I Led 3 Lives
- TV Series
Herbert Philbrick was a young professional and pacifist in 1939 Boston. He joined an anti-war group and quickly found himself caught up in the secret world of underground communist activity.... Read allHerbert Philbrick was a young professional and pacifist in 1939 Boston. He joined an anti-war group and quickly found himself caught up in the secret world of underground communist activity. He agreed to spy on the Communists for the FBI, and spent the next 9 years of his life as... Read allHerbert Philbrick was a young professional and pacifist in 1939 Boston. He joined an anti-war group and quickly found himself caught up in the secret world of underground communist activity. He agreed to spy on the Communists for the FBI, and spent the next 9 years of his life as a Communist, FBI spy, and Communist counter-spy, since they had asked him to follow other... Read all
As I recall, the show worked well enough strictly as entertainment. The episodes followed a formula as most series do-Herb (Carlson) would learn of some nefarious red doings, consult with FBI man Dressler (Zaremba), foil the doings, and end the show with an instructional on the many insidious appeals of communism. Drama grew out of thwarting red plans and avoiding exposure since Herb was an undercover FBI informant. I don't know how good the ratings were, but I can see the show being kept on the air regardless of popular ratings.
Two general points are worth noting, neither of which makes specific assumptions about a series I haven't seen for decades. First, the program comes out of a formative Cold War period in which the complex dynamic of Western capitalism vs. Marxist anti-colonialism was reduced in the public mind to the simplistics of good vs. evil. Put briefly, the series functioned as a popular reflection of that McCarthy period in which self-serving stereotype replaced real world complexity.
Ironically, however, it's the same simplistic perception of good vs. evil that underlay much of the trauma of Vietnam ten years later, when the extreme disconnect between American beliefs about the war and the actual realities resulted in a domestic crisis at home and mutiny in the ranks abroad. In short, Americans of the 50's were woefully unprepared for the complex political realities evolving outside their TV sets. A longer-term consequence, I believe, of propaganda products like Three Lives and the simplistics of good vs. evil.
Second, during the three years of series run-time (1953-56), covert arms of the US gov't were directly responsible, we now know, for subverting at least two popular democracies abroad-The elected Arbenz gov't of Guatemala (1954) and the elected Mossadegh gov't of Iran (1953). Rather odd behavior, I believe, for the touted defender of democracy as the McCarthyite period presented our side. I wonder what Philbrick and Dressler would have said about our own sneaky subversives, keeping in mind that in democratic theory the will of the people is sovereign above all else.
These brief points are not intended as an apologetic for Soviet communism. I'm sure they propagandized their own people with similar stereotypes about the West, that is, when they weren't busy crushing dissent in their own part of the world. The too, I expect they had their own version of good vs. evil so as to revile capitalist legitimacy. Instead, these points amount to a way of putting together a more critically realistic perspective than what we're force-fed in the media and by long-ago shows like Philbrick's.
In reflecting back on that time, I think it's important to keep such considerations as these in mind. At any rate, It's too bad the episodes aren't available for viewing even now 60-years later. I think they'd still be as provocative and even relevant in today's world, though maybe not in the way intended.
(In passing-for readers too young to recall context. When Khruschev made his reckless "We'll bury you" remark, he was referring to out-producing the West, not to mass murder. Too bad it's since been retailed out of context, but I guess that's the sort of thing I've been talking about.)
- Nov 16, 2010