Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Best of “I Led Three Lives”

IL3L-Eternal Vigilance-Lo

“This is the story, the fantastically true story of Herbert A. Philbrick, who for nine frightening years, did lead three lives…average citizen, high level member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For obvious reasons, the names, dates and places have been changed, but the story is based on fact.”

--Original opening narration to I Led Three Lives

In the fall of 1953 I Led Three Lives, the television series adaptation of Herbert A. Philbrick’s best-selling anti-Communist memoir of the same name, premiered on ninety-four stations across the United States.[1] This enormously popular syndicated show starring B-movie actor Richard Carlson as Philbrick was produced by Ziv Television for three seasons. The program ended its original run in mid-1956 with 117 episodes produced.[2] I Led Three Lives was a highly rated[3] phenomenon of its McCarthy-era times and it was sold in trade publications with the breathless fervor of a Red-baiting political speech:

Ziv’s new show is TV Dynamite! From the Secret Files of a counterspy for the FBI! TREASON on our doorstep… this man slammed the door! Starring Hollywood’s Brilliant Actor Richard Carlson in the true life story of a patriotic young American who led 3 lives in the service of our country! 1. Citizen! 2. Communist! 3. Counterspy for the FBI!

“I Led 3 Lives.” Tense because it’s Factual! Gripping because it’s Real! Frightening because it’s True! Each half-hour a true-life adventure! Your opportunity to have the most timely and important TV program in your city! Not just a script writer’s fantasy—but the authentic story of the Commies’ attempt to overthrow our government! You’ll thrill to the actual on-the-scene photography…factual from-the-records dialogue taken from the secret files of a counterspy for the FBI. Authentic sets and scripts personally supervised by Herbert A. Philbrick the man who, for nine agonizing years lived in constant danger as a supposed communist who reported daily to the FBI! Never before has such a dramatic document appeared on TV!

-- Sponsor magazine, August 24, 1953, p. 58

Amazingly, the show exceeded the expectations fanned by all of the over-the-top promotional copy that Ziv shoveled out. I Led Three Lives is a non-stop paranoid fever dream that never fails to deliver the goods in each of its 117 episodes. If anything, the series is even more fascinating today than it was when it was originally aired. In addition to the hysterical dialogue and outlandish plots, the low-budget location shooting is a wonder to behold (even when viewed on third or fourth generation bootlegs). 

But as astonishing as it may seem to the modern television viewer, I Led Three Lives was taken quite seriously in some quarters during its initial run. Indeed, in 1956 the conservative Freedoms Foundation gave the show its Top Award “for outstanding achievement in bringing about a better understanding of the American way of life.”[4]


A more dubious honor issued to the series was the revelation that presidential assassin and avowed communist Lee Harvey Oswald counted it among his favorite childhood TV programs. Robert Oswald, Lee’s older brother, wrote about this curious fandom in 1967:

“The center of Lee’s fantasy world shifted from radio to television when Mother bought a television set in 1948. When it was new, all of us spent far too much time watching variety shows, dramas and old movies. Lee, particularly, was fascinated. One of his favorite programs was I Led Three Lives… In the early 1950’s, Lee watched that show every week without fail. When I left home to join the Marines, he was still watching the re-runs.”[5]


The purpose of this post is to give the general public an opportunity to see some selected moments from the show. It is hoped that someday the series will be issued in a pristine DVD collection from the prints stored at the Wisconsin Historical Society. I Led Three Lives is a historically significant series and deserves to be rediscovered.

Lo-CarlsonOath Richard Carlson as Herbert A. Philbrick prepares to testify

Our first clip is from a 1993 installment of the PBS documentary series Frontline in which Robert Oswald (as mentioned above) discusses his younger brother’s fascination with I Led Three Lives:

The next four clips are from the first of two pilots produced. They will give the reader/viewer a flavor of the panicky paranoia that was the hallmark of the show.




The next two clips are from “Dope Photographic,” the third episode of the series. In the first video, Philbrick identifies a new secretary in his office as a communist sent to spy on him. In the second video, Philbrick tries to mask the sound of a surveillance camera with his electric razor. It is one of the most absurd moments in the history of the show.


In the episode “Servicemen,” Philbrick witnesses the inner-workings of a sham lonely hearts club for servicemen staffed by pretty Communist girls. Eleanor Moore’s performance as the “madam” of the “Sweethearts for Servicemen” organization (Comrade Myra Houk) is a tour de force of bitterness. Trivia note: The exteriors for this clip were shot in Richard Carlson’s backyard at 3827 Holly Lane in Sherman Oaks, California.

The next three clips are from an episode entitled “Campus Story” guest starring Yvette Vickers as a young Communist named Sue Davis. The episode concerns Communist recruitment efforts on college campuses.



In this clip, from the episode entitled “Charity,” (which was broadcast in late December of 1955), Philbrick is derided by his fellow comrades for celebrating Christmas. He is then forced to help with a seasonal pledge-drive scam to enrich the Party.

In this clip Philbrick complains—in his patented voiceover—about the drudgery of leading three lives. His propaganda writing is then critiqued by his fellow party members.

In the episode entitled “The Wife,” Philbrick’s wife, Eva, becomes increasingly suspicious of her husband’s activities. At the same time, Philbrick’s comrades are wondering why Eva isn’t a member of the Party.

Later in the episode, Eva confronts Philbrick over Communist reading material that has been planted on his bookshelf by a fellow comrade. Philbrick then makes a startling confession…

Finally, Eva learns another shocking, yet redeeming, fact about her husband…

The following three clips are from the 1956 episode “Eva Purged,” in which Philbrick’s wife’s loyalty to the Party is questioned. At one point Philbrick is told to leave his wife. By 1972 Eva had been “purged” from Herbert A. Philbrick’s real life and his best-selling book. There is no mention of her or his children in the revised edition. The couple had divorced in the 1950s. The anti-Communist star re-married in 1961.


In the 1953 episode entitled “Civil Defense,” Philbrick and his paranoid fellow comrades discuss their plans for neutralizing America’s civil defense apparatus in Philbrick’s sedan. He calls it a “cell meeting on wheels.” For his 1975 thesis on I Led Three Lives, Dennis J. Rinzel  interviewed star Richard Carlson who did not have fond memories of this particular episode:

“…Really outrageously immoral, now that you think of it. You know, a television show presuming that the nasty Russians are going to drop a bomb. Number two, that the communists are not Marxists, they’re just terrorists who want to confuse everybody and get burned up by a bomb.”

Of course, Carlson was singing another tune when I Led Three Lives was on the air. In Walter Ames’s TV column in the February 15, 1954 edition of the Los Angeles Times he was Red-baiting like a champion:

“To date we haven’t received any threatening letters from the Commies, but we sure dare them to sue us. So far, there hasn’t been a peep out of any Red organization. I guess they’re afraid to question our stories.”

In the same episode as above, Philbrick joins his local civil defense office…

In the 1953 episode “Infra-Red Film,” Tor Johnson, an Ed Wood regular and Richard Carlson’s co-star from the motion picture Behind Locked Doors (1948), appears briefly as Comrade Ziroc, the owner of a Turkish bath house.


To conclude this post we thought we would present the entire episode of “Radioactive”-- one of two teleplays (the other being “Discredit Police”) that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry wrote under the name Robert Wesley. The plot concerns a deadly isotope that a rogue communist is trying to sell. Philbrick must expose himself to dangerous levels of radiation to help the FBI.

Roddenberry is quoted in Tom Stempel’s book, Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing (New York: Continuum, 1992, p. 60), as having deep regrets over working on the series:

“It was fiction. I hate myself for having written two episodes. It was entirely trumped up.”

[1] “Largest TV Net,” Billboard, September 26, 1953. “I Led Three Lives” premiered on September 27, 1953 in Los Angeles and New York.

[2] Dennis J. Rinzel, “A Description of the Ziv Television Series, ‘I Led 3 Lives,” a thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1975. P. 1.

[3] Ibid. p. 3. Rinzel notes that the show was one of the top ten rated syndicated programs during its original three-year run and that it continued to earn high ratings in re-runs.

[4] Ibid. p. 88. Rinzel notes that the award was presented on February 22, 1956 by Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

[5] Robert L. Oswald with Myrick and Barbara Land, “Lee: A Portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald by His Brother,” [New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1967], p. 47. Note: Robert Oswald repeated the story of his brother’s obsession with I Led Three Lives in 1993 for the PBS Frontline documentary “Who Was Lee Harvey Oswald?” A clip from this interview is embedded in this post.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Hannitoid 3000

Lo-Liberalityforall-Cvr G. Gordon Liddy and Sean Hannity star in some unlikely fan fiction

In 1947 the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of St. Paul, Minnesota distributed a Soviet America scare comic entitled Is This Tomorrow: America Under Communism. It was one of earliest comic books to address the Cold War fear that the United States was ripe for enslavement by the Reds.

In 2005 ACC Studios issued the first of an eight part comic book series entitled Liberality for All that presents a dystopian vision of what America might look like twenty years after 9/11…if Al Gore had won the presidency in 2000. This review is included here as an example of the pop cultural similarities between the Cold War and the War on Terror (see also Prayers for the Assassin by Robert Ferrigno).

Advisory: Spoilers Follow

Liberality for All reads like juvenile fan fiction and, indeed, it would appear that author Mike Mackey has a serious man crush on conservative talk radio host Sean Hannity. Hannity is presented as a ripped, square-jawed hero with an EMP-emitting bionic arm (don’t ask). In this alternate reality version of the future Hannity is now part of F.O.I.L. (the Freedom of Information League) and he and fellow rebel G. Gordon Liddy try to get the conservative word out on pirated airwaves. By the way, Liddy, who would be in his nineties in 2021, looks remarkably spry on his Harley Davidson motorcycle.

As a stand-alone work Liberality for All does not serve the reader very well. There are too many loose strands that are confusing -- such as Hannity’s cybernetically enhanced limb and the guy in the car with the Nader 2000 bumper sticker as seen on page 1. Had we not read this interview with Mr. Mackey, we’d be pretty lost. The guy with the Nader 2000 bumper sticker (who looks nothing like Ralph Nader) is Ralph Nader and he crashes into a Corvair and dies (so Gore can win Florida and thus the presidency…get it?). We’re still trying to understand why Ralph Nader would be listening to Sean Hannity on his car radio and not Pacifica.

The self-sabotaged Corvair reference is probably the most subtle joke Mr. Mackey makes in Liberality for All. Everything else has the measured wit and restraint of David Zucker’s An American Carol:

For example:

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been “officially disbanded.”

Chelsea Clinton and Michael Moore are President and Vice-President, respectively.

America has joined the United Nation’s “world government” and the flag is altered to include the U.N.’s logo.

U.N. goons enforce “Coulter Laws” to restrict the speech of conservatives.

The capture of Michelle Malkin is reported.

Matt Drudge is number one on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Osama bin Laden is a dignified ambassador from Afghanistan who conspires with Saddam Hussein to bring a suitcase nuke into the United States.

The Freedom Tower (the building that will be built where the Twin Towers once stood) is now known as the Unity Tower.


Mr. Mackey leaves what is perhaps his funniest "future shock" of the series for issue number 2. In this edition, previewed here, we learn that a sinister-looking Alan Colmes is America’s most popular news personality. However, not even this makes much sense since Mr. Colmes is about as credible a liberal powerhouse as the other left wing straw men on FOX News. But perhaps now he has a bionic spine?

Colmes copy

Liberality for All is clearly a labor of love by a writer who has been thoroughly Hannitized and has drunk all of the conservative Kool-Aid and then some. How else could someone think (in 2005, no less)—even in the realm of satire—that a Gore presidency would have been the root of all future evil? Would President Gore have taken long summer vacations ignoring Presidential Daily Briefs warning that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike in the United States? Speculative history is a two-way street, Mr. Mackey.

But this comic book’s major flaw is in its over-the-top and mostly unfunny attempts at comedy. Conservatives, for whatever reason, have a difficult time producing quality humor and Liberality for All joins the aforementioned An American Carol, FOX News’s short-lived 1/2 Hour News Hour and the collected works of Paul Shanklin in the right-wing comedic junk heap.

As a love letter to Sean Hannity and as an example of the paranoid pop culture excesses of the War on Terror, however, Liberality for All works just fine.


Number 1 of 8
October 2005
ACC Studios, Lexington, Kentucky
Mike Mackey: Creator, Writer, Letterer
Penciller, Inker and Colorist (Interior): Donny Lin
Covers by: Larry Elmore (Cover A) and Donny Lin (Cover B)
Editing: Heidi Fredericksen, Gina Brown and Randy Hall
Covers colored by Nichx
Layout Designer: Andy McKinney
Conceptual Designs: Donny Lin and Ryan Bodenheim
32 pages

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Eleanor Roosevelt’s Snippy Letter to Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day Dorothy Day, April 17, 1959 (photo by Vivian Cherry)

On April 17, 1959 the indefatigable Dorothy Day once again defied the annual civil defense drill in New York City known as Operation Alert. She had been protesting the nationwide test every year since 1955. And, as she had been in previous years, the pacifist and co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement was promptly arrested and charged.[1]

Pacifists Nabbed copy

A week later, on April 24th, the 61-year-old Day and five of her fellow partners in crime elected to serve ten-day prison sentences rather than pay fines. Their lawyer explained the reasoning behind the decision in plain English:

They want to draw attention of the people in this country and show the idiots in Russia and other countries that all the people in this country are not warmongers.[2]

Pacifists Jailed copy

At some point around the time of her initial arrest, Ms. Day had written a letter to the former first lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, concerning, apparently, Operation Alert. The exact content of the missive is not known, but on April 21, 1959 Mrs. Roosevelt replied.[3] The obtuse, schoolmarmish tone of the letter is shocking considering Roosevelt’s standing as the matriarch of liberalism. But, then again, she was a noted booster of civil defense during World War II (and after):

Val-Kill Cottage
Hyde Park, Dutchess County
New York

April 21, 1959

Dear Miss Day:

I have your letter but I must say I am as a loss to know why you are opposed to cooperating with the compulsory air raid drill. Such measures are, after all, meant for your own safety, so I cannot see why you go to such extremes to avoid complying with the rules.

Very Sincerely Yours,

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt Ltr-Dorothy Day

Ironically, two years before this chilly correspondence, Day had witnessed the tail-end of an appearance by Mrs. Roosevelt at the New York Women’s House of Detention in New York City. At the time, Dorothy was serving a thirty-day sentence for protesting the 1957 civil defense drill. Judith Malina, Day’s fellow activist and cellmate for that particular incarceration, recalls in her published diaries how poorly received a speaker the former first lady was:

Not too many girls attended the lecture. It seems she comes often and is not popular. In order to fill the chapel all those who go to hear Mrs. Roosevelt are given a portion of ice cream and may stay up an extra half hour after lights out.[4]

Malina and Day did not get to see Roosevelt’s full speech, but were present for the question and answer period. Based on Malina’s journal assessment, it is easy to understand why the inmates had to be bribed to attend:

Mrs. Roosevelt answered elegantly, patiently, indisputably. She answers as she does in her magazine column, with an icy warmth, hewing the liberal bourgeois rut with undeniable precision and an unfading smile.[5]


[1] The 1959 arrest was the fifth and last time Day was arrested for protesting the civil defense drills. 1961 was the last year Operation Alert was held. See “Civil Defense Drill Protests: Dorothy Day and Friends Sit In for Peace” on the Marquette University web page for more details.

[2] “5 Pacifists Jailed in N.Y.,” Associated Press via the Racine (Wisconsin) Journal-Times, April 24, 1959. The other persons who chose jail over a $25 fine were Ammon Hennacy, Deane Mowrer, Arthur J. Harvey and Karl Meyer.

[3] The Eleanor Roosevelt letter resides in the Marquette University Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Collection, Series W-6.3, Box 1. CONELRAD has not yet been able to locate the originating letter to Mrs. Roosevelt. If an when we are to find it, we will update this post.

[4] Judith Malina, “The Diaries of Judith Malina, 1947-1957” [New York: Grove Press, 1984], p. 460.

[5] Idid. p. 459.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The History of One Hour Till Doom (1953)

One Hour Till Doom Ad-Best

On Labor Day, September 7, 1953 something unusual happened in the small community of Temple City, California—the “Communists” took over! The event wasn’t a patriotic Mosinee, Wisconsin-like Red Scare “pageant,” but rather a dramatized documentary project designed to get ratings. With the tense reality of the Cold War at its height, however, the local newspaper took special care to advise its readership of what was truly going on:

If you happen to see a bunch of black-shirted individuals running around town and cameras whirring in the streets on Monday, think nothing of it. It’s an act. Television has come to town.[1]

The title of the film that was being shot in the Los Angeles suburb that day (and during the rest of the week) was One Hour Till Doom. It would be broadcast one month later on KTTV as an episode of the local documentary series Before Your Eyes.

Newspaper Overrun

One Hour Till Doom was researched and scripted by Idabel Overlease, a staff writer for Before Your Eyes who had written a string of pulpy novels in the 1930s (The Hussy, The Hellcat, etc.). Overlease and the entire production team worked with the American Legion (Temple City Post # 279) to better learn about the devious methods of the Reds. Temple City businessman and Legionnaire, Pinky Smith, a former Our Gang actor, starred as the black-shirted leader of the Commie take-over plot.[2] Smith’s colleagues from Post 279 filled out the ranks of the small invasion force and Temple City residents and business leaders played themselves.[3]

ScreenwritersIdabel Overlease and American Legion Commander, Jim Speck

The backstory of One Hour Till Doom is that the Communists have A-bombed San Francisco and Los Angeles and are intent on enslaving God-fearing Americans. Temple City—a microcosmic example of the invasion—is quickly seized in a pre-planned fifth columnist strike. Churches are padlocked, banks are ordered to issue Red “scrip” and law enforcement and civil defense officials are thrown behind bars. The Temple City Times is turned into a party organ printing the headline “Workers Arise!” And, of course, books are burned.[4]

The live “lesson” portion of the program hosted by producer Bill Burrud featured civil defense and legal authorities discussing “real” Soviet plans for taking over America and what the country should be doing to guard against such an event.[5]

Commies Overrun

Considering the overheated atmosphere (It was Senator Joseph McCarthy’s heyday, the Rosenbergs had been executed, etc.) in which it was produced, it is not surprising that the Los Angeles press gave One Hour Till Doom significant and respectful play. Hal Humphrey of the outrageously right-wing Mirror wrote:

…Barrud and his associates have done a commendable job. If viewers aren’t impressed with the danger of fifth column activity after seeing “One Hour Till Doom,” they at least should be roiled to anger to see how easily a well-organized enemy can take us into camp.[6]

Humphrey also interviewed Bill Burrud and asked him why the Temple City police force is not shown to be a factor during the invasion. The producer replied cheekily:

I suppose the Temple City Police Department did not care to have itself being “taken over” on TV. But since the police are the only armed branch of city government, it would have been nice to see them in there pitching.[7]

The Los Angeles Times’ television writer, Walter Ames, led his September 5, 1953 column with news of the Temple City mock invasion with the headline “Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film.”[8]

And, naturally, the Temple City Times, chronicled the project from beginning to end. In one photograph caption, the paper reported that “Communist-tinged periodicals…have been circulated in Temple City lambasting the TV show…”.[9]

When One Hour Till Doom completed its premiere broadcast at 9 p.m. on October 8, 1953, it faded into the fog of history. To the best of our knowledge, Doom has never been replayed or commercially released. A clip from the film—featuring Bill Burrud haughtily praising American consumerism—is included in the 1982 documentary The Atomic Café, but otherwise, despite efforts described below, the show is a ghost.

In 2003 CONELRAD sent a letter to American Legion Post 279 in Temple City asking them if they had any archives related to the production of the film. We also called the post and left multiple messages. We never received a response.

In 2006 CONELRAD reached out to the Burrud family (Bill Burrud passed away in 1990) in an effort to locate a copy of the complete Red Scare epic. John Burrud, Bill’s son, very kindly went out of his way to physically check the Burrud Productions archives and stated that One Hour Till Doom is not among their holdings. It should be noted here that Burrud’s production company was formed in 1954—one year after Doom was broadcast.

In 2008 CONELRAD contacted one of the film archive specialists who worked on The Atomic Café and we were told that the Doom excerpt was licensed through Hollywood Newsreel Syndicate / Rick Spalla Productions. Rick Spalla, according to his 2001 Variety obituary, worked as a producer on several Bill Burrud series including Before Your Eyes.[10] On March 6, 2008, CONELRAD sent an e-mail to Hip Films, run by Spalla’s son, inquiring about One Hour Till Doom and requesting an opportunity to view it. We also left telephone messages, but we never received a response. If a complete version of the film still exists, it is almost certainly in the custody of Mr. Spalla’s company.

Given the historical and cultural value of One Hour Till Doom, perhaps someone from the Paley Center for Media or the Library of Congress or some other esteemed archive should endeavor to convince the junior Mr. Spalla to donate a copy of the film so that scholars can at least have the opportunity to view it. We’re not holding our breath.

Commie Story


Cameras Roll

Temple City Times
Thursday, September 3, 1953
“Before Your Eyes”
TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake “Commies” Take Over

If you happen to see a bunch of black-shirted individuals running around town and cameras whirring in the streets on Monday, think nothing of it. It’s an act.

Television has come to town.

Under the direction of Mrs. Idabel Overlease, researcher and writer for the television program, “Before Your Eyes” (8:30 p.m., KTTV, Channel 11). Temple City will be the setting for the program of October 1. But the scenes, of course, must be recorded on film before that. Hence the shooting next week.

This TV program, which is sponsored by Hinshaw’s of West Arcadia, will attempt to convey on its October 1 program the idea of what happens if the Communists take over Temple City.

The black-shirted individuals that your will see (and probably recognize) will be members of the Temple City American Legion. The American Legion’s traditional hatred of Communism is not expected to dampen the enthusiasm of the Legionnaires as they portray their enemies for the benefit of the TV audience.

According to Mrs. Overlease, shooting for the show will start on Labor Day and will continue off and on all week. The final shot that will be taken will be that of the Temple City Times on Friday when the ersatz “Commies” are slated to take over the newspaper and off the presses will roll the papers with the huge scare-headlines proclaiming “WORKERS ARISE!”

Mrs. Overlease explains that the theme of the show will indicate that an atomic bomb has blasted San Francisco and Los Angeles and the program will show what could happen to a quiet suburban community like Temple City if that tragedy did take place.

One of the shots will show both St. Luke’s Catholic Church and the Community Methodist being padlocked while another will show the books at the Longden school being burned.

Godfrey Lumsdon, manager of the Temple City National Bank, will be pictured being ordered to issue script and members of the Civil Defense Corps as well as other law enforcement officers will be shown behind bars.

On the night of the program it will be explained by the narrator as well as through the special presentation of an award that as implausible as it sounds, “it could happen here.”

‘Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film; Tennis Matches Seen on KNBH
Walter Ames
Los Angeles Times
September 5, 1953

Temple City was overrun with “Communists” yesterday but it was all for the sake of television and part of the filming of one of the Before Your Eyes series planned for release next month to show what would happen in a small community should the Reds ever get into power.

Leading businessmen of the community of 20,000 persons turned actors for the Open Road production cameras, donned black shirts in the city park, burned books in the schools, substituted their Red propaganda tomes, took over the community newspaper and even substituted scrip for legal money at the banks.

It will be interesting to see how the show comes out through the use of the amateur actors. One of the few citizens involved in the story who has had acting experience is Pinky Smith. Pinky once played the freckle-faced kid in Our Gang comedies and in the filming is cast as the Red leader. More shooting is set for next Monday and Wednesday.

Hal Humphrey Column
Los Angeles Mirror
October 8, 1953

KTTV’s “Before Your Eyes” documentary series has come up with a specially prepared film designed to impress us with the fact that everyone should be involved in civil defense.

It is called “One Hour Till Doom” and will be shown tonight at 8:30, channel 11.

In this case the producers took cameras and crews to Temple City to record what would happen if a Communist fifth column set about to render our civilian population helpless, prior to an armed invasion.

When producer Bill Barrud showed this 30-minute film to the press earlier this week he pointed out that the “Before Your Eyes” series is done on a small budget compared to the Ed Murrow documentaries, for example.

“Also, in the Temple City film, no professional actors were employed. It was all done with the co-operation of the local citizens.”

Taking these points into consideration, Barrud and his associates have done a commendable job. If viewers aren’t impressed with the danger of fifth column activity after seeing “One Hour Till Doom,” they at least should be roiled to anger to see how easily a well-organized enemy can take us into camp.

Where Were the Cops?

As the coup d’etat was accomplished in this film, there was no resistance as the newspaper, city hall, etc. were taken over. One flaw was the absence of any policeman during the “raid.”

“I suppose the Temple City Police Department did not care to have itself being “taken over” on TV. But since the police are the only armed branch of city government, it would have been nice to see them in there pitching.”

If it all appears as being a little too pat, just remember that recent history is filled with examples of how entire cities were undermined with traitors, who made armed invasion much simpler.

A couple of fellows by the names of Adolph Hitler and Vidkun Quisling proved it to the disgust and anger of all Norway.

TV Show Features Temple City Tonight
Temple City Times
October 8, 1953

Labeled “One Hour Till Doom,” a television program depicting Temple City being taken over by the underground Communists will be shown tonight over KTTV at 8:30 on Channel 11. It will be a special presentation on KTTV’s “Before Your Eyes” TV series sponsored by Hinshaw’s of West Arcadia.

Studio officials claim it to be the most extensive turnover of an entire community for the purpose of filming a television program. Leading Temple City civic and business people turned actors for the KTTV film for which studio cameramen spent three days here several weeks ago abstaining film footage for the presentation.

Members of the Temple City post of the American Legion under the direction of Jim Speck, commander, and W.H. (Reg) Reglin, community betterment chairman, portray Communists who join to take over the city. Pinky Smith, a Temple City businessman and legionnaire and once a freckle-faced kid in “Our Gang” comedies, enacts the Red Leader in the film.

The film shows citizens, long members of the community, gathering at the city park to put into effect plans for taking over the community as part of a master Red plot for an attack on Los Angeles. The peacefulness of Temple City, a quiet suburban community with tree-lined streets and substantial homes, is dramatically illustrated on the screen by the introductory “shots” just before the “Commies” come out in the open to strike during that last hour…”One Hour Till Doom.”

In the film the “Commies” burn books at the school and substitute their own propaganda tomes. School Superintendent Howard Beckner is roughly pushed aside and taken away when he protests. Similar fates are suffered by Rev. Randall Scott of the Community Methodist church, George Vierhus, of the Temple City Times, Myron Seals, of Lieberg’s Department Store and J.W. Parkhurst and his Civil Defense staff.

The show was researched and scripted by Idabel Overlease of Temple City and Bill Barrud is the producer-host and Bill Steen the narrator for “Open Roads Production,” producers of “Before Your Eyes’ each Thursday evening.

“Live” portion of the special program will feature Judge David T. Sweet, who will present material gathered by the American Bar Association, and Howard Earle, director of disaster and civil defense authority for the City of Los Angeles. Judge Sweet’s brief will be based on the Bar Association’s data gathered in Moscow and describing how the Reds plan to take over America. Representing the American Legion of Los Angeles County will be District Attorney Ernest Roll and Temple City Legionnaires who took part in the show.


Idabel Overlease, the researcher and screenwriter of One Hour Till Doom was born on January 27, 1902 in Jefferson City, Missouri. Her mother, Gussie Jobe Brown, was a well known local writer who probably inspired Idabel to try her hand at the profession.[11] In the 1930s Overlease published six books under the name Idabel Williams:

The Hussy (1933)
Hell Cat (1934)
Marriages Made in Hell (1935)
Accent on Sin (1936)
Unholy Wedlock (1936)
Laughter of Fools (1938)

Idabell collage

At some point, Overlease moved to Southern California and worked for Bill Burrud for six years. She also regularly appeared in the advertising portions of Before Your Eyes which was sponsored by Hinshaw’s, a local department store chain.[12]


By the time of her death at the age of 61 on March 16, 1963, Overlease was a popular columnist and writing instructor in the San Gabriel Valley area.[13] One of her last writing efforts, After Midnight Fifty Cents—about her teenaged daughter’s babysitting experiences—apparently went unpublished.[14] If any of Ms. Overlease’s surviving relatives are reading this, we’d love to hear from you!


Before Your Eyes
“One Hour Till Doom”
KTTV-Los Angeles
Channel 11
Broadcast Date: October 8, 1953
Production Company: Open Roads Productions
Produced and Hosted by Bill Burrud
Narrator: Bill Steen

Cast: Jay R. “Pinky” Smith as Red Leader

Appearances by: Judge David T. Sweet; Howard Earle, director of disaster and civil defense authority for the City of Los Angeles; District Attorney Ernest Roll and Temple City; Jim Speck, commander of American Legion Post 279; George Vierhus, managing editor of the Temple City Times; Godfrey Lumsdon, manager of the Temple City National Bank; Howard Beckner, school superintendent; Rev. Randall Scott of the Community Methodist Church; Myron Seals of Lieberg’s Department Store; J.W. Parkhurst and his civil defense staff; various American Legion members.

* Because we have not been able to see a print of the film or see official production documentation, these credits may very well be incomplete. The credit information that is presented is based on contemporaneous press reports about One Hour Till Doom.

TV Ad 

[1] “TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake ‘Commies’ Take Over,” Temple City Times, September 3, 1953.

[2] “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953. Jay R. “Pinky” Smith was brutally stabbed to death in 2002 by a homeless man. Smith was 87 at the time of his murder. See the Las Vegas Review-Journal article for the full story.

[3] “Free Press for Sure,” Temple City Times, October 1, 1953 and “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953.

[4] “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hal Humphrey, Radio-TV column, Los Angeles Mirror, October 8, 1953.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Walter Ames, “Commies’ Overrun City for TV Film,” Los Angeles Times, September 5, 1953.

[9] “TV Cameras to Whir in Town as Fake ‘Commies’ Take Over,” Temple City Times, September 3, 1953; “Free Press for Sure,” Temple City Times, October 1, 1953; “TV Show Features Temple City Tonight,” Temple City Times, October 8, 1953. CONELRAD was unable to find any of the “Communist-tinged periodicals.”

[10] Rick Spalla obituary, Variety, April 3, 2001.

[11] “Overlease Exhibit in Public Library Display,” Arcadia Tribune, April 2, 1967.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Woman’s World Column, Pasadena Star-News, June 23, 1959.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Meet Miss Bomarc

Miss Bomarc-Autographed-Lo

The story of Miss Bomarc begins in the late 1950s when new military missile systems were all the rage. One of these weapons was the supersonic Bomarc, an anti-aircraft missile developed by Boeing (BO) and the University of Michigan Aeronautical Research Center (MARC). The long-range missile could be armed with nuclear or conventional warheads and it was deployed to strategic regions of the United States.[1] Beginning in mid-1957, the Bomarc was big news in Utah because Ogden Air Logistics at Hill Air Force Base became the prime maintenance and supply depot for the system.[2]

One of the people who frequently saw the Bomarc on the front page of her newspaper during this period was a young Layton, Utah hairdresser named Audrene Yates. Audrene was also acutely aware of the missile because her husband, Jay A. Yates, was a maintenance engineer at the base. Around this time, Audrene had just won a county-wide hairstyling contest using an older woman as her hairdo model. This win entitled the beautician to a shot at the statewide title and, on the advice of a helpful judge, she resolved to shake things up a little for the bigger arena. The judge had told Audrene that she would greatly improve the chances for a state win by “getting a younger model and to do something more trendy” as a theme.[3]

Miss Bomarc 2 copy

In an interview with CONELRAD, the stylist said that she chose the Bomarc for her “trendy” subject because “It was something new to Utah and, with my model, I thought it would be quite a striking image.”[4] The woman she chose for this opportunity was an eighteen-year-old client named Fran Frost who had a slender figure and blond hair. Fran, who lived in neighboring Kaysville, was just out of high school and had already worked as a photographic portrait model for a business in Salt Lake City. When Audrene asked her young friend if she’d like to help her in the state-wide competition, Fran didn’t hesitate to accept the offer: “That sounds like fun,” she declared.[5]

Lo-Miss Bomarc-News

It was Margaret Alger, the wife of Captain Robert Alger (an officer assigned to the air base), who designed the form-fitting black dress that completed Fran’s ballistic transformation. Fran told CONELRAD that the idea of the whole package was to “mimic the missile’s dark body and light nose cone.”[6]

The Air Force periodical AMC Worldwide was duly impressed and described the model in a 1958 article as a “Blonde native missile” with a “facile frame.” And the Hill Air Force Base’s newspaper, the Hill Top Times, provided breathless and jargon-heavy coverage of Fran’s coiffure:

This guided missile hairstyle was inspired by the supersonic Bomarc missile. It’s a swirl-a-wave which features supersonic action from nape to crown. From a siren list, it cruises to a froth of fluff swinging from cheek to tip of ear. The nuclear payload goes into super action and long-range swirls intercepted by flowing lines and high altitude sweeps cruising towards its target of pixie bangs on the brow. [7]

Miss Bomarc-1 copy

After Audrene won—with Fran’s help—the state-wide hair-styling contest in Salt Lake City, the public relations people from Hill Air Force Base and the Marquardt Aircraft Company (which manufactured the “ramjet” for the Bomarc missile) took notice. Fran recalled for CONELRAD that the representatives became “very interested” in having her visit the base and pose for pictures in her missile attire. It was during this period that the famous photograph (as seen at the top of this post) of her wearing the honorary “Miss Bomarc” sash was taken.[8]

Fran went on to many other modeling triumphs during her two-year career including titles as Miss Utah State Fair, Miss Dairy Queen and Miss World Contact Lens to name but a few. It was during a visit to Hollywood, though, that the young woman decided that show business was not for her. She was auditioning to be Marilyn Monroe’s stunt double when she had an opportunity to meet the legendary star whom she found to be “very sad.” But it wasn’t Marilyn’s ennui that soured Fran on Tinsel Town—it was the sordid ritual of the “casting couch.” She refused to play that game and hopped on the next flight back home to Utah.[9]

With the money she had made from modeling, Fran attended college and earned a teaching degree in Pharmacology. She also married a professional football player whom she helped put through business school during the off-seasons. The couple eventually divorced.[10]

Fran and Audrene still live in Utah and are known to chat, on occasion, about their Cold War pageant adventures. CONELRAD is thrilled to be able to share their story with our readers.


CONELRAD would like to thank Fran Frost and Audrene Wayman for taking the time to speak with us.

We would also like to thank Christopher J. Bright whose latest book is Continental Defense in the Eisenhower Era: Nuclear Antiaircraft Arms and the Cold War. For more information on Mr. Bright’s impressive research on the Bomarc missile and other Cold War subjects, please visit his website.

[1] According to the Boeing website, the Bomarc missile was authorized by the United States Air Force in 1949. Boeing produced 700 of the missiles between 1957 and 1964. The missile class was retired from active service in the early 1970s.

[2] See the Military Standard’s comprehensive history of the Bomarc and other missile classes:

[3] Interview with Audrene Wayman (formerly Yates) by Bill Geerhart on January 12, 2011.

[4] Interview with Audrene Wayman (formerly Yates) by Bill Geerhart on January 13, 2011.

[5] Interview with Audrene Wayman (formerly Yates) by Bill Geerhart on January 12, 2011.

[6] Interview with Fran Frost by Bill Geerhart on December 17, 2010.

[7] “Missile Fever in Utah,” AMC (Air Materiel Command) Worldwide, vol. 1, no. 7, April 1958. This article contains the quote from the Hill Air Force Base newspaper, The Hill Top Times, but does not provide a citation as to exact date or issue.

[8] Interview with Fran Frost by Bill Geerhart on January 13, 2011.

[9] Interview with Fran Frost by Bill Geerhart on December 17, 2010.

[10] Ibid.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Atomic Fiction for the Modern Housewife

"She heard the screaming siren…she saw the flames…she struggled, wild with horror, but she was too feeble, and she knew there was no escape. If only the children…”

-- Opening lines from The Unthinkable by Mary Augusta Rodgers as published in the June 30, 1960 edition of the Saturday Evening Post

Saturday Evening Post-Atomic Fiction 

It was sometime in the late 1950s when short story writer Mary Augusta Rodgers took a tour of a bomb shelter that had been constructed by one of her neighbors in Detroit. “Everyone knew about it,” she told CONELRAD in an interview. “I never thought of having one and neither did my husband.”

Chillingly, the neighbor made it clear to everyone on the street—including Mary—that in the event of a real atomic attack, he would shoot anyone who tried to force their way into his family’s radioactive refuge. “He was very upfront about it,” recalled the author.

Mary channeled the tense mood of this era into a fictionalized account of suburban angst entitled The Unthinkable that was published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1960. The magazine’s teaser text—“Would she let the threat of atomic attack ruin their happiness?”—left little doubt as to the intended target audience.

The story opens with an unnamed housewife’s dream of an atomic war, but then quickly shifts to a protracted depiction of domestic life: breakfast with Jim, her handsome, blond husband; taking care of the young son and daughter; shopping. However, Rodgers does sprinkle this part of the narrative with a couple of nods to the Cold War’s linguistic invasion of everyday American speech:

“Chris (the son) insisted on Whoops, the new, improved better-than-ever, atomized for energy cereal, preferred by jet pilots everywhere.”

“Someday she was going to turn on all the appliances at once and see if the house didn’t launch itself heaven-ward like a guided missile.”

Later in the story, the nameless housewife is talking with her friend, Betty, and the subject of the previous evening’s civil defense meeting comes up. “They had a good speaker.” the protagonist tells her friend and then amplifies: “Too good. It was scary.” The self-involved Betty replies: “That’s why I didn’t go… Listen, I can’t be worrying about atomic attack. I’ve got troubles of my own.”

In the end, the housewife realizes it was the civil defense lecture that had caused her horrific dream. She unburdens herself of the nightmare by recounting it to her husband. Jim replies with a live- for-today philosophy that is perhaps a legacy of his own wartime experience:

“O.K. Suppose it were to happen. The bombs and the missiles and all hell breaking loose. It would be a shame to remember this sort of life and realize that we’d never valued it enough.”

The housewife, who had been wavering on the topic of survival, replies: “That’s what I’ve been thinking all day.”

Appropriately enough, just below the final text of The Unthinkable is an illustrated advertisement for the Metropolitan 1500 automobile featuring a young couple in tennis togs. Like Jim and his wife, they seem to have learned to stop worrying and forget about the Bomb.

Was Jim’s stated attitude shared by Mary Augusta Rodgers? She told us that “it always comes down to that [“live for today”], doesn’t it? And tomorrow never comes.” The author then added that she “wouldn’t want to be around for the aftermath” of an atomic war.     

Metropolitan Ad     

Mary Augusta Rodgers was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky. She began writing freelance feature pieces for the Louisville Courier-Journal while she was still in high school. She was paid $7.50 per article and was thrilled to be doing something she loved. Her editor, Cary Robertson, later worked with another young Louisville journalist named Hunter S. Thompson. No, Mary never met Dr. Thompson. 

After World War II, Mary moved to Washington, D.C. where her husband, William Henry Schoen III (1921-2010), had become a speechwriter for the State Department. In 1952, the Schoen family moved to Detroit where Mr. Schoen was employed by the Ford Motor Company as a writer and publicist. The couple raised three sons and a daughter.

Mary was always writing and her stories frequently involved the themes of suburban motherhood. She was published in every major American magazine with the exception of the New Yorker. When the Equal Rights Amendment was being debated in the 1970s, Mary championed it from the perspective of the housewife whom she believed worked just as hard as any career woman. In the 1980s the author contributed travel pieces to the New York Times. In 1995 Mary’s book, Country Roads of Kentucky, was published. Excerpts from Mary’s November, 1964 Redbook magazine story, An American Family, are included the book Century of Voices: Detroit Women Writers Anthology: 1900-2000.  

When Mary isn’t shooting the breeze with her longtime friend and literary peer, Elmore Leonard, or keeping abreast of current events, she continues to write. She has a drawer full of material, but laments the fact that most magazines have long since stopped publishing short fiction. Perhaps someone at the New Yorker is reading this and will help introduce Ms. Rodgers to a new generation of readers.


Mary Augusta Rodgers, “The Unthinkable,” Saturday Evening Post, June 30, 1960, pp. 31; 60-61.

Telephone interview with Mary Augusta Rodgers by Bill Geerhart, January 11, 2011.

For an example of Ms. Rodgers’s travel writing see “Rediscovering the Grandeur of the Tetons,” New York Times, June 1, 1986.