The Man Who Beat The Blacklist: John Henry Faulk

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Bill Moyers and Studs Terkel speak with the legendary John Henry Faulk who was of one of the performers who beat the infamous 1950s blacklist.

John Henry Faulk

(Photo from our archives but not labeled)


JOHN HENRY FAULK: The genius of the government that we’ve established— the great .. four great rights of the people … conscience, speech, press, and right to assemble are included in it because this great notion will guarantee in perpetuity and will protect the right of people to voice those opinions we loathe and despise…protect them with the same force it does those we cherish and live by.

SENATOR JOSEPH McCARTHY’S VOICE: Does this mean I’m a Communist Senator? That’s very funny Mr. Secretary. That’s terribly funny.

STUDS TERKEL: This was the 1950s. The time of the Cold War, Loyalty Oaths, Joe McCarthy. Black-listing ruled the airways.

BILL MOYERS: If you wanted to discredit an otherwise legitimate opponent.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: And didn’t want to argue over what the real issues were.

BILL MOYERS: You called him a Communist?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yes…They found the perfect way to shut off the political dialogue in our society and shut up dissent.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as ED SNODGRASS: Of course I believe in the right to dissent, Congressman. The right to dissent’s a sacred American right. I’d knock uh man’s teeth down his throat interfere with my right to dissent.

BILL MOYERS: When this was over, Louis Nizer wrote in his own book … of you, “One lone man with virtually no resources dragged the defendants into court and, although outrageously outnumbered withstood starvation and disgrace and summoned enough strength to battle them into submission.”

JOHN HENRY FAULK as TOM WILLIS: Well, how do you do? Thank you for come’n. I’m just glad ta see you.

STUDS TERKEL: John Henry Faulk…A key figure in a landmark legal decision…An articulate spokesman for constitutional rights …And a very funny guy …

JOHN HENRY FAULK as WILL BORING: Calvin Banks ….he invented uh do it-yourself baptismal kit. It was fer shut-ins ….’n if you sent your money head-uh-time, pre-paid, Cal’ud sent you an autographed picture of Jesus Christ that glowed in the dark. N’ his eyes’ud follow you anywhere you went in the room.

STUDS TERKEL: John Henry was one lone man in his fight against blacklisting and one lone man on stage. But nobody’s ever called Johnny a lonely man. A guy once said, “That fellow collects more friends in a one afternoon than a watermelon has seeds.” I’m Studs Terkel and I’m one of those friends for more than 40 years. On this rainy day, I’m here on the south side of Austin, Texas, where John Henry Faulk grew up …. This was the family home. It’s now a restaurant, elegant and famous, established by John Henry’s sister, Mary Faulk Koock. There are peacocks strutting in the yard where the chickens used to be. But, in a sense, the rambling old house hasn’t changed that much. It always was warm and welcoming …full of kids and relatives and visitors. The sort of people who, years later, would become the inspiration for Johnny’s characters.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as FANNIE ROLLINS: You know, he married …somebody I’s gonna talk about. I’s gonna talk about the Magness family. N’ he married Eloise Magness. N’ he took his honeymoon down in Mexico … hisself ….n’ I don’t mind tell’n ya it hurt her feel’ins…

STUDS TERKEL: John Henry is a humorist… an observer of the human comedy. But he has a point of view and you spot that throughout his work. And we’re often laughing…not so much at that person…but in recognizing that frailty in ourselves as well. And although Johnny’s characters all seem to have their roots in the South, Johnny, himself, traveled the world. In the 1940s, John Henry packed up and moved to New York. In the next few years he and his wife would have three children and John Henry would build a career. By the early ’50s he had a radio show on WCBS, the flagship station for the Columbia Broadcasting System. It was a one-hour show each afternoon, five days a week. John Henry would spin a few yarns, reminisce about his childhood in Texas and comment on the news of the day, the frailties of this crazy human species… and the foibles of the world. John Henry’s New York “country humor” was a big success.

Sophisticated city types may not have been quite certain whether they were laughing with him… or at him, but they’d had the same trouble with Mark Twain. And for Johnny, as for Twain, the trick was to use humor to convey an idea or plant a seed. He had jokes to tell but he also had “ideas” to share… and this was the 1950s. The time of the Cold War, loyalty oaths, Joe McCarthy… suddenly this soft-spoken maverick Texan, sitting on top of the world, found himself in big trouble… on the front lines … and on the front page. To Johnny, it was a matter of the U.S. Constitution, the passion of his life. He began spreading the gospel of the constitution when he was a student at the University of Texas. Some 40 years later he talked to Bill Moyers about that…

BILL MOYERS: I was at William and Mary College, in Williamsburg, last week, about two weeks after you were there and I was intrigued by all the publicity that still was following in your wake.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Wasn’t that nice?

BILL MOYERS: When you went there they didn’t know who John Henry Faulk was. These undergraduates hadn’t been born when you were suffering your ordeal back in the ’50s and yet according to the press and my sources there, when you finished speaking, they gave you a standing ovation.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yeah, honey, you know Momma had aimed me toward the Methodist ministry, but by the time I got born she realized she shot a blank, and I still have an evangelical streak in me apparently, because I used it there at that thing. I mean, I got to talking about the First Amendment; I got to talking about the McCarthy period, and the trivialization of our most meaningful national experience, namely the election of our federal officers, and president on down. And I got so carried away I started saving souls, Bill. I really did; I got kind of a state of joy at it.

BILL MOYERS: Did they know what you were talking about? These very young kids at this very traditional college?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: See, I do a great many college speeches, and that’s the reason I do. I am determined that they will remember that, that they shall know what the McCarthy period is all about… and it is not taught in our schools. The meaning of McCarthyism has never been taught. See it is supposed to be an anti-Communist movement. It had nothing to do with communism… anti or otherwise.

BILL MOYERS: What was it?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: At that time the use of Communism, you see, was a way of bolstering, number one, the Cold War that was opening up and, number two, and most important of all, and this is terribly important to understand the McCarthy period, was a way of shutting off the dialogue. The life’s blood of this country is an open and robust dialogue, a rational political dialogue, where everybody’s free to say what they believe, why they believe it, and to persuade their neighbor to their point of view. That is the way we move forward in our society.

BILL MOYERS: What happened in the ’50s was that the way to silence your opponent was to call him a Communist.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: We were told that there was an international Communist conspiracy afoot, and it had its bony hand right on the White House door, and Roosevelt and that crowd of cronies that he had there were nothing but a bunch of old communistic things. I had an aunt who said, “Johnnie, it just scares me to death when I think they’re right there in Washington, D.C. fixing to take over this government at any day.” And I said, “Aunt Edith, people in this country are not gonna put a Communist in charge of anything.” “You just don’t know, you just don’t know, Johnnie.”

BILL MOYERS: What’s that story you tell about when you were twelve years old? Your mother sent you out to the hen house to look for the chicken snake that was harassing the hens?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Aah …well, I use that usually to illustrate something. Boots Cooper and I were law-and-order men. I was a Texas Ranger and he was a United States Marshal.

BILL MOYERS: You were playing as kids.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: We were both 12 years old and we rode the frontier between momma’s back door and her hen house in the …. cowboying out there. We lived out in South Austin, Texas, and …Momma told us there was a chicken snake in one of the hen’s nests out there. Would we mighty lawmen go out and execute it? We, both of us barefooted and overalls, we laid aside our stick horses, got a hoe and went in. And the hens were in a state of acute agitation, and craning their necks. We had to stand on tiptoe to look in the top tier of nests, and in about the third top nest we looked in, a chicken snake looked out of … and I don’t know, Bill, whether you’ve ever viewed a chicken snake from a distance of six inches from the end of your nose …

BILL MOYERS: Not that close … I’ve kept a safe distance …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: … but the damn things look like a boa constrictor from that distance, although it’s about the size of your finger — and Boots and I, all of our frontier courage drained out our heels. Actually, it trickled down our overalls legs, and Boots and I made a new door through the hen house wall. And Momma came out and said, “Well, you’ve lulled me into a false sense of security. I thought I was safe from all hurt and harm and here you’ve let a chicken snake run you out of the hen house, and a little chicken snake at that. Don’t you know chicken snakes are harmless? They can’t hurt you.” Boots said, “Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that,” …rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, “but they can scare you so bad, it’ll cause you to hurt yourself.”

BILL MOYERS: And that’s what happened ….

JOHN HENRY FAULK: This is what happened to us during that period, Bill.

BILL MOYERS: We became so frightened of the …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: At our own freedoms. And see, the men who erected the protections for the individual Americans back there 200 years ago, believed that we would be capable of governing ourselves, and they knew in order for us to be, they would have to make it an absolute mandate. Anything of lesser force wouldn’t survive the kind of crisis that they knew would come. They were men of great wisdom and vision, literate men.

BILL MOYERS: But they didn’t put a Bill of Rights in the Constitution until the people demanded it.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: You know that is lost on so many scholars and almost as many judges. I’m not lambasting the federal judiciary, but they, at least should be acquainted as to how we came to have a Bill of Rights.

BILL MOYERS: Have you ever thought of how beautifully constructed, how wonderfully crafted that First Amendment is?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Ooh, yes! I’ve thought of that a great, great deal.

BILL MOYERS: You know what it says literally?


BILL MOYERS: “Congress shall make no law…”

JOHN HENRY FAULK: … respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging freedom of speech or the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition their government for the redress of their grievances.”

BILL MOYERS: Why are you so passionate about the First Amendment in particular? You did bring those students at William and Mary to their feet talking about this…

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Because ….it puts every American citizen, whatever color, what-ever walk of life, on precisely the same footing. Just as your right to vote puts you on the same footing with the heads of the party, with the richest men, all the Rockefeller boys…

BILL MOYERS: But the fact of the matter is the First Amendment didn’t protect you in the 1950s.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Oh, yes it did.

BILL MOYERS: You lost your job.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: That’s right.

BILL MOYERS: You lost your career

JOHN HENRY FAULK: What the hell is a job? There are a lot of other jobs.

STUDS TERKEL: What the hell is a job? John Henry may say that now, but where the hell is a job is what he was saying back in the ’50s. And “nowhere” is the answer he kept getting. John Henry built his reputation as a folklorist and as a TV and radio humorist. But the big event of his life was a drama… A drama with all the conflict one could ask for. It began with a group of Right Wing vigilantes who called themselves “AWARE, Inc.” They set themselves up as Judge and Jury to decide who was fit to work in the entertainment business. One of AWARE’s most vocal members was Vincent Hartnett, a professional witch-hunter, who made a fairly good buck out of it by publishing a “rag” called Red Channels, which listed performers, writers, and directors he considered subversive. Another was Laurence A. Johnson, a grocery chain owner in Syracuse, New York, who threatened to boycott the products of any sponsor who employed those he disapproved of …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: They completely dominated the radio and television industry. They published periodically in this climate of fear — Boots Cooper’s … truth of his statement was being proven every day up in the radio and television industry in Hollywood and “New York — this climate of fear …they published a list of names of persons, artists, producers, directors, writers and performers who had in the past done something that Aware decided indicated, less than loyalty to the United States of America.

BILL MOYERS: But how did Aware get to you?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: All right. I belonged to a union call AFTRA … and, I had, in the union, I got up a slate of officers, because the leadership of our union was all pro-Aware, and the membership of the union had been so decimated by Aware’s attacks because Aware did this for money, they made money out of this, you see. This fellow Hartnett made a lot of money.

BILL MOYERS: How did he make money?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: By charging the networks and the advertising agencies to clear names …your name had to be cleared by Aware. That’s how powerful it had become.

BILL MOYERS: So, what did you do? You organized…

JOHN HENRY FAULK: I organized this group of members. We’d sit around and bellyache about the injustice of blacklisting. But if you even criticized the House Committee or the FBI you were a candidate for blacklisting. “This man is critical of the FBI” …really! That’s the way they would list it. And so, raised this Gideon’s Army of guys, all of whom expressed their indignation to me, and I said, “Well, let’s run against ’em.” We ran and swept into office in 1956.

BILL MOYERS: Your slate won the elections of the local union?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yes, and the national union was controlled by the right wing. These McCarthyites … rigid McCarthyites, and our local had been. It was a shameful bunch that was watching their own fellow members get blacklisted. So…you see, the function of a union isn’t to help Aware blacklist people, but to protect performers’ jobs. That’s the only reason a guy pays union fees, you see, or any union man supposedly pays union dues… is to get the protection of the union for his job and for his working conditions. I got this bunch together. We ran in the fall of 1955, and swept into office, and Charlie Collingswood, bless his old sweet heart, became president and I became vice-president, and old Orson Bean became vice-president … and we were going to save the world. And, of course, it made headlines then, Bill, this was back in 1956, literally “Anti-blacklist Slate Wins.”

The following week, the House Un-American Activities Committee, true to its form, published a statement, “Communists taking over the entertainment industry under the guise of anti-blacklist.” And it scared the jumping daylights out of these people who …some of the people who had run with us. We had run a pretty big slate, and had pretty big support. A guy called me up and said, “Don’t mention I supported the slate. Please don’t.” This was the level of fear, what it had done to the people. And then Aware, after the House Committee roughed us up, old Ed Murrow and Charlie Collingswood and I sat down to figure out what kind of response to make. We got up in Murrow’s office and I said, “Let me respond to them.” They said, “No, no, no, you get too mad. We want a measured response that’ll take their hides off, but …and Charlie’s more eloquent.” Which was absolute fact. So, Charlie wrote a response, and it was a smashing one to the House Committee. “You tend to your own business; we tend to the union business and not only is this false but it’s improper that you would be meddling in our affairs.” So, Aware then put out a bulletin on us, which said, “This Middle-of-the-Road Slate…. “See, we pledged that we weren’t communist or anything and we weren’t going to eat any children or anything ugly and go to church regular if they just left our slate… “This Middle-of-the-Road Slate alleges that it’s not communist. Perhaps it isn’t a communist movement, but let’s look at some of the leadership. For instance, John Henry Faulk who organized it.” And then they went to town on me. They alleged five different things that I had done. Two of which were true. I’d done them. That I had appeared at a dinner at the Astor Hotel in 1946 with a known Communist and never repudiated that appearance. It was the year one birthday party for the United Nations Security Council. That was when Tryvge Lie was Secretary General of the United Nations Security Council, and it was under the sponsorships of that well-known left wing outfit called the American Bar Association and about 25 other similarly left wing organizations, and…

BILL MOYERS: And that was the event they said…

JOHN HENRY FAULK: That I had attended and that there was a known Communist there, and they didn’t mention that he was a member of the Security Council named Andrei Gromyko who was just as un-American as you can get.

BILL MOYERS: The Soviet Foreign Minister?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yes, and it was being broadcast full network over CBS. This is the irony of it. This is 10 years later they make this charge that I was there and so they were accurate. I was there.

BILL MOYERS: What was the other event you said that was true? You were at the U.N. birthday party…and there was a known Communist there, Gromyko from the Soviet Union. But what was the other one? You had performed for Henry Wallace?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Or, I think, I supported Henry Wallace or I had entertained for Henry Wallace or something like that. You see, if both of these things had been absolutely factual both of them were, as a matter of fact it didn’t mean a darn thing. It had no meaning and then neither one were illegal and the other things were totally false …had not even a scintilla of truth in them. But Aware had gotten so reckless by this time, that they didn’t care whether it was true or false. Nobody ever called their hand on it.

BILL MOYERS: But you had just to clear the record you had no Communist sympathies: you belonged to no organizations.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: No ….No … and you see this is the whole thing, Bill, they knew that. But at any rate, CBS called me in and said… “Aware has gotten hold of your sponsors …and they are cancelling out on you.” …and you’ve got to correct this …and said, “Look, you go home and write an affidavit saying that you were misled, and thanking Aware for calling this to your attention… that you are violently anti-Communist. You can’t stand them…and you would stomp one if you could see it. And that you are a loyal, fine American, that you served in the American Red Cross overseas in the Middle East and that you served in the United States Army and that you are so patriotic that it just gives you a headache when you get to reflecting on it… and you make it very patriotic, but apologize and say that you did get into a couple of these, those that are true. See, this is the way you get off of Aware’s list. If you’ll apologize to Aware, volunteer to go down to the House Un-American Activities Committee and spill your insides on all your friends on how you got involved in this …. told the FBI all of this stuff. They were garbage collection, I called them…Aware and the FBI were. They collected garbage and dumped it on your head when they got a chance.

BILL MOYERS: So, you’re sitting there in your apartment in New York …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: All this going through my mind.

BILL MOYERS: You’ve got CBS’s offer that if you’ll just say “mea culpa”, I didn’t mean it; I was just an innocent …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Apologize for those things that offended Aware …

BILL MOYERS: You’d be okay. Aware would take you off the list.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Oh, “and I also had to say in this, ” .. and say it in a polite way, Johnny, …don’t say it in a satiric way, because it won’t work. Say that you appreciate Aware’s concern and appreciate many of the good things they’ve done and the patriotic work they’ve done cleansing our industry of communism.” Well, I got there and got to thinking what I was saying… “Lord, have mercy! That’s like wading through my own vomit. I couldn’t do something like that. Good, God! couldn’t do that!”

BILL MOYERS: When you told CBS, who very much wanted to cooperate because it meant the show…

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yeah, because I was making money for ’em…

BILL MOYERS: Making money for them…When you told them you couldn’t do it, what happened?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Oh, I didn’t do that. I wrote an affidavit. Didn’t write it by myself, now let me make that clear. Palmer Weber, and Clark Foreman, two beloved friends, came over to my house, and I said, “I’ve decided I’m not going to write that affidavit they want. I want to make this a good strong one. I’m John Henry Faulk. I was raised a Methodist boy in south Austin and …both my parents were Methodist and I believe in the Constitution of the United States, and I believe that it means what it says that every man is entitled to be confronted by his accusers and to bring witnesses in their own defense and to cross-examine his accusers. I’m quite sure CBS believes the same thing. I have been attacked by people that I don’t even know that are a poison and a poisonous influence in the broadcast industry…that for money destroy the careers of men and women in this industry and I won’t deign to answer anything they say. I’ll go down to the courthouse and answer. We going to have a camp down at the county court, as old man Peter Path used to say, I’ll take you down there to that county courthouse, by God, and we’ll have this out.

STUDS TERKEL: … and that’s what Johnny did. He was no Communist … and, by God, he would have his day in court. John Henry Faulk turned the tables on the blacklisters and sued them for libel. Initially, AWARE would choose Roy Cohn, notorious as special assistant to Senator Joe McCarthy, to provide its defense… Johnny would turn to one of the nation’s top trial lawyers …

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Ol’ Louis Nizer …Mr. Louis Nizer he’s not so tall, but when he gets into the courtroom he’s about 25-foot tall, Bill. He felt the same indignation and he knew about their blacklisting out in Hollywood, because he was an attorney for the film companies… and we sat down and went over the whole thing and it was kind of like sitting in a Supreme Court justice’s office, because there was Mr. Nizer, this multi-million dollar lawyer, that I knew I couldn’t afford, unless I could sell him on — and Ed Murrow thought that we could sell him. That he would get as indignant over this as Ed was and as I was, and that this would be a golden opportunity…. and he took it on. He understood it would be a very big suit. And he said, “Now, you ready to go through a real ordeal? Because you can be knocked out of work … and you won’t work again. But we’re going to do our best. We’ll take hand in hand and you and I together will put down this terrible plague of black listing in Hollywood and New York.”

STUDS TERKEL: John Henry was lucky to have found Louis Nizer, but Nizer was lucky too. Here was a case that could set an important, historic precedent and John Henry Faulk was particularly qualified to bring it to court. Nizer said as much in his book, “The Jury Returns.” He wrote, “—if we had to create a plaintiff to test the false charge of communism, we could not have imagined a better one than this Texan who derived his Southern drawl honestly, from a lifetime spent in Austin…and who garnished his lively personableness with scholarly attainments.” Johnny was bright, educated, talented — but he was, nonetheless, a political innocent. He truly believed what was right and fair was bound to triumph if you just stuck to it. So, John Henry Faulk stuck to it.

BILL MOYERS: You had to know they would fight back. That they would do everything they could to discredit you. Why did you file that suit?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Because, Bill, I regarded it as an opportunity. An opportunity in this sense …Does a private group of vigilantes, or indeed a government group, have the right to deprive a citizen of his livelihood and his good reputation without confronting him with specific charges and bringing allegations against him through due process of law? I hadn’t had due process. I was making it. That’s the reason I never felt sorry for myself. I didn’t have enough money, see. I didn’t understand this business that you have to have a retainer… but, Mr. Nizer said, “I’m going to take this at a minimal retainer” and then he named the sum. Well, that was about seven thousand more dollars than I had. I was a very improvident person. I hadn’t saved money well at all, and so I was telling ol’ Ed Murrow about it the next day at lunch. We had lunch together because he was just tickled to death. He thought this was going to be the great trial of all time and Nizer was going to take it. And I said, “Well, listen, I hate to go and tell Nizer that he’s got a total pauper on his hand. I’m making money each week, I know, but I haven’t got that kind of money saved up to lay on him.” And so, bless-goodness, Ed Murrow said, “You tell Mr. Nizer, don’t you say anything to him, just tell him that seven thousand seven thousand five hundred it was just twenty-five hundred I had and he said, “the other seven thousand five hundred will be in his office in the next week or so from me.” And when I said, “Oh, no Ed. I didn’t know. Hell, I didn’t know you were going to do that. Oh no, I can’t let you do that.” He said, “I’m not doing this for you. Johnny, if you needed 25 dollars, and I happened to have it, I would maybe lend it to you, although I don’t make it a practice to lend money easily. Honey, I’m investing this in America, not in you.”

BILL MOYERS: And so Murrow came to your defense?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yeah, he wrote a check and paid Mr. Nizer, and so we were off down the road. And it was headlines in all the papers: “Faulk Files Million Dollar Lawsuit.” I filed this suit in June of 1956, and all year round, and people would wonder what was keeping me on the vine …that I was supposed to wither and drop off, when you challenge Aware. And, August the sixth, nineteen hundred and fifty-seven I guess it was. Sam Slate, a good friend of mine at CBS and my immediate superior, called me and, “You’ve been fired.” He said, “They’re letting you out. They’re not letting you out for any excused reason. They said your ratings weren’t what they liked for them to be, but really Arthur Godfrey’s going to take over.” He had four different reasons that they were going to let me out, see. Arthur Godfrey was going to take over my time; the network had the right to pre-empt my time; and that my ratings had kind of slipped and slide; and they thought I’d do better with less time; and so go look somewhere else for a job, that I’d been too long in that same spot something of that kind. At any rate, I was kicked out of CBS. But see, since I was so well known, I was an untouchable… and it was strange as hell, Bill; when I got fired. It’s a very strange feeling to be blacklisted. And that was unique to that period that you weren’t supposed to be seen with… I’d go down to Colby’s, which was the eating place at CBS… or any of those… Toots Shor’s was kind of my headquarters over there on 51st Street, you know. I knew everybody who came in. Toots had a table for me and all, and people start leaving you. Getting up and having to rush out when you come in. I finally quit doing it, because it got embarrassing to see them get up and move away from the bar when I’d sit down in a big circle, a big round circle at Toots Shor’s. And, these guys would get up and catch my hand and say, “God bless you, fight ’em, Johnny.”

And doo, daa, doo, doo, doo …and make sure nobody had seen them. And the number of people, Bill, guys who called me, and this was another decisive factor in fighting this case…call me at eleven o’clock at night. “Johnny, I’m calling ya.” I said, “Well, look, I’m watching a show. Can I call you right back?” “No, I’m at a phone booth. I’m calling from a phone booth. Listen, I want to ask you. It won’t take me a minute, just say, yes or no. I was at a dinner party tonight and a fellow said that the FBI had plenty of dope on you and that Roy Cohn is dying to get you into the courtroom; that you were really never from Texas at all that is just part of your act, and that …Were you ever in Russia, Johnny?” I said, “No.” “Have you ever been close to Russia?” “No, I never have, no closer than England, or no closer than Cairo, Egypt, where I was when I .. during the war. Why are you asking?” “Well, they said that you had taken instructions directly from Moscow. And they said this would be proven at the trial.” … I got calls like that quite frequently. Variations on that call, you see, because fear, honey, had taken over this country, and as Boots said, it wasn’t going to hurt us, but it was gonna cause us to hurt ourselves. Manipulated, carefully orchestrated fear.

STUDS TERKEL: For the next six years John Henry would live in limbo a celebrity out of work, and eventually a celebrity because he was out of work. Actually, his travail was a tribute to the strength of his cause. He had sued not only Aware Incorporated, but Vincent Hartnett, the organization’s leading spokesman, and Aware’s backer, Laurence A. Johnson. These people used a double whammy. On one hand they put pressure on anyone who might think of hiring the troublesome Mr. Faulk on the other, they had their lawyers use every trick in the book to keep the case from actually coming to trial.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: I was getting hungry, running out of money, I mean, I was at about the bottom of the barrel, and I hated to leave New York in defeat and didn’t know when the case was coming to trial because Mr. Cohn was very able at postponing it. He was on a around-the-world trip one time, and something else another time, and he had friends in the judiciary that he could work these things with. It was frustrating the mischief out of my attorneys.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Garry Moore described it best at my trial. You remember Garry Moore; he used to be ….

BILL MOYERS: Talk show host.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yeah, and a terribly good guy. He was a sweet liberal Republican that just stood by me the whole time. He was a witness at my thing and he said, “Blacklisting… a blacklisted person was like somebody who was in a closet, a dark closet, and six… blindfolded, with six guys hitting him with clubs. He never knew where the licks were coming from; which direction they were coming from. He was just there; the victim of ’em.” And that best describes a blacklist. See, you never knew, you never knew …at a dinner party, for instance. You never knew whether you were being offensive or being a hero to them. Depending on which way they saw it.

BILL MOYERS: What happened when you went out to find another job?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Well, it was strange because they never told you, “Look, you’re blacklisted. You’re hotter than fire, and we can’t touch you.” They never tell you … I tell you what; I had a friend who was pulling like the mischief for me. So they fix the lights. You know how they do, when they’re adjusting the lights and they don’t have a star there, they have some walk-on come in. I went down there all excited because I’d make 20 bucks that night. And that was good money back in those days. You know, this was back in the ’50s. And, uh, he met me at the door Burt did, and said, “Johnny, I’m sorry, but we got a call from the advertising agency this morning and you’re not supposed to come on the set.”

BILL MOYERS: During this period when you were just hanging on what was the lowest moment?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: It’s hard to say, Bill, because I had some very low moments. Let me make that clear. I would be sitting down here in Travis County, Texas, in Austin, Texas, looking at network television and see one of these guys that had run with me just chopping in the tall cotton, still going to town like Orson Bean, you know, and his career just continued to soar, because he resigned from the slate and cleansed himself in the eyes of the Lord, and became a very successful, and deservedly so, a very able comedian. I’d see that and realize, did I do the smart thing? Because I didn’t like being broke; I didn’t like having to borrow money from people.

STUDS TERKEL: Down here in Austin, where he had friends and family and could scrape out part of a living with the talents the networks were afraid to let him use, John Henry started a struggling advertising agency, got some local speaking engagements and waited for the trial. Finally, April 16, 1962, it began — in a small courtroom in New York City, Judge Abraham N. Geller presiding.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: The case lasted three months and it was beautifully constructed. Nizer very brilliantly charged them with conspiracy to libel me, because I had opposed their racketeering habits, and that reads beautifully in the newspapers that I’m fighting racketeers, see. They had never been charged with that before; they’d only been charged with being very patriotic gentlemen. They were fear peddlers, and under the cross-examination of Mr. Nizer that came through pretty clearly, see, to the jury. So, Nizer asked for two million dollars, gets carried away in his summation and asks for two million. So we go to have dinner and the jury has gone to consider the verdict. And, I said, “Lou, you poured it on. Hell, you had me. I’d a voted for me, too. You were really pouring the juice to ’em, but two million dollars? Lou, that’s … they’re liable to think this is a pretty… that actually I am doing it for money.

He said, “No” Here comes a runner from the court and says, “Y’all, the judge says to come back in. The jury’s returning to the courtroom.” We go tearing back up into the courtroom, and sit down, and the jury files in and the judge says, “Have you reached a … “, his name was Judge Geller, Abraham Geller, a man of great justice, a credit to the American judiciary, says Mr. Faulk, who did well at his hands. Any rate Judge Geller said, “Have you reached a decision?” and the jury said, “No. We have a question we want to ask. Can we give more than two million?” Honest to goodness, and ol’ sweet Louis Nizer, he sat there like somebody’d caught him between the eyes with a ball-peen hammer. He’d made a lot of mistakes in his legal career, but asking for too little never had been one of them. And, they went out and 30 minutes later, came back with a three and a half million dollar judgment.

BILL MOYERS: How much of that three and a half million dollars did you finally get?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Well, the Appeals Court cut it down to a half million. Said that it was an obscene sum of money — it was just…it was the first real big, see, it was a record-setting verdict at the time — and said they’d cut it down to half million. I could either retry the case, or take the half million, but we never did get that, because the defendant, Mr. Johnson of Syracuse, New York, big head of a bunch of supermarkets up there, who had been one of the economic fists that could come down and lit on the big advertising agencies and the networks, see …

BILL MOYERS: And he was a backer of Aware.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Yes, oh, yes, and a member of Aware.

BILL MOYERS: What happened?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: He died. The Night that the jury went out to make its decision.

STUDS TERKEL: Court was recessed long enough for Judge Geller to digest the news and make certain the jury didn’t hear it; then Hizer was allowed to proceed. When the record setting three and a half million dollar judgment was delivered, the jury members were the only people in the courtroom who didn’t know that much of the money belonged to a dead man. And the irony didn’t end here. Laurence Johnson, it turned out, talked a better bankroll than he had. His total estate wasn’t worth ten percent of the judgment. Think of it now, the networks, agencies and sponsors caved in to an emperor who had no clothes … In the end, the full amount John Henry would actually collect was something like one hundred seventy-five thousand dollars, all of which he owed to his lawyers and to friends who had supported him through the years. Louis Nizer and his associates had worked for a reduced fee and had also indulged in the ultimate lawyer taboo they loaned their client cash. Still, John Henry Faulk’s suit against Aware, Inc., Laurence Johnson and Vincent Hartnett is a landmark case for reasons more important than the money involved. John Henry’s case didn’t end blacklisting. No, the same sort of thing certainly can happen today. But it exposed blacklisting as the “mark of the bully” and made it unfashionable. This became even more true when John Henry’s book about the case “Fear on Trial” was published in 1963 and became a big seller which leads to yet another bit of irony. CBS, the corporation that in 1957 fired John Henry for standing up to Aware, turned around in 1975 and made itself a bunch of money with a dramatization of his book. “Fear on Trial” starred George C. Scott as Louie Nizer and William Devane as John Henry Faulk.

GEORGE SCOTT AS LOUIE NIZER: Not many people wanted to do what John Henry Faulk did.

FAULK (Devane): How am I suppose to live for five years?

GEORGE SCOTT AS LOUIE NIZER: To go without food in order to bring this case to trial.

WILLIAM DEVANE AS FAULK: Five years with no job?

GEORGE SCOTT AS LOUIE NIZER: In order to stand up to these ….creatures.


GEORGE SCOTT AS LOUIE NIZER: Let the word go out from here … that this thing has got to stop.

STUDS TERKEL: The program was nominated for five Emmy awards and won in the category of script adaptation, but it did little for John Henry’s professional career. There were no network job offers and the closest he got to national television was a running cameo role on a syndicated hit.

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to “Hee Haw”

CHARLIE FERGUSON: Charlie Ferguson here tryin’ to find out what politics is all about from John Henry Faulk.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Well, Charlie, I’m still trying to find that out myself.

CHARLIE FERGUSON: Well, the one thing I can’t figure out is how so many bad politicians gets elected.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Good question. You know I’ve always thought that bad politicians are elected by good citizens who don’t vote.

CHARLIE FERGUSON: Well, why not? Why don’t everybody get out there and exercise their french fries?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: I guess there are a lot of people in this country that feel that they don’t want to be responsible in any way for what’s goin’ on up there in Washington,. D.C.

STUDS TERKEL: The two-hour TV special helped sales of his book. “Fear On Trial” is still in print. It speaks to new generations. It is about something genuine in our makeup that is too rarely called upon about a man who said “no” when it was far from easy to say “no.”

JOHN HENRY FAULK: There’s nothing like the relief of doing what you know is the right thing. And understand that it’s the right thing. This is what the men who founded this republic intended for American citizens to do.

STUDS TERKEL: Once the trial was over John Henry settled permanently in Texas. He would travel, spreading his gospel of constitutional rights wherever he was invited. He became something of a Texas institution and a Texas legend. The man who had triumphed at the microphone found himself very much at home on the stage. Eventually he would create a one-man show which combined his wonderful talent for storytelling with his political and social philosophy.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as ETHEL WALTERS: I don’t know whether you heard about this place… this Nicker… Nicker-raw-gwer (Nicaragua). I’ve hear of it on TV, ya know. Seen these fellas talk’n bout it. Never made no difference ta me. N’ down there …it’s down in Cuber (Cuba) somewhere. But, uh … Tootsie he knows all about it. He’s authority on that. See he’s read everthing n’ he pointed out…. I reckon you’ve hear’d of these Sanderneesters (Sandanistas). Ya hear of Sanderneesters? I’ve heard…n’ never made no difference to me either, never paid no mind to it. But Tootsie did. N’ you know that, hey… he found out that they are Nicker-rawgwens too. Yes! What does that mean to you? I’ll tell you what it means ta Tootsie. That they’ve infiltrated their own country. Tootsie says thems, the dangerous’s sort……

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Well, that makes a lot better point then me saying I think we have a misguided policy in Central America. And, I found that people would laugh at things — points that I’d want to make. I could make them a lot better with humor. That they’d get across if I’d use satire and humor than if I tried to preach, you know, and lay the juice to them directly… and by indirection, you see. For instance, I’ve got this character, cousin Ed Snodgrass …

JOHN HENRY FAULK as ED SNODGRASS: I got a contract. Boy! And make’n money of that land uh mine at last. They call it low yield nuclear waste. Uh whole truck load of it wouldn’t hurt uh child. I looked out one morn’n n’ uh bunch uh these protesters was walk’n up n’ down the street….well, the road …. that country road that runs by my place … carry’n. signs. “Stop the nuclear threat … ” I don’t believe in violence except they are plot’n against America. That’s what they’re doin try’n ta give nuclear war a bad name.

BILL MOYERS: So the humor that you use to make political points comes right out of the life down here. Right out of the folks you knew ..your own ∑family.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Honey, it comes out of the speeches that I’ve heard made.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as CONGRESSMAN STRADDLER: What are we gonna do about defense spend’n? What are we gonna do about the deficit? You’ve got uh right ta know what we’re gonna do about it up there in Congress n’ I got an obligation ta tell you. N’ that’s what I’m down here for ta’day. N’ ya know, I’m glad I can discuss these issues with ya honestly. I love the truth. I learned it uh long time ago, at the knee of that ol’ mother of mine, right here in this congressional district where I was born. Oh, motherhood, motherhood ……

BILL MOYERS: You wrote something that intrigued me once. You said, “Ours was the first government established that contained an absolute guarantee that the people could think about, speak about and laugh at the most powerful forces in the land without fear of punishment.” Now, I was brought up to think you could speak about it think about and even protest, but you’ve inserted “laugh at.” You’ve made humor an expression of the First Amendment.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Honey, don’t you know that’s how Uncle Sam was born. Nobody knows that today for some cockeyed reason. Uncle Sam was first called Brother Benjamin. Brother Benjamin was a character that appeared frequently and repeatedly in frontier plays, humor. Josh Billings, Mark Twain, were all direct descendants of his that felt this great, great freedom to poke fun and laugh at the most sacred icons.

BILL MOYERS: And, of course, these were frontier people doing it. These were ordinary folks… making the jokes.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: That’s right. And nobody’s ever surpassed Mark Twain who was a genius at doing that. Freedom of speech is guaranteed to everybody; every American knows that there is freedom to speak his mind; but he’s got sense enough not to do it. This kind of satiric speech.

BILL MOYERS: Who is your favorite character of all those you’ve invented… that you’ve borrowed from this society?

JOHN HENRY FAULK: That I’ve created for my one-man show?


JOHN HENRY FAULK: I’ve got about three. I love the mayor. He …his name’s, “Bill Grumbles. I’m a cousin of the Quarrels and the Fusses. That’s a joke. Papa used to say that and people would laugh at that. They don’t laugh like they used to. I don’t think they understand it.”

JOHN HENRY FAULK as MAYOR GRUMBLES: Now you take the Spanish, the Spanish’ll say, “We’re glad you come, hope all the folks at home are well, n’ everything go’n good, n’ hope you plan to stay uh spell.” N’ they can squeeze all that in to one word, “Bon Jour.”

JOHN HENRY FAULK: He’s a favorite because he represents fatuous America for me …and it’s full of good fatuous souls like that, you know. Another is Miss Fannie Rollins. She’s an elderly lady that’s like all the elderly ladies at whose feet I sat when I was a little boy and listened to their stories. Some of whom could remember slavery times. Some of whom could remember the Indian times here in Texas, you see, and I came to treasure them. And Miss Fannie Rollins is a lady. She’s a capacious lady. Her bosoms go all the way ’round to her backbone and her arms rest out on them. And she sits and visits about the world …

JOHN HENRY FAULK as FANNIE ROLLINS: Bout daylight n’ there come up uh thunderstorm n’ lightnin’ flash’n, thunder rollin, ya know. N’ Annie Lee started through the cow lot with two buckets of milk. Bless goodness, lightnin’ struck her right between the eyes. Soured both buckets of that milk. N’ give her uh headache.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: Well, Miss Fannie just goes on and on and on, and I love her, but my favorite one is my final character. His name is Tom Willis in my play.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as TOM WILLIS: Ya see when Buford was about 12 years old… in the first place my brother, Jim, left him three oil fields, which makes Buford one of the richest men in Dobie County. He’s very conscious of that n’ it also makes him the leading authority on all subjects, particularly religious n’ political subjects. It does that to uh lot uh Texas people I’ve discovered, N’ here about three weeks ago Buford came in with uh petition. N’ it was ta ask the County Commissioners ta padlock this porno movie over in Pineville. First I’d heard there was porno movie, but Buford seemed ta know all about it. N’ it had him exorcised. N’ I said Buford…well, he handed me a ballpoint pen n’ he said, “You sign right there Uncle Tom.” N’ I handed him back his ballpoint pen. N’ I said, “Buford, I can’t sign that thing. It asks the County Commissioners to do somethin’ that’s unconstitutional.” Well, he backed off and looked at me. Eyes looked like uh bull yearlin’ look’n at uh new gate, ya know. “You mean ta say the constitution talks about porno movies?” N’ I says, “No, it don’t talk about porno movies. It talks about your right to make a decision about that movie anyway you want to n’ preach it, n’ persuade all yer neighbors to agree with ya. N’ it preaches the right of those that go there to do exactly that. You see Buford, you can’∑t call the government in ta do somethin’ just because you’re against it. That’s contrary to our first amendment of the Constitution.

STUDS TERKEL: Tom Willis is really speaking for Johnny. And that’s when Johnny draws the curtain on Pear Orchard, Texas. You remember the voice and you see the vision of Tom Willis, in short, the voice and the vision of John Henry Faulk.

JOHN HENRY FAULK as TOM WILLIS: Ya see, Buford’s like all too many people in this country. They don’t know uh thing in the world about the constitution. That those 55 great men spent all the hot sweaty summer 200 years ago or uh little more, there in 1787, framing the first of its kind in the history of all mankind. N’ this was America’s great gift to the world. It was to allow the people to rule themselves. The people would be the sovereign n’ the government would be the servant.

JOHN HENRY FAULK: We are the ones who created and committed to paper the proposition that, “We held certain truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And here’s the important part, Bill, “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted amongst men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. “My God! It was like a blowtorch in history. It flared up …The whole world, it lit the whole world up. It had never been said before. “That it’s the natural right of people to rule themselves. You mean God don’t appoint a ruler to ’em? That’s what the kings have been telling us …and the gentry tell us that we are supposed to keep our place. All of a sudden you say Boots Cooper and you can get up and stand right up side the governor of Texas. Lord have mercy!”

STUDS TERKEL: John Henry Faulk died on the 9th of April, 1990. Bill Moyers and I lost a good friend. Texas lost an original a native son and America lost a patriot. I’m Studs Terkel.

This transcript was entered on July 29, 2015.

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