Tuesday, September 24, 2013

OLD TIME RADIO: I Was a Communist for the FBI!!

"I walk alone"

Matt Cvetic was an undercover agent for the FBI, infiltrating communist organizations in the 1940s and testified before the House Unamerican Activities Committee.  He was a minor celebrity for a while and his life was fictionalized in a movie called I Was a Communist for the FBI in 1951 starring Frank Lovejoy.  Then a book came out and a radio series by the same name, which ran from 1952-1954.
Cvetic's life was serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in 1950, which spawned the rest of the media.  He portrayed himself as an intrepid, fearless spy deep inside the organization.  He hinted at big plots foiled and reaching high ranks in the Communist Party USA.
The radio show follows this pattern, each show about a different plot he helps to ruin while keeping his cover intact.  There's plenty of the usual anti-Commie rhetoric and some times it gets a bit heavy handed, but the writing is surprisingly bright and well handled.
I listened to the first episode mostly out of a lark, just to see how cheesy it would be.  But by the end of the first episode, I was hooked.  It wasn't cheesy at all, it was good hard suspense and a terrific undercover story.  The tales were much more about the fear and paranoia of being an undercover at danger of his life than about Communism.
Each episode starts out with Cvetic expressing the frustration of being the enemy of everything he has to pretend to support and being outcast from his own family and even countrymen.  He is almost always totally isolated from any FBI contact, and even they seem difficult to trust.  He's trapped and has to figure a way out of his situation.
The show did an excellent job portraying the desperate loneliness and paranoia of undercover work.  It focuses on the tagline "I Walk Alone" as the theme, and each show you can feel a hollow sadness in Cvetic's life.
I recommend it as an undercover suspense drama, and you can shrug at the politics if you choose; however I should note that I never once heard an episode that didn't have factual support from past Communist activity (such as trying to foment racial tensions and union fights).
The sad part is that Matt Cvetic was never the intrepid spy he portrays in the stories he told or the radio show.  He never made it very deep into the organization and was pretty gabby about his life.  Apparently he told girls he was with, his priest, the manager of his hotel, even some newspaper men about his FBI work.  Among the stories about the man is this one:
In 1947 Cvetic was pursuing Helen Newman, a young woman in her late 20s. Her father supposedly told Cvetic "We don't want any God-damned Communist in this house." When Helen became engaged to another Cvetic told her about his FBI ties. Desperate to have his story confirmed, he asked Bureau contacts to talk to Helen and her parents. The agents were aghast at this breach of security.
Cvetic was an alcoholic and desperate for fame and money, and he was willing to embroider his stories and exploits to get that.  After a while the red scare died down and public distaste at the way Commie fighting was carried out created a backlash and the show as well as Cvetic fell out of favor.
Still, the show is worth listening to as a piece of fiction and its well done.  The producers gave the show $12,000 an episode to produce, which was a lot back then.  It did well but is one of those forgotten pieces from the past, now only brought up to mock.

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