Faced with a crummy time in the McCarthyite and Cold War 1950s here’s what some of us did. The American mood was apocalyptic. LA was ringed with nuclear tipped Nike missiles. We more or less expected a third World War tomorrow morning.
The popular current was running venomously against liberals, lefties and progressives. Guys accused of “tendencies” were thrown out of factory second floor windows. Newspapers, TV and radio ranted against us. We felt fearful and besieged by our own fellow citizens, even families.
It wasn’t just paranoia. Informers ruled. Brother ratted on sister, son on father.
In Hollywood, where days I worked as an agent, at night a few of us got together in what J. Edgar Hoover called “Omega or The Cell Without A Name.” Kid you not. We we just six or seven unaffiliated young guys and one woman (this was the Fifties!). A dock worker, musician, middle school teacher, doctor in training, handyman, undeclared-major student and a middleaged lawyer shouting “subversive” jokes to the wall because my phone was tapped.
(I talk about us in my new book Black Sunset.)
We didn’t know what to do. More politically sophisticated types urged us to have a “constructive agenda” and stop horsing around.
But we enjoyed horsing around, drinking Johnny Walker Black Label, carousing and – in the absence of a Serious Agenda – pranking the FBI and McCarthyites. I flew in a rented Piper Cub with a friend to toss leaflets over the movie studios. Wearing masks, so as not to get fired from our day jobs, we picketed openings of pro-war movies. Not exactly world shaking.
In the gloom and grim we had fun. Sheer enjoyment of standing up was our only weapon against overpowering sadness and fear. We were committed to one another in what SNCC and Rev. King would later call a “beloved community” though we’d have been embarrassed by the term.
But we did love each other in battle.
We lived it.
(Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.)