I Led 3 Lives (1953–1956)
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As a child I had no reason to disbelieve the show's portrayals of subversive Communist activities in the United States. Later I read Herbert Philbrick's book that served as the source of the name and background for the series, and it too had the ring of truth.
Yet as other comments here about this show reveal, the idea that America was the target of conspiracy and espionage is derided as paranoid. The investigations of the House Un-American Activities Committee are described as a witch hunt, on the implicit premise that since there are no witches, there must not have been Communists either. We still hear laments for the Hollywood writers, directors, etc., who found it difficult to find work after being blacklisted for refusing to admit to their membership in the Communist Party.
Well, folks, the cat is out of the bag. As if the world was not already full of enough evidence of the evil of Communism, the fall of the Soviet Union led to the opening of the KGB archives in Moscow to researchers, and guess what... At the direction of the Soviet Union, there were Communist agents and sympathizers in the US Army, the Manhattan Project, the State Department, many labor unions, and other strategic targets. The archives show that the Communist Party USA received millions of dollars each year from the Soviet Union for purposes of undermining America, with Hollywood being specifically targeted for infiltration.
In that atmosphere I think it is remarkable that "I Led Three Lives" ever got produced. I whole-heartedly hope that this show does get re-released. However much it may have been dramatized, "I Led Three Lives" shows how America was in fact endangered by its enemies, foreign and domestic.
As I recall, the show worked well enough strictly as entertainment. The episodes followed a formula as most series doHerb (Carlson) would learn of some nefarious red doings, consult with FBI man Dressler (Zaremba), foil the doings, and end the show with an instructional on the many insidious appeals of communism. Drama grew out of thwarting red plans and avoiding exposure since Herb was an undercover FBI informant. I don't know how good the ratings were, but I can see the show being kept on the air regardless of popular ratings.
Two general points are worth noting, neither of which makes specific assumptions about a series I haven't seen for decades. First, the program comes out of a formative Cold War period in which the complex dynamic of Marxism and anti-colonialism was reduced in the public mind to the simplistics of good vs. evil. Put briefly, the series functioned as a popular reflection of that McCarthy period in which self-serving stereotype replaced real world complexity.
Ironically, however, it's the same simplistic perception of good vs. evil that underlay much of the trauma of Vietnam ten years later, when the extreme disconnect between American beliefs about the war and the actual realities resulted in a domestic crisis at home and mutiny in the ranks abroad. In short, Americans of the 50's were woefully unprepared for the complex political realities evolving outside their TV sets. A longer-term consequence, I believe, of propaganda products like Three Lives.
Second, during the three years of series run-time (1953-56), covert arms of the US gov't were directly responsible, we now know, for subverting at least two popular democracies abroadThe elected Arbenz gov't of Guatemala (1954) and the elected Mossadegh gov't of Iran (1953). Rather odd behavior, I believe, for the touted defender of democracy as the McCarthyite period presented our side. I wonder what Philbrick and Dressler would have said about our own sneaky subversives, keeping in mind that in democratic theory the will of the people is sovereign above all else.
These brief points are not intended as an apologetic for Soviet communism. I'm sure they propagandized their own people with similar stereotypes about the West, that is, when they weren't busy crushing dissent in their own part of the world. Instead, these points amount to a way of putting together a more critically realistic perspective than what we're force-fed in the media and by long-ago shows like Philbrick's.
In reflecting back on that time, I think it's important to keep such considerations as these in mind. At any rate, It's too bad the episodes aren't available for viewing even now 60-years later. I think they'd still be as provocative and even relevant in today's world, though maybe not in the way intended.
(In passingfor readers too young to recall context. When Khruschev made his reckless "We'll bury you" remark, he was referring to out-producing the West, not to mass murder. Too bad it's since been retailed out of context, but I guess that's the sort of thing I've been talking about.)
Okay, so maybe I got a little heavy handed in that last paragraph but watching the adventures of Mr. Philbrick led me to wonder just how much of it was Hollywood and how much was real? A certain Mr. Kruschev did promise "We will bury you without firing a shot!" so I really began to wonder and started watching the episodes with a less cynical eye. The one about vacuum cleaners that were really missile launchers smacked of the gadgetry that proliferated the James Bond movies of the 1960's but then, where did they get that idea? The one about taking over an American newsreel company and making propaganda movies seems unreal too but then, remember wasn't the US Government doing the same thing at the same time too?
Today watching "I Led Three Lives" gives me a chill. Everything they were talking about might really have happened. Perhaps all that paranoia was not unfounded. Mr. Herbert Philbrick, wherever you are, thank you.
Hey those in charge: We Need this Show on DVD!
"The Devil does his best when the belief in him by the people of the World in his existence is low!"
Now, one can take this LITERALLY, as a METAPHOR or even both ways, we want to respect your own beliefs. But no matter which route you take, the one universally true fact remains. There is true Evil in the world. We have to deal with that every day.
"There is No Evil!", I heard someone say? We have "moral equivalence" among different beliefs of various Peoples, Nations, Creeds, Political and Economic Systems. One is as good as the next. Is that what you say? Well, let's go there, just momentarily.
Let's see now, can we think of any examples of what could be truly be labeled as "Evil", with that Capital "E". How 'bout the indiscriminate detonation of explosives or incendiary devices in a crowded place, with a innocent civilian lives(you know, women, children, the aged, the infirm). Is this a "justified" "Warefare"? What about Late Term "Abortion"? Really now, wouldn't Late Term "Murder" be a more realistic terminology? Finally, what about Child Pornography? Got anyone out there who wants to defend this true "Evil"? Just as this 'Devil', be it literal or metaphoric, prospers the most when ignored, so it is the same for the "Vanguard of the People", the Communist Party.
If we go back to say, the 1930's, one could be an openly Soviet type "Scientific Socialist" (It's their term, not mine). Then, we came to the Post World War II Era of "the Iron and Bamboo Curtain", aka the 'Cold War'. We found former Allies like the Soviet Union with our former "Uncle Joe" Stalin still calling the shots and China, with "Agraian Reformer", Mao Tse Tung, now in charge. In short order, the Communist Party of the United States of America, found itself on our sh*t list. They were declared illegal. The reasoning being, that the Soviet-style of Socialism, aka International Communism, is a movement that recognizes on international boundaries in their self proclaimed "Revolution without borders." Ergo, the C.P.U.S.A. is an extension of the Kremlin's own field operators.*
So we come to this I LEAD 3 LIVES TV series. It was a moderately budgeted, yet very realistically produced series of half hour dramas.The choice of Richard Carlson as the lead portraying the real life hero, one Herbert A. Philbrick. The only other regulars that this writer can recall were(actors name unk to me)Mrs. Philbrick and his F.B.I. contact man(played by the same guy who was later cast as "The Hills Brothers Coffee Broker" in those commercials.) The episode always had at least one scene of Philbrick getting his assignment or passing info by meeting with his "handler" in some supermarket, drug store or similar type of shop .
Because so much of the action of the story takes place with the main character, Philbrick dealing with his Red superiors, there is a lot of voice over "thinking to self" portrayed. Lines from Mr. Carslon something like, "What do you do now, Philbrick?", are employed in virtually every segment.
As an instructional as well as public service, the main pillars of the Reds' belief system are clearly exemplified on screen. Hence, we have references to the Party and Atheism, Dialectic Materialism, Class Struggle and etc. There is proper protocol maintained by the calling by the fellow 'Cell' members "Comrade".
And speaking of the depiction of these "Cell Meetings", there is great care showing of the secrecy employed.**Hence, we were shown how the members would all arrive to the secret location via separate routes, at staggered times,and both entering and exiting via different routes.
And so about my favourite episode involved the discovery by Mrs. Philbrick that husband Herb was a Communist. It seems that it must have been about 3/4 of the program filled with Mrs. P giving her husband the needle by using such references as, "why pray, Herb, your kind doesn't believe in God!" Eventually Herb's FBI Handler shows up and sets the record straight!
There are some lesson to be learned by our Nation from this 1950's cold war relic. In particular is the use of these highly secret "Cells", with all of their super secret activity. If the Cells of the Reds were dangerous to our way of life then why do we not take the secret Cells of the Militant Islamists seriously.
After all, what is the reason for all of this secrecy? You don't suppose that it means that they're involved in some dangerous, deadly and (yes) evil activity, do you? Shocking!!
* Although most folks in the USA, were not fooled by the Red propaganda machine, it was proved that Moscow was financing this Gus Hall(perennial CPUSA Leader) & Company for the years.
** It also is an obvious question, but who needs secret operations, other than "wrong Doers", who are up to no good!