Although humorist John Henry Faulk was blacklisted more than 30 years ago, falsely accused by McCarthyites of being a Communist, this documentary about his life is as timely as today’s controversies over freedom in the arts.
Faulk’s case is laid out engagingly through interviews with Faulk and narration by cohosts Bill Moyers and Studs Terkel. A Texas-born purveyor of amiable cornpone humor, Faulk was a popular CBS Radio host in the ’50s when his liberal beliefs came to the attention of AWARE. That right-wing watchdog group published the notorious Red Channels, a newsletter that fingered supposed Reds in the arts and pressured their employers to dump them.
Soon enough, CBS told Faulk his ratings were dropping, and he was let go. ”I didn’t find another job for six years,” Faulk says. Represented by lawyer Louis Nizer, Faulk sued AWARE for libel, asking $2 million in damages. ”That surprised them,” Faulk says with a chuckle. ”You were supposed to turn tail and run.” When the jurors returned from deliberations, they told the judge they had only one question: Could they give Faulk more than $2 million?
Awarded $3.5 million, Faulk said lawyer Nizer ”looked like he’d been hit with a ball peen hammer: He said he’d really screwed up, that this was the first time in history a lawyer hadn’t asked for too much money.” (Faulk ended up collecting $175,000.)
In the opening seconds of the hour, he observes, ”The Constitution was created to protect the right of people to voice opinions we loathe and despise as much as to protect those we cherish and live by.” Faulk went on to do one-man shows across the country and was a regular on Hee-Haw; he died on April 9 this year at 76. It’s a safe bet he wasn’t familiar with today’s embattled rap music, but his argument could be invoked in its defense. A-