The Typhoid Marys of the Left: Gender, Race, and the Broadcast Blacklist

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Scholarly accounts of gender, race, and television in the 1950s have mainly focused on the ideological content of programming that ultimately made it onto the air. This research has played an important role in reckoning with the political and cultural legacies of 1950s television. But the focus on ideology and content has prevented us from fully understanding the repressive nature of anti-communist thought and action, both in terms of the powerful ways in which the broadcast blacklist made the production of progressive themes and images impossible, and in terms of how the fear that followed from the blacklist repressed the memory that such alternatives had ever existed. Counter to the images of white suburban women we have inherited from the 1950s, the first two casualties of the broadcast blacklist were professional women who were politically active—white actor Jean Muir and African American musician Hazel Scott—whose involvement in civil rights was deemed evidence of their communist sympathies. This essay builds on earlier research on gender and 1950s television not by analyzing the absence of strong women, people of color, immigrants, and working-class families from the televisual landscape, but by looking at the elimination of the very cultural workers writing, agitating, and fighting to broadcast these representations.

Keywords: Cold War; Communism; Gender; Race; Television

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 1, 2011

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