Harvey Matusow

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Harvey Matusow (aka Harvey Job Matusow) (October 3, 1926 – January 17, 2002) was a U.S. Communist who became an informer for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and subsequently a paid witness for a variety of anti-subversion bodies, including the House Un-American Activities Committee, before eventually recanting the bulk of his testimony. These activities led to his own perjury conviction and a prison sentence. His McCarthy era activities overshadowed his later work as an artist, actor and producer.

Life[edit]

Early career[edit]

Born in 1926 in New York City, the son of Russian immigrants, Matusow served in Europe during the Second World War. On returning to New York he worked in various creative fields, including journalism and stage and radio acting, and became an active member of the American Communist Party.

HUAC[edit]

In 1950 Matusow, a young and low-ranking party member employed as a clerk in the Communist Party bookstore in Manhattan, walked in to the FBI and offered his services as a paid informant.[1] During a 1950 summer road trip to the West Coast he made a prolonged stop at a ranch resort in New Mexico favored by progressives, and while there filed detailed reports with the local office of the FBI on the comings and goings of party members, and people whom he alleged were members. Matusow was then abruptly summoned to New York and expelled from the party, and soon afterward the FBI, deciding that he was of no further use, dropped him from the rolls of its paid informants. Matusow, freed from FBI supervision, went on his own initiative to HUAC and offered to testify in upcoming trials and hearings as a paid expert witness, providing information on his former Communist Party comrades and people he claimed to have known or met in party circles. He also became an editor of the anti-Communist bulletin Counterattack and worked as a campaign aide to Joseph McCarthy. While working as an informant, Matusow provided information against folksingers associated with People's Songs, where he had briefly worked, including Pete Seeger, and later claimed to know that 126 Communists worked for the Sunday Elizabeth Bentley even though the total number of employees was 100. Matusow also claimed that he had known Clinton Jencks, an officer of the Mine, Mill & Smelter Workers Union to be a member of the American Communist Party; this resulted in Jencks being sent to prison for perjury for having signed, as a union official, a required affidavit of non-membership in the Communist Party under the Taft-Hartley Labor Relations Act.

Pete Seeger's band the Weavers went from a hit record with "Wimoweh" to being blacklisted and finding no work. Seeger later served one year of a ten-year prison sentence over his testimonies in the HUAC-related witch-hunts but eventually forgave Matusow for his youthful mistakes and noted that Matusow never did more than cost Seeger a few jobs.

Harvey Matusow met fellow FBI informer, Elizabeth Bentley, on 3rd October, 1952, at the offices of her publisher. Matusow began a relationship with Bentley. He later claimed that she was self-medicating for depression and anxiety: "She used alcoholism to ease her pain and she had a lot of pain." At the end of the evening, he would take her home and "pour" her into bed. Every couple of weeks, they would sleep together, but usually she was too drunk. Matusow claimed that she was upset at her "frivolous treatment" in the press. "She didn't understand the hostility... She never got to the point where she could handle it." Bentley complained about the way she had been treated by the FBI: "She felt that she'd been used and abused." [2]

False Witness[edit]

In 1955, he came clean with a book, False Witness, in which he disclosed that he had been an FBI agent and was paid to lie about members of the American Communist Party. He also claimed in the book that McCarthy and Roy Cohn had encouraged him to lie. Because of the book, Matusow was found guilty of perjury, jailed for nearly three years, and ultimately blacklisted.

Exile[edit]

After leaving prison Matusow sought, through a variety of artistic and cultural projects, to put the past behind him. However, having alienated people across the political spectrum (some hated him for his McCarthyite activities; some for his subsequent recantation), he found it impossible to move on. The breaking point came when, having painstakingly compiled a record of the 200,000+ works of art created under the Federal Art Project, he was told by a charitable trust that publishing funds would be made available only on the condition that he would withdraw from the project. Matusow responded by dumping all his research material in the Hudson River. Shortly afterwards he went to live in England, where he would be based from 1966-73, living first in London then in the small Essex town of Ingatestone. During his time in the UK from '66 to '73, he was involved with the London Film Makers Cooperative and worked with the composer Annea Lockwood who appeared on record under the name Anna Lockwood. In 1972, he produced a festival of contemporary music called the International Carnival of Experimental Sound. The event's highlights included performances by Charlotte Moorman (in the Roundhouse and in the Richard Demarco Gallery in Edinburgh) and John Cage's HPSCHD, for eight harpsichords and projections of the American space program. A train was hired to take participants and public to Edinburgh, to link with the Edinburgh festival; Charlotte Moorman performed Nam June Paik's TV Bra in the Richard Demarco Gallery. Matusow's activities also included managing the experimental band Naked Software, attempting to market a toy called the Stringless Yo-yo, making records as part of Harvey Matusow's Jews Harp Band, and broadcasting occasionally for BBC radio.

During his period in the UK (1966-'73), Matusow donated his papers to the University of Sussex. The donation has since been organised into two archives, one dealing with Matusow’s adventures in McCarthyism, and the other dealing with his various artistic activities.

International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines[edit]

Matusow founded the International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines, which claimed 1500 members in 1969, stating that "The computer has a healthy and conservative function in mathematics and other sciences", but "when the uses involve business or government, and the individual is tyrannized, then we make our stand."[3]

Magic Mouse[edit]

Matusow returned to the United States in 1973, working as a sound producer for the large Brotherhood of the Spirit hippie commune, and marrying the ex-wife of the commune's spiritual advisor, the Aquarian Age mystic Elwood Babbitt. Altogether Matusow is believed to have been married a dozen times, including twice to heiress (and McCarthy supporter) Arvilla Bentley.[4]He eventually settled in Tucson, Arizona, where, working with the Magic Mouse Theatre, he developed a clown persona named Cockyboo for stage and television. Matusow began Magic Mouse as a radio show in Tucson, Arizona, and slowly it grew into a traveling theater troupe, and in 1979, became the TV program Magic Mouse Magazine. This led to the creation of The Babysitter's Magic Mouse Storybook, a self-published book done in collaboration with Hilda Terry, creator of the popular newspaper strip Teena. "Some people wanted to revive the Magic Mouse stories," says Terry, "and he wanted me to illustrate them with my teenagers, from when young girls were more innocent. Teena started as a babysitter during WW2."[citation needed]

Conversion[edit]

Later, Matusow converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and moved to Glenwood, Utah, to start the state's first Public-access television cable TV program. For a time in the 1980s (after his conversion to Mormonism), he was known as Job Matusow and lived with his wife Emily in Warwick, Massachusetts. During this time, Job and Emily sparked controversy when they allowed members of the Unification Church to live on their land. He made chimes out of melted ammunition and bomb shells during this time and also became involved in collecting clothes for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.

Later life[edit]

In 2001, Matusow moved to Claremont, New Hampshire, to run the town's Public-access Television studio. He died in New Hampshire from complications from a car accident.

References in popular culture[edit]

In Marathon Man, Babe Levy (Dustin Hoffman) is interviewed by police in his apartment following the death of his brother Doc (Roy Scheider). During the interview, the camera cuts to a shot of Babe's desk, covered with research material for his thesis. Among several books on McCarthyism is a copy of Harvey Matusow's False Witness.

The Trials of Harvey Matusow is a one-man play by Robert Cohen, premiered by its author at the 2010 Brighton Festival. Based on a year's research in the Matusow archives at the University of Sussex, the play depicts Matusow during his seven-year period of self-imposed exile in England, pursuing a variety of artistic activities while looking back on the McCarthy years.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Lichtman, Robert M. and Cohen, Ronald. Deadly Farce: Harvey Matusow and the Informer System in the McCarthy Era. University of Illinois Press, 2004.
  2. ^ http://spartacus-educational.com/USAmatusow.htm
  3. ^ Frustrations: Guerrilla War Against Computers
  4. ^ "Harvey Matusow, 75, an Anti-Communist Informer, Dies," New York Times, Feb. 4, 2002, pg. B7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Lichtman, Robert M. and Cohen, Ronald (2004). Deadly Farce: Harvey Matusow and the Informer System in the McCarthy Era. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-02886-4. 
  • Kahn, Albert Eugene (1987). The Matusow Affair: Memoir of a National Scandal. Moyer Bell Ltd. ISBN 0-918825-85-7. 
  • Harvey, Matusow (1955). False Witness. Cameron & Kahn. 

External links[edit]