General, would easily find Welles radio broadcast just as disturbing as J. Edgar Hoover did, way back in April of 1941. It was apparently Welles's broadcast of His Honor The Mayor that led Hoover to send a report about Welles to his bosses at the Justice Dept. and then order a full report on the political activities of Welles, and the other members of The Free Company. Welles FBI files would remain active throughout Hoover's long tenure as director of the FBI.
Apparently the passages that most incensed the right wing commentators of the time (The Hearst Newspapers and The American Legion) were these proclaimations Welles gave to Mayor Knaggs:
"There’s nothing illegal about being a communist. There’s no law in this country about having an opinion."
And it certainly couldn't have helped that Welles gave the town's only communist citizen, Joe E. Knocking, this dialogue:
"Where did the bill of rights come from? The will of the people. ...Where did the Constitution come from? It didn’t’ come down from Mount Sinai. God didn’t write it. This country with its institutions belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their Constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrowing it. Abe Lincoln said that."
Below are several documents from Welles extensive FBI file pertaining to the 1941 radio broadcast of His Honor The Mayor, followed by Welles written reply to the attacks that were hurled at him by the Hearst Press following the shows original broadcast shortly before the May, 1941 opening of Citizen Kane.
April 24, 1941
MEMORANDUM FOR THE ASSISTANT TO THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, MR. MATTHEW F. McGUIRE
Information has been received confidentially to the effect that the Dies Committee has collected and correlated information concerning the alleged Communist activities and connections of Orson Welles and (BLACKED OUT). It is reported that Mr. Dies intends to give publicity to the alleged Communist connections of these individuals in the near future.
For your information the Dies Committee has collected data indicating that Orson Welles is associated with the following organizations, which are said to be Communist in character:
Negro Cultural Committee
Foster Parents Plan for War Children
Medical Bureau and North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy
Theatre Arts Committee
Motion Picture Artists Committee
The Coordinating Committee to Lift the Embargo
American Youth Congress
Workers Bookshop Mural Fund
League of American Writers
American Student Union.
…The Bureau’s files contain considerable information concerning the subversive activities of (BLACKED OUT). His activities have been known to the Bureau for several years. The Bureau also has information relative to the alleged subversive activities of Orson Welles.
I wanted you to have the benefit of this information in order that you might be kept advised of matters of this kind.
Very truly yours,
J. Edgar Hoover
May 3, 1941
MEMORANDUM FOR THE DIRECTOR (J. EDGAR HOOVER)
RE: THE FREE COMPANY
George Orson Welles, William Saroyan, George M. Cohan,
Sherwood Anderson, Archibald MacLeish, Marc Connelly,
Stephen Vincent-Benet, Maxwell Anderson, James Boyd,
Robert E. Sherwood, Paul Elliot Green.
Reference is made to the memorandum dated April 30, 1941 of Mr. Kendon to Mr. Tolson concerning the organization of a group known as The Free Company, consisting of a group of prominent writers and Hollywood and stage stars which is presenting a series of thirteen radio plays dealing with Civil Liberties over the Columbia Broadcasting System. Pursuant to your request there is incorporated herein a summary of all pertinent information available in the files of the Bureau with respect to The Free Company and all persons known to be associated therewith.
Under the date of March 1, 1941, the Department forwarded to the Bureau a number of notices announcing that the Free Company was presenting a series of radio plays dealing with Civil Liberties over the Columbia Broadcasting System, that these programs are broadcast every Sunday from 2 to 2:30 P.M. over Station WJSV in Washington, D.C. The initial announcement of the formation of The Free Company was contained in an Associated Press release under date of January 25, 1941, at New York. In this announcement, which appeared in the Washington Sunday Star of January 26, 1941, James Boyd, novelist, was reported as stating that a group of American writers and playwrights had formed the Free Company to prepare dramatic broadcasts as a conter-attack against foreign propaganda. The announcement continued, “The effectiveness of hostile propaganda is greater here than generally realized.” The alleged aims of this group were contained in the following statement: “So far most effort in this country had been directed to attacks on that (hostile) propaganda. But the best defense would be positive restatements in moving terms of our own beliefs.”
This article identified the following individuals as those preparing the nationwide broadcast: Robert E. Sherwood, Orson Welles, and Archibald MacLeish. Other members of the group reportedly are Marc Connelly, William Saroyan, Maxwell Anderson, Stephan Vincent-Benet, Paul Green, Sherwood Anderson (deceased), George M. Cohan, and James Boyd.
Numerous newspaper articles appearing in the Bureau files indicate that the American Legion has seriously concerned itself with the broadcasts of The Free Company and has charged them with being un-American and communistically sponsored. The Legion bitterly objects to Orson Welles recent radio script entitled “His Honor, the Mayor” which one Legion post in California termed as “encouraging radicalism.” Spokesmen for the American Legion charged that the broadcasts were subversive in nature and definitely Communistic in aims although camouflaged by constant reference to democracy and free speech.
In a newspaper column entitled “It’s News To Me” by Herb Caen which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on April 19, 1941, the position taken by the American Legion with respect to the broadcasts of The Free Company was bitterly criticized. This columnist describes The Free Company as being a group of leading American playwrights who write original plays without fee and asserts that it “was born in the United States Justice Department” and that the Columbia Broadcasting Company maintains complete contact with the Department of Justice on each program. Herb Caen also asserts that James Boyd, who supervises the programs, was formerly employed by the Department of Justice to work up a series of programs to fight foreign propaganda. In this column is contained the statement that the Immigration Bureau and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are cooperating with The Free Company and have “endorsed the series.”
The above data comprise the only information in the files of the Bureau with respect to The Free Company. There is set forth below a summary of information on hand with respect to the above identified sponsors and associates of The Free Company.
GEORGE ORSON WELLES
Welles was born May 6, 1915, at Kenosha, Wisconsin. His New York address is 1430 Broadway. According to the current issue of "Who’s Who In America" Welles has connected with theatrical work since 1931. He acted with the Gate Theatre in Dublin, Ireland in 1931 and 1932. He has done considerable touring with actors of note and in 1937 founded the Mercury Theater in New York at which time he became a director and producer. In 1938 he associated himself with the radio entertainment industry and in 1939 became a producer, writer and director for RKO radio pictures. He is a member of the Actors equity Association and the American Federation of Radio Artists.
According to items appearing in the Daily Worker issues of June 29, 1938, and July 19, 1938, subject is listed among a group including Earl Browder, William Z. Foster, and other prominent individual sponsors of a celebration to honor the 76th birthday of Mother Ella Bloor (a radical labor organizer) on July 31.
An item appearing in the December 19, 1938, issue of the Daily Worker contains a statement of Ben Irwin concerning charges of a Dies Committee witness, Miss Hazel Huffman, that the New Theatre league has affiliations with Moscow. Irwin states that the New Theatre League Advisory Council includes Welles.
A news item appearing in the New York Times issue of January 17, 1939, states that Welles was among the signers of a petition protesting the dismissal of 1,500 employees of the WPA Federal Arts Project. Other signers included Franchot Tone, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Benchley, Frederic March, Lionel Stander and Rockwell Kent.
On page 790 of volume 1 of the Dies Committee report appears a statement that Welles addressed an audience of the Federal Theatre play “The Cradle Will Rock.”
(BLACKED OUT) that Welles has written stories which were apparently for the movies and that the subject matter was considered too far to the left to be used at the time by the studio. He also states that RKO was reported to have paid Welles and (BLACKED OUT) approximately $100,000 in 1938 and 1939.
It was ascertained by the New York office in March, 1941, that an investigation had been conducted on Communism in the motion picture industry and that a number of individual reports were being prepared, apparently by the Dies Committee, giving the evidence collected. An exhibit of the report on (BLACKED OUT) lists Welles as supporting Spanish Benefit Work under the direction of the Communist Party.
(BLACKED OUT) made available information which reflected that Welles’ name appeared as a member of the National Federation for Constitution Liberties in the active indices of this organization. It appeared that the names in the indices were those of persons interested in social legislation who might participate in a national lobby against legislation objected to by the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties.
A new item appearing in the March 29, 1941, issue of The Peoples World states that “a big (Harry) Bridges defense committee outside the unions” has established its office in New York City “for the duration of the trial” with Orson Welles as a moving spirit.
P. E. Foxworth
ORSON WELLES REPLIES TO THE HEARST PRESS ATTACKS ON HIS RADIO PLAY, HIS HONOR, THE MAYOR
William Randolph Hearst is conducting a series of brutal attacks on me in his newspapers. It seems he doesn't like my picture Citizen Kane. I understand he hasn't seen it. I am sure he hasn't. If he had, I think he would agree with me that those who have advised him that "Kane" is Hearst have done us both an injustice.
I have stood by silently in the hope that this vicious attack against me would be spent in the passing of a few weeks. I had hoped that I would not continue to be the target of patriotic organizations who are accepting false statements and condemning me without knowing the facts.
But I can't remain silent any longer.
The Hearst papers have repeatedly described me as a Communist. I am not a Communist. I am grateful for our constitutional form of government, and I rejoice in our great American tradition of democracy. Needless to say, it is not necessarily unpatriotic to disagree with Mr. Hearst. On the contrary, it is a privilege guaranteed me as an American citizen by the Bill of Rights.
Hearst papers and others whose actions have been suggested by those papers have had much to say about my having signed a protest at the second trial of Harry Bridges. Many others signed that protest, but my name was singled out. Why? Because Mr. Hearst doesn't like Citizen Kane. In signing a protest against Harry Bridges' second trial, I believed that the Federal Government was trying him a second time for the same offense. I have been taught that in America no man should be placed twice in jeopardy for the same offense. I would just as quickly sign a similar protest if Mr. Hearst were the subject of such double jeopardy. The Hearst smear campaign has chiefly concerned itself with my part in the Free Company broadcasts. I quote from the following non-Hearst newspapers:
"If Orson Welles is a Communist, which he isn't, then all of his associates are destroyers of Americanism. If Orson Welles is a Communist for preaching free speech, free radio, freedom of worship, then Paul Muni is a Communist for being one of his associates; then too, is George M. Cohan, a leader in the Free Company, a Communist."
—Pittsburgh Press, April 24,1941
"These members and the members of the original Free Company were picked at the suggestion of the Solicitor General of the United States to design and to execute a program to counter hostile propaganda in this country. They contributed their services without pay and they have stuck to the letter of their assignment: to restate the faith of the nation in the right of its fundamental freedoms. If it weren't sad, it would be silly. William Randolph Hearst is piqued with Orson Welles. The rest is camouflage."
—Chicago Sunday Times, April 27, 1941
I want to say that I'm proud of my American citizenship. As a citizen I cherish my rights, and I'm not fearful of uncertainty. I only ask that I am judged by what I am and what I do.
FREELY CRITICIZED COMPANY
Monday, Apr. 28, 1941
The attack began suddenly. First there was a brief communique in William Randolph Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner. Next morning the item was blown up into a front-page spread. Across the continent the story streaked to make headlines in the New York Journal and American, many another Hearst paper en route. Burden of the tale told by the Hearstlings: a number of American Legion Posts, several other veterans' societies, as well as the California Sons of the American Revolution, had found subversive propaganda in the broadcasts of CBS's Free Company, particularly in a program called His Honor, the Mayor, written and directed by Orson Welles.
As reported by the Hearst press, a typical Legion stricture on Welles and The Free Company was that of Homer L. Chaillaux, chairman of the Legion's National Americanism Commission: ". . . cleverly designed to poison the minds of young Americans. . ." Echoed a spokesman for a Legion post in Brooklyn: "The name itself, Free Company, sounds suspiciously Communistic..."
All this suggested a renewed spring drive by the Hearst press against Orson Welles, and it coincided strangely with the release dates of Mr. Welles's film, Citizen Kane. The first drive had for its objective the suppression of the movie on the grounds that it looked too much like an unflattering portrait of Citizen Hearst.
Unfortunately for the Hearst strategy, The Free Company, a non-commercial series of democratic propaganda plays by people like Maxwell Anderson, Ernest Hemingway and William Saroyan, operates under what is virtually a Government charter. The Company's chairman, distinguished Author James Boyd (Drums, Marching On), pointed out that he is a dollar-a-year man with the Department of Justice, had shaped up The Free Company on official advice from his good friend Solicitor General Francis Biddle.
His Honor, the Mayor, which aroused Mr. Hearst and Legionnaires, described how an honest, small-town mayor supported the right of assembly by letting a gang of fascistic "White Crusaders" hold a meeting, then held a bigger and better meeting of his own. Another Free Company drama to which the Legion objected was The Mole on Lincoln's Cheek. It made a plea for freedom to teach, put in a plug for honest textbooks. Probable cause of the Legion's gripe was that its characters included a few witch-hunting operatives of a "Veterans' League."
During its show this week, The Free Company mildly replied by pointing out that many of its members had served in the Army, that all Free Companymen had "dedicated their talents to the proposition that we have in this country a way of life that is unique and precious and something to be infinitely proud of."