The Red Scare

Like many musicians, artists, and filmmakers in the 1950s, Leonard Bernstein, the flamboyant conductor of the New York Philharmonic and composer of West Side Story, was forced to defend his political views, his friends, and his right to freedom of expression before the all consuming Red Scare.

    Bernstein’s attempt to squirm out of the bear trap into which he had fallen is cringe-worthy. Unlike many who risked their careers by invoking the Fifth Amendment to deflect Congress’s attempts to explore their political beliefs, Bernstein blabbed: “Although I have never, to my knowledge, been accused of being a member of the Communist Party, I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to affirm under oath that I am not now nor at any time have ever been a member of the Communist Party.”

    He also named names. A petition he signed for the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to break off relations with Franco’s fascist Spain elicited this weaselly half-accusation: “I recall no connection with [the brigade] and believe that Paul Robeson communicated with me about the use of my name on this occasion. I met Mr. Robeson one time while we were both backstage during a concert.”
Photograph: Bernstein with Aaron Copland 

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