The Investigator

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The Investigator (1954) was a radio play written by Reuben Ship and first broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on May 30 of that year. The play lampooned the actions of the US House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) and Senator Joseph McCarthy.

Plot[edit]

The Investigator concerns a United States Senator, who is never explicitly identified as Joseph McCarthy, but who shares McCarthy’s nasally whine and who uses such McCarthy-esque sayings as "Your uncooperative attitude can only cast the gravest doubts on your own loyalty." This senator dies in an airplane crash and finds himself at the gates of Heaven, where a tribunal must decide whether he is worthy of heaven or hell. There, he meets Cotton Mather of the Salem Witch Trials, Tomas de Torquemada of the Spanish Inquisition, and other famous inquisitors from history, who, despite their reputations as shrewd and conniving characters, call themselves "mere untutored novices" compared to the Senator. As it turns out, they’ve been looking for someone to commandeer the tribunal and bring "the latest inquisitorial techniques" to it, and they see that the Senator is the perfect man for the job.

The Senator easily takes control of the committee, and soon realizes that a great many individuals in heaven could potentially be subversives from "down there." He soon calls numerous historical figures to the stand, including Thomas Jefferson, Socrates, John Milton, and Martin Luther. When they testify, they all give oddly relevant quotations of theirs, such as when Voltaire states that "liberty of thought is the life of the soul." Completely disregarding their statements regarding freedom and rights, the Senator sends them all to Hell, claiming that "security is the paramount issue." When trying to call Karl Marx to the stand, the Senator accidentally calls other individuals named "Karl Marx" instead of the Karl Marx; as a result, the Senator orders that all those in Heaven with the name Karl Marx be banished to Hell. The Senator's actions soon create a panic of suspicion in Heaven where everyone is a potential subversive: Beethoven, Bach, and Wagner agree to drop Chopin from their quartet because of suspicion derived from his "Revolutionary Étude." Chopin's replacement, a "non-controversial" cipher named Otto Schmenk, eventually replaces other famous "subversives" in literary and musical pursuits, eventually joining them in banishment as well.

Finally, after sending dozens of "subversives" to hell, the Senator has run out of ideas. "Can’t we jazz the hearing up with a few names?" he asks an assistant; "I don’t want them to think we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel." Then Satan pays a call on the Senator, demanding that his investigations cease, because the influence of those he's sent to his domain are changing it too much; (the real) Karl Marx, for example, is distributing pamphlets declaring, "Workers of the Underworld, unite! You have nowhere to go but up!" Satan claims the Senator is "bungling" his job, insisting there are more subtle ways to handle his committee and the deportations. But the Senator has become a demagogue, valuing his position (and absolute power) above all else. Finally, claiming that "there is no one so high as to be immune from investigation," he’s found the name he’s looking for—God Himself, whom the characters in the show refer to as "The Chief." Even Mather and Torquemada try to discourage him now, but the Senator refuses to listen. He soon rises to an insane scream, crying "I AM THE CHIEF!" as God suddenly appears before him, furiously banishing him to Hell (with the proper balance between Heaven and Hell eventually restored). However, the Senator is so vile and abhorrent that Satan will not even let him enter, so he is returned to earth, still stammering, "I am the chief...I am the chief..."

In a brief epilogue, a doctor explains to one of the Senator's acquaintances, Mr. Garson, that despite having lived through the plane crash (discovered at the crash site as the only survivor), it somehow affected his mind—hence his strange mutterings—and wonders if he'll ever regain his sanity. Mr. Garson declares, at the doctor's disbelief of the Senator emerging virtually unscathed after being found at the foot of the mountain where the plane crashed, "It was an act of God!"

History[edit]

The Investigator, which was well received by the left-wing press at the time of its airing, was considered by the right-wing faction in American politics to be anti-American propaganda. While not broadcast in the United States, within a few weeks bootleg tapes of the broadcast were in circulation in the US. Attempts to schedule it for broadcast in the US however met with great opposition from, amongst other groups, the American Legion.

Approximately 100,000 copies of a phonograph recording of the play were pressed and circulated, mostly in the US, in at least 2 printings, by an otherwise-unknown record label called Discuriosities. One edition has the number 'LP 6834' on the front and a blank white back; the other edition is listed only as '6834' and has significant liner notes on the back. The LP label claims a 1954 copyright by "Radio Rarities Inc.," while the '6834' jacket says 1955. It was no secret that Radio Rarities was one of the labels run by Sidney Frey's Dauntless International which advertised in The Long Player monthly record catalog. The original dark grey labelled copies were manufactured without credit by the Custom Division of Columbia Records with undisguised matrix numbers of XTV 22476 and XTV 22477. Later pressings made into the 1970s with undersized black labels are typical Audio Rarities-type pressings. These later pressings are the ones more likely to have rear cover liner notes.

The play was denounced as communist propaganda by none other than Ed Sullivan, and the recording gained a certain status as an underground classic during one of the high points of the Great Red Scare of the McCarthy Era.

At least hundreds of copies of the LP are known to exist in private record collections. Playwright/musician Lawrence Bullock, who lives in Mendocino, California recently (2/27/11) found a copy of the LP in Very Good condition at a local thrift shop, bringing the total of known copies to exist in private record collections to hundreds plus one. Copies are always available on-line.

One original copy is owned by television and film writer (Twilight Zone) Jeremy Bertrand Finch who adapted it to a b&w videotape production while attending a northern California college in 1972.

It is not known how many other copies of the original pressing have survived. The British Library, London, has a copy (call number: 1LP0236812). The BBC is reputed to have a copy of the LP, but this needs to be confirmed. It is likely they have it because it was openly sold by the major British record label Oriole. This pressing had red labels with a catalogue number MG 20006.

Broadside Records released an edition of it in very inferior sound quality with portions missing in 1966 (BR 451), and Smithsonian Folkways records has it available as part of their press-on-demand program, along with a full transcript for free download. Although it is not known if this edition has been improved, there are now copies of a digital transfer of the original CBC master with the "Stage 54" opening and close in circulation among collectors.

Author[edit]

Reuben Ship, who was a key writer for producer Irving Brecher's radio series The Life of Riley during the mid and late 1940s, was involved in political struggles between two unions vying for control of the burgeoning television industry in the early 1950s, and he was promptly labeled a communist in HUAC hearings. Much to the dismay of the Committee, it was determined that while much of his work could be considered treasonous if written by a US citizen, Reuben Ship was Canadian. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) arrested Ship in July 1953 and, after a prolonged ordeal, threw him out of the US at the Detroit/Windsor border crossing. Ship's comment upon being expelled from the "Land of Liberty" was that he "...felt liberated." It was this experience which gave him the material which he incorporated into The Investigator.

Rebroadcast[edit]

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has opened certain of their archives, including the recording of The Investigator. The CBC rebroadcast the play as part of its radio network's archival series Rewind on March 25, 2010. It may be downloaded by contacting the CBC at the website listed below, or it may be listened to in streaming audio by accessing the Journal for MultiMedia History, link given below.

Fallout from US broadcast[edit]

In 1962, radio station KPFK, a member station of the Pacifica Foundation and located in the Los Angeles area, broadcast the play. Although KPFK enjoyed a reputation as an underground radio station, the uproar in the community subsequent to the broadcast nearly cost the station its license.

References and links[edit]