The Lady in “Red”

“Every once in a while we’d get a letter from someone, saying, ‘My friend is this and that and the other thing. I think you should put him in your dictionary.’ And I always wanted to respond to those suggestions by saying, ‘Tell him to drop dead, and we’ll look at him.'” — general editor John A. Garraty

Not so odd, that: “The idea of limiting it to people who were dead was simply that if you include a live person in, it’s hard to decide how important he or she is.” I must say I share his way of thinking, for as I’ve seldom said aloud, the only worthwhile American is a dead one. Whenever I meet someone, and they’re alive, I find myself utterly baffled by the ambiguity of their significance to America. (Oh, I’m pulling your leg.)

Anyway, I’m glad you kept our appointment. Did my typist offer you a coffee? Very good. You’re right, it is a bit late…. Whiskey?

Now, you’re looking smug. Doubtless you recall yesterday’s riddle:

This American sex symbol was discovered while working a wartime job as a parachute inspector. At the height of a very successful career in Hollywood, she risked everything to stand against the U.S. government in support of her husband, then suspected (along with so many others) to have brought “communist corruption” into the arts.

I gave you a fair hint, if you found it, by letting slip the volume in which this person appears. You might otherwise never have imagined that this noble creature was Marilyn Monroe. In any case, you would not have found on your beloved Wiki encyclopaedia the story of her run-in with the House Committee on Un-American Activities. But I can see now that you’re curious … for authoritarianism seems to strike a chord with your generation.

The early 1950s was another dark, paranoid time for America. Fear of infiltration and foreign corruption shook the population to the core: the bogeyman of the day was called “Communism”. Then as now, the enemy of the free world was a noun.

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe

Anyone suspected of so-called “Communist leanings” was stripped of rights and bullied into supplying names of friends and peers who would then be persecuted and bullied. Passports of suspected “Reds” were invalidated. Some senators and congressmen saw spies everywhere — especially in the arts — and their dubious mission to terrorize and destroy continued even after the ringleader, Joe McCarthy, was censured. The playwright Arthur Miller refused to name names, so his government brought a lawsuit against him.

Throughout the proceedings, Miller’s wife said in private and in public that she believed he would triumph in the end. She was the film star Marilyn Monroe. Later she revealed that she herself had also been intimidated and her career threatened if she would not persuade her husband to cooperate with the government witch hunt.

Think on that, lover of the Wiki.

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Filed under American Culture, Books

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