“Pawn Stars” is one of the History Channel’s enduring hits, and in a recent episode a customer brought in an old sword he claimed belonged to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Gold and Silver Pawn Shop proprietor Rick Harrison was dubious, but the sword prompted a solo segment about the late Wisconsin Republican.
Sen. McCarthy had launched the “red scare,” Harrison explained, and in 1950 began accusing Americans of being Communists and putting them on a blacklist. Others followed McCarthy’s lead and focused on Hollywood, blacklisting many actors and directors so they could never work again. Harrison is right that McCarthy specialized in accusation, but Rick’s “pawn-tification” has some problems.
“The curiosity is not that there were undoubtedly many Reds that made government their vocation, but that the entire Communist Party was not on the federal payroll.” That was the late actor Robert Vaughn in Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting, a book based on his PhD thesis at the University of Southern California.
Communists also dominated many industrial and entertainment unions. As Bruce Cook noted in Trumbo, Communist screenwriter Dalton Trumbo wrote the speech that U.S. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius gave at the opening session of the United Nations. As Allen Weinstein explained in Perjury, Alger Hiss was a Stalinist spy in the State Department and the Soviet Union wanted Hiss to head the United Nations. Communist penetration of the U.S. government ran deep, and for all his bluster, McCarthy didn’t know the half.
He also did great harm to the anti-Communist cause, then being led by liberal Democrats such as Hollywood union leaders Ronald Reagan and Roy Brewer. In fierce battles during 1945-46, the anti-Communist forces prevailed over the studio Stalinists. It wasn’t until 1947 that the House Committee on Un-American Activities came snooping around. McCarthy didn’t hit stride until 1950, so Hollywood did not follow his lead. Senators don’t serve on House committees and McCarthy, who died in 1957, never had anything to do with Hollywood.
Back in 2014, a customer brought Harrison, the “Pawn Stars” host, a painting of Vietnamese Communist Ho Chi Minh, an agent of the Comintern. Rick called in Mark Hall-Paton of the Clark County Museum, who explained that the Soviet Union established the Comintern to “guide” the national Communist parties. In reality, the Communist International, its full name, funded and directed all the national Communist parties, including the Communist Party USA.
Though often entertaining, “Pawn Stars” is not the best source on Communism. For insight on Joseph McCarthy see, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies.