Among the millions of readers of [Fredric] Wertham’s Ladies’ Home Journal article was Herbert Hannoch, chief counsel of the Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. He read the article and contacted Rinehart to get Wertham’s address. On Nov. 27, 1953, Hannoch sent Wertham a letter where he asked Wertham if he would be interested in testifying before the committee in either January or February.
They spoke Dec. 2 and discussed details about Wertham’s potential testimony. Wertham said he was busy, targeting the end of February or later in terms of timing. His testimony as they discussed then would have covered not just comic books, but also television and juvenile delinquency in general. Wertham needed lots of time, and asked for 90 minutes to two hours under oath in front of the Committee. Wertham also recommended that a member of the staff come up to New York to discuss how his testimony would be structured.
After that conversation, Hannoch wrote a letter to Assistant Chief Counsel Herbert Beaser, telling him he had engaged Wertham and that either Beaser or Richard Clendenen should take it from there.
Beaser finally talked with Wertham on Jan. 6, 1954. Beaser told him that hundreds of parents had written in to the committee about his Ladies’ Home Journal article. Beaser confided to Wertham that they were moving against comic books and had already started the wheels moving. They talked about parents, comic books and whether Wertham had permission to use the pictures in the LHJ article — Wertham said he did not.
This was followed up by a visit by Beaser to New York to see Wertham sometime in January, as Beaser sent him a letter in early February thanking him and Mrs. Wertham for their time when he visited them. When they talked again on March 13, Beaser told Wertham about the one-year extension and passed along Senator Kefavuer’s remembrance of visiting Wertham during the 1950 hearings.
Two days later, on March 15, Wertham spoke to his agent, Rene de Chochor, about Herbert Beaser, the upcoming hearings and the imminent publication of Seduction of the Innocent. with either de Chochor or Wertham saying “they would make a mistake to wait for the book in the interest of the Committee.”30 They noted the soonest that Seduction would be available would be April 14 and that Wertham should promise the committee advance copies.
On March 17, Wertham and Beaser spoke again. Beaser said they would like to do the hearings in the next two-to-three weeks. Wertham’s notes of the conversation say he told Beaser “not till April 15th when book is out,”31 referring to his availability for testimony, as well as the publication of Seduction of the Innocent. They also went over some topics not to bring up, so the hearings would not get bogged down, such as sex, anti-Semitism and anti-Communism.
Arguably, an ethical line was crossed when Wertham made that request to hold the hearings to coincide with the release of his book. It is not known whether it was this request or other considerations (the senators’ schedules, availability of witnesses, TV schedules, etc.) that dictated the final dates of the comic-book hearings in New York, which in March had still not been determined.
Finally, during the March 17 conversation, Beaser told Wertham that a comic-book publisher wrote them that the attack on comic books comes from the “party line.” The party line was a Cold War euphemism implying that Communists are dictated to by the Soviet Central Committee of the Communist Party and must abide by their positions. Someone had clearly annoyed the subcommittee with inflammatory, Red Scare accusations.
EC Comics was not a factor in either Kefauver’s comic-book hearings in 1950 or the New York State Hearings on the same subject in 1951-1952. But in December 1953, its comic books suddenly came under attack. On Dec. 18, the Governor’s Council of Massachusetts asked that the state ban the EC title Panic because of one panel in a story showing Santa Claus with a “Just Divorced!” sign on the back of his Christmas sled. As saints such a St. Nicholas could never be married, this was an implied insult to such a holy being and to Christmas as a whole. The books were taken off the newsstands in Boston; Gaines took it one step further and took Panic out of total distribution in that state as a retaliatory move.
Eight weeks later, EC got hit again. The Hartford Courant on Feb. 14 began a multi-part series by Irving Kravsow on the evils of horror comics. The series proved so popular that, as had been done with the Wertham article, a pamphlet reprinting the series was produced and distributed by the Courant to members of the anti-comics citizenry. Pressure was beginning to mount on the comic-book publishing industry.
So when the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency announced on February 20 that they would hold hearings on the comic-book business, Bill Gaines had had enough.
Gaines, aided by EC’s business manager Lyle Stuart, created what looked like an ad that was embellished with drawings by Jack Davis. The ad had the headline “Are You a Red Dupe?” and concluded with the line “The group most anxious to destroy comics are the Communists!” Gaines sent the Committee what he thought was a joke about how only Communists are looking to censor comic books, and by implication, casting Wertham and the subcommittee as nothing but “Commie dupes.”
At the time, Al Feldstein was unaware that Gaines had designed the ad, no less sent it in to the subcommittee.
Gaines had this to say about the reasoning behind the ad:
I had a very good friend who used to amuse himself by going around until he found somebody haranguing a crowd on the street, and let’s say he would size the guy up as a right-winger, he found that if he went over and said, “You’re a Communist!” the guy would be incensed. Because he hates communists and somebody’s calling him a communist, and it’s the worst thing in the world you could call him. Well, I took this thing and said “Well, number one: everyone who is against my comics is a right winger. If I call them a communist, they’ll be furious!” The title was “Are You a Red Dupe?” And poor old Davis, who probably never read it, drew it, to his eternal dishonor, and that was it. It was one of my dumber things.
The accusation, even in jest, of saying that someone is a Communist was no laughing matter. The Red Scare and McCarthyism were in full swing. Since 1947, the United States had been through a long series of Cold War news events that on one side showed the nation’s resolve against Communism, and on the other side the erosion of civil liberties in pursuit of that resolve.
The period between 1947 and early 1954 saw Republican charges that the Democrats lost China and East Europe to the Communists, the explosion of the atomic bomb by the Soviets, the revelation that the atomic bomb secrets were stolen by Russian spies, the trial and execution of the Goldbergs as part of that spy ring, Parnell Thomas and the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into Hollywood and the subsequent blacklisting, the Marshall Plan to restore Western Europe to help ward off Communist expansion, the development and testing of the hydrogen bomb, Alger Hiss/Whitaker Chambers/Richard Nixon and the cleansing of the federal government and academia of alleged Communists. Not to mention the anti-Communist witch-hunt tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.
Two days before the comic-book hearings were announced on Feb. 20, the House Appropriations Committee disclosed that the Commerce Department had fired 23 disloyal and subversive employees.33 That brought the total number of federal employees dismissed for such reasons in 1953-1954 to 971. On Feb. 23, the Chairman of the Board of Higher Education of New York said that none of the Board’s 5,465 members were confirmed subversives, save an undisclosed number currently under investigation.
In the context of the times, it was not a wise move, jokingly or otherwise, to call someone a Communist, especially United States senators who were going to investigate your livelihood.
Needless to say, it was Gaines’ “Are You a Red Dupe?” ad that Herbert Beaser was referring to during his March 17 conversation with Wertham where they talked about “the party line.” Humorously red-baiting the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was a large mistake that would come back to haunt Gaines in the weeks to come.
For citations and documents from the recently opened Fredric Wertham papers, go to www.tcj.com/warren-bernard-1954