Volume 75, Number 27 | November 23 - 29, 2005

Notebook

McCarthy, mink and the time I hired a Communist

By Ed Gold

It was a dark time in America, in the late ’50s, when Senator Joe McCarthy had center stage, waving around lists of alleged un-Americans, and warning of the Communist threat to the nation. Just at that time I had to make a decision about hiring a journalist whom I knew had been a longtime Communist.

At the time I was a section editor at Fairchild Publications and my one assistant had just moved to the advertising department.

Fairchild specialized in business newspapers and its writers, as was the case in most New York City papers, were mostly liberal.

Periodically, we would rise up and petition against one of McCarthy’s wild claims about Communist infiltration here, there and everywhere — but never with any compelling evidence.

Shortly after my assistant left, Personnel began looking for a replacement. One day, the phone rang. It was woman’s voice and she whispered nervously: “Mr. Gold, I’m calling about a delicate matter.This is an awkward situation involving the job opening in your department, and I’ve been asked by a friend to discuss it with you privately. Could we get together for a cup of coffee?”

My first reaction was that this was some sort of joke. “What’s all the mystery? We’re not dealing in state secrets here.”

The woman responded: “The problem is you know the applicant by a different name, so he has asked me to serve as intermediary to get your reaction. He’s already applied for the job and learned that you would be his boss.”

I met with the woman and she told me the job applicant’s name was Al Green, but that I had known him as Al Greenberg when we both attended Columbia College.

During my days at Columbia, Greenberg had been a leader of the American Youth for Democracy, or A.Y.D., which pretty consistently clung to a far-left position and was highly critical of U.S. attitudes toward the Soviet Union.

When Winston Churchill in 1946 made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in Fulton, Mo., formalizing the Cold War, he stirred up politics on the Columbia campus, since he was scheduled to come to Columbia to receive an honorary degree.

I was then on the Columbia Student Council and we approved a protest rally against the Churchill position in one of our auditoriums. But A.Y.D. wanted to run a picket line across the steps of Low Memorial Library where the ceremony was to take place, no doubt leading to a clash with the police.

Greenberg and I were two of the negotiators, as I argued against a violent confrontation. A.Y.D. eventually settled for picketing in front of the library but agreed not to prevent Churchill from attending. That episode did not enhance my affection for Greenberg as we left alma mater.

So, in the late ’50s Greenberg — now Green — sought a job with the capitalist enemy!

I agreed to meet with him. He had for some years after graduation been a member of the party, he told me, but had left after the anti-Semitic purges in Czechoslovakia.

I told him I really didn’t care about his politics as long as they didn’t interfere with his work. I didn’t see how a change in the price of mink could be classified information. When the Personnel Department sent down his résumé I told them I felt he had good writing skills and I hired him.

I had only one run-in with him early in our work relationship, no doubt a hangover from his Communist days. We had coffee one afternoon and he claimed I owed him for two hours’ overtime. “Where did that come from?” I asked. He took a piece of paper from his pocket and began reading: “12 minutes on Monday, eight minutes on Tuesday...” when I cut him off.

“Al,” I said “you’re not for real. We don’t punch a clock here. You can’t add up minutes to get overtime. When you work extra hours I’ll know it and you’ll be compensated. What you’re doing now is just silly.”

Maybe he remembered the Churchill incident because he shot back: “I’m not sure I can work in a place that doesn’t respect workers’ rights.”

I told him the door was open and he was free to leave. He stuck the paper back in his pocket and never raised the issue again.

He worked for me for a year and did well and was assigned his own market. Then his luck took a bad turn. He had attended a reunion of leftist political leaders in Tennessee and our bureau in Nashville had spotted his name in the coverage by the leading city paper. The bureau chief sent the clipping to L.W. Fairchild, our board chairman.

He called Green in, showed him the clipping, and asked him about his political history. Green admitted his former Communist membership. Mr. Fairchild had a conservative guideline on Communists during that period: He forgave them if they had been in the party while going to school but not once they graduated. He told Green he would have to resign or be fired. Green resigned and shortly thereafter became skiwear editor at a Ziff-Davis publication.

My city editor at the time was generally nervous during the McCarthy period and more so now that he knew I had hired a Communist.

One day I wrote a labor story about the fur industry and included the name of the former president of the union, a longtime open Communist.

The city editor saw the story and ran over to my desk: “Are you a relative of this labor guy?” he asked. The union leader’s name was Ben Gold.

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