The Challenge

This Reel Mudd highlights a 1955 television pilot known as The Challenge. Intended to be the start of a weekly series highlighting controversial social issues, this episode was co-produced by the Fund for the Republic and noted TV producer Worthington Miner. This pilot shows the story of a school bus driver who is fired from his job and brought before the school board to justify his refusal to sign a loyalty oath.

The program’s co-producer, the Fund for the Republic, was an organization spun-off from the Ford Foundation. The Fund issued grants, commissioned studies, and created original works seeking to explore social issues such as racial discrimination, blacklisting, academic freedom, and the legality and effectiveness of loyalty oaths. As part of these activities, the Fund created a variety of documentaries and shorts for radio and television aimed at helping educate the American public about these issues.

The Challenge’s exploration of loyalty oaths mirrors the arguments raised in Fund for the Republic studies of the issue. It questions whether loyalty oaths were effective in their efforts to prevent Communists from subverting American institutions, whether they were constitutional, and if they led to additional rights or ethics violations.

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Card carrying members of the ACLU, 1988

One of the largest and most frequently used Public Policy collections at Mudd Manuscript Library is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) records.  (For a description of the ACLU and its documents, see our previous library blog entry). The ACLU’s Audiovisual Materials Series, however, has been little used, but a few films that were recently digitized will be featured on this blog in the coming weeks. As an introduction, here is a public service announcement (PSA), part of the first television advertising campaign in the history of the ACLU, a result of the organization being drawn into the 1988 U.S. Presidential campaign.

In his nomination acceptance speech, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis asserted that the election would be “about competence, not ideology” and during the campaign that followed, tied his GOP opponent, Vice President George Bush to the scandals of the Reagan administration.  Bush countered by portraying Dukakis as a liberal out of the mainstream.  Employing a phrase resonant with one used by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy, he called Dukakis a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” (a statement Dukakis himself had made in a magazine interview the previous year).  The ACLU decided to use Bush’s attack as a public relations opportunity. The PSA is one of three television commercials, produced by the ACLU’s Southern California chapter, in which Burt Lancaster, Jill Eikenberry, and Michael Tucker explain why they are card-carrying members of the ACLU. All commercials end with the line: ”No one agrees with every single thing they’ve done. But no one can disagree with the guiding principle – with liberty and justice for all.”The actor, director and producer Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), winner of an Academy Award and Golden Globe, was a vocal supporter of liberal political cases. The actress and actor Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker, a married couple, are best known for their appearance together in the popular television series L.A. Law (1986-1994).

The VHS tape on which this PSA is found is part of the Audiovisual Materials Series of the American Civil Liberties Union Records (Box 2039).

 

Combustible Dulles, ca. 1934

Not many collections in the Public Policy Papers at Mudd Manuscript Library contain audiovisual materials. John Van Antwerp MacMurray’s films of China, which were featured over the past nine weeks, and the American Civil Liberties Union records are an exception. So we were very excited when a preservation survey led to the discovery of an unlabeled film reel in one of the most researched collections: the papers of John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State under President Dwight Eisenhower from 1953 until his death in 1959. But the canister smelled nasty, a sign that it contained highly combustible nitrate film.

The film, however, was in stable enough condition to be digitized. It turned out to be a Pathé newsreel from around 1934, in which a very young Dulles, an international lawyer at the time who served as American representative at the German Debt Conferences of 1933-1934, discusses France’s “war debts.” France was one of the many European nations who were indebted to the US Treasury for loans made during and immediately after World War I (a total of over 10 billion dollars for all countries). Dulles had participated in the American Commission to Negotiate Peace in Versailles (1918-1919), and in the Reparations Commission (1919).

It turns out that British Pathé still owns the newsreels as well as the copyright. This means that we will not be able to post the newsreel ourselves. At the Pathé site, however, you can not only view the Dulles newsreel but access all other Pathé newsreels too. A fascinating resource!
For us, the existence of the Pathé archives as well as having our own digital copy means that we can safely dispose of the combustible newsreel far away from Mudd Library’s holdings.
The Pathé newsreel is part of the John Foster Dulles Papers (box 542).