Visiting Assistant Professor of History Francis MacDonnell published an article in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (2019 Vol. 0, No. 0, 1–23. )
In “‘Hell, I am just a Guitar Player’: The National Security State Confronts the Threat Burl Ives Posed to Cold War America,” MacDonnell recounts how at the height of the Cold War, Burl Ives nearly saw his career undone.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched an investigation into the singer-actor based on his associations with left-wing political organizations, his flirtation with Communism during World War II, and his contacts in 1944 with two known Soviet spies. J. Edgar Hoover classified Ives as a ‘turncoat.’
Guided by intelligence it received from the FBI, the State Department moved to block his right to travel abroad. Only the intervention of Eva Adams, Senator Pat McCarran’s (D-Nev.) formidable administrative assistant, salvaged Ives’ career. In 1952 Adams pressed the State Department and coaxed the FBI into granting Ives the right to sing American folk songs to allies in Western Europe and Australia. Subsequently, he gave public testimony to the McCarran Internal Security Sub-Committee where he identified four colleagues as having had Communist associations.
This essay draws on recently declassified files from the FBI and State Department to show the way that counter-subversives in government sought to micromanage popular culture during the Cold War, the multiple bureaucratic actors involved in evaluating the loyalty of individual entertainers, and the role luck played in determining final outcomes.