In the 1950s, you could get away with saying most anything you wanted to about Communists. And now you can get away with saying most anything you want to about anticommunists. CNN proved it again this weekend with its silly reporting on the death of Jane Wyatt, the never-a-hair-out-of-place mom on Father Knows Best, one of television's first and most and most popular family sitcoms. In an obituary that aired most of the day Sunday and was still part of the regular CNN Headline News rotation this morning, the network reported that even though she was one of Hollywood's best-loved screen moms, those damn Red-hunters had it in for her. "Wyatt's film career suffered in the 1950s," CNN said. "She was among a group of stars blacklisted by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee."
Putting aside the fact that neither McCarthy nor HUAC had anything to do with Hollywood's blacklists -- they were created and enforced by the studios themselves -- how could someone on one of the most popular television show in America, which Father Knows Best was from 1954 to 1960, have been on a blacklist? Wyatt's film roles did indeed begin to slack off in the early 1950s, but that surely had more to do with the fact that, in her mid-40s, she could no longer play the ingenue roles that had been her specialty. She seamlessly transitioned in TV momdom, not in just Father Knows Best but a host of popular shows including Studio One, Robert Montgomery Presents and The Philip Morris Playhouse. She even appeared on Your Show Of Shows, Sid Caesar's stupendously successful variety program. If this was blacklisting, it was a pretty pathetic effort. And, oh yes, the U.S. Treasury Department even hired Wyatt and the rest of the Father Knows Best cast to make a anti-Communist propaganda episode called 24 Hours in Tyrant Land that was used to promote the sale of savings bonds. Does that sound like anyone in Washington suspected her of subversion?
Wyatt's silly and unverified claim to have suffered blacklisting also made it into the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post, though they at least had the good sense to attribute it to her. CNN simply stated it as fact. And if Wyatt had said Joe McCarthy helped space aliens to kidnap and hold her on Mars for five years, that probably would have been reported as accepted truth too; McCarthy and other 1950s anticommunists have become all-purpose punching bags and accusations against them need not be checked, not even against common sense.
By the way, that's an 11-year-old Natalie Wood whose hair Wyatt is braiding in the photo above. She was never blacklisted, either, even though she played a (beautiful) commie astronomer in Meteor.