Harvey Klehr’s new e-book, The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole: The Twisted Lifetime of David Karr is a rarity: a biography of a person so attention-grabbing that you just marvel why you by no means heard of him earlier than. After all, a biography of somebody unfamiliar to the overwhelming majority of readers is a little bit of a tough promote for these uninitiated into the work of Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus at Emory College. In an ideal world, Klehr’s groundbreaking contributions as a historian would mechanically make any new e-book of his a matter of great public curiosity.
However because it occurs, the 73-year-old’s life’s work quantities to reporting on the historical past of the communist motion in the US, and a major a part of that quantities to his uncovering the startling extent to which varied influential Individuals and U.S. establishments had been prepared contributors in Soviet espionage. It’s clear that our political Left, our lecturers, and our journalistic institution (however I repeat myself) would gladly ignore Klehr’s scholarship altogether.
In 2009, when he performed an instrumental position in exhibiting that the beloved left-wing journalist I.F. Stone had labored as a Soviet spy, the response from the mainstream press included a substantial amount of denial and even outrage directed, not at Stone for promoting out his nation, however at Klehr and fellow historian John Earl Haynes for his or her temerity in having unearthed this inconvenient truth. A decade after this revelation, the Nieman Basis at Harvard remains to be handing out the “I.F. Stone Medal for Journalistic Independence” regardless that “journalistic independence” is an unworthy appellation to make use of for a person who, it seems, was paid to propagandize on behalf of a overseas authorities answerable for as many as 100 million deaths within the 20th century.
Whereas The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole accommodates no actually groundbreaking info on a par with a lot of Klehr’s heavyweight scholarship, it makes up for this by being an attractive e-book about an interesting man. Not directly, Millionaire can be a beautiful introduction to the final matter of American communism—simply consider the e-book’s topic as a malevolent Forrest Gump. “It usually seems like David Karr has been an inescapable presence in my life,” Klehr writes within the acknowledgments. “He has been round for almost thirty years, typically a part of my work nearly daily; typically hovering within the background.”
So then, who precisely was Karr, and why ought to we care sufficient to learn 255 pages about him?
A Purple Enters the Writing Racket
Born David Katz in 1918 to a affluent Jewish household in Brooklyn, he wasn’t a lot of a pupil however bought concerned in organizing newspaper unions whereas nonetheless in highschool and pursuing his dream of being a sports activities reporter. Having modified his surname to Karr, presumably to keep away from anti-Semitism, the highschool graduate and budding journalist quickly discovered himself writing for a string of radical newspapers, together with the Every day Employee, the official organ of the Communist Social gathering of the US of America.
The younger Karr was continually on the make, and parlayed this expertise into mainstream journalistic work that introduced him to the nation’s capital in 1941. With the US getting into the warfare, he then fell right into a authorities job on the Workplace of Struggle Data, regardless of having lied about his credentials, and in addition regardless of some FBI considerations about his radical ties. An enormous a part of his OWI job was barnstorming throughout the nation to drum up help for the warfare effort from the ethnic organizations and newspapers that abounded within the hinterlands. By all accounts Karr, an indefatigable self-promoter, was good on the work.
That is the heyday, or towards the tip of the heyday, of American communism, and a few of the ethnic enclaves Karr visited positioned him involved with not a couple of CPUSA members and fellow vacationers. By 1943, he would discover himself within the crosshairs of a congressional investigation—and never for the final time. Three years beforehand, he had accused Congressman Martin Dies (D-Tex.) of consorting with fascists. Dies was chairman of the Home Particular Committee to Examine Un-American Actions, and when he came upon Karr was now working throughout the U.S. authorities, the congressman started to make a stink in regards to the OWI worker’s ties to the Every day Employee and different communist organizations. Karr claimed, unpersuasively, that he had acted as an FBI informant whereas working for the novel Left. Even because the FBI was making an attempt to type this out, he resigned from his OWI place when a Civil Service Fee report delivered a advice that he be fired.
One would possibly suppose that being on the middle of this type of public controversy would imply the demise of 1’s profession. However the biographer quotes a colleague of Karr’s, to the impact that he was recognized for “getting round as fast as an octopus on curler skates.” Inside months, he had made himself a busy aide to Franklin Roosevelt’s left-wing vp, Henry Wallace, and was being paid (off the federal government’s books) to go across the nation as soon as once more—this time to attempt to whip up help for holding Wallace on the presidential ticket in 1944. Karr appeared with the Vice President at various notable public occasions. (Wallace, who did get bumped from the ticket, was not a communist however his avidly pro-Soviet stance endeared him to the CPUSA and others on the leftmost edges of American politics.)
After the Wallace interlude, Karr went again to journalism, the place he promptly bought fired from a job on town desk of the Washington Publish, and virtually as promptly bought employed as a “leg man” for Drew Pearson’s legendary “Washington Merry-Go-Spherical” syndicated column. (That column was nonetheless being written till Karr’s former colleague Jack Anderson died in 2005; Brit Hume of Fox Information labored for Anderson’s iteration of the column as a younger journalist within the 1970s.)
Although a mandarin of American journalism, Pearson was by many accounts one of the vital scurrilous reporters to ever draw breath. Below his tenure, “Washington Merry-Go-Spherical” was concurrently one of the vital widespread columns within the nation and in addition a clearinghouse for gossip, private political agendas, and harsh score-settling. Pearson was sued for libel 275 instances over his profession, even going as far as to blackmail Douglas MacArthur to get the final to drop his lawsuit in opposition to him. Klehr quotes a senator saying it was unattainable to name Pearson an “SOB” as a result of he was “his personal filthy brainchild, conceived in ruthlessness and devoted to the proposition Judas Iscariot was a piker.”
All of that’s to say that Drew Pearson and David Karr had been a match made in heaven. Klehr, already having ably documented that his topic was a continual liar prepared to say completely something to get forward—as much as and together with trashing his personal spouse’s repute to the FBI—recounts a number of egregiously unethical issues that Karr did to get scoops for Pearson. His boss and he bought alongside effectively in no small half as a result of Pearson shared Karr’s left-wing sympathies. There have been quite a few rumors that Karr was the conduit by means of which the infamous State Division official and Soviet Spy Alger Hiss leaked to Pearson; however Klehr notes that this can’t be confirmed.
Can’t Maintain a Dangerous Man Down
With the tip of the Second World Struggle and the start of the Chilly Struggle, Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-Wisc.) was making himself right into a folks hero for purporting to root out Reds within the authorities. Pearson, having made loads of enemies in Washington, was no communist however he was susceptible. A rival columnist began stirring up public outrage and scaring away advertisers from “Washington Merry-Go-round” by highlighting Karr’s communist previous. Pearson formally let Karr go, however the two males continued to work collectively on the q.t.
Since you apparently can’t hold a foul man down, Karr moved again to New York to work in promoting and public relations, gaining shoppers who had been a few of America’s greatest industrial tycoons. Karr labored for Henry Kaiser of Kaiser Permanente and liquor magnate Louis Rosenstiel, the latter of whom being Karr’s most important supply of revenue on the time. (Rosenstiel’s ex-wife would later famously declare that he took her to a celebration the place McCarthy aide Roy Cohn launched her to J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI chief was “carrying a fluffy black costume . . . lace stockings, and excessive heels.” However the anecdote’s place within the pop historical past firmament, Klehr rightly notes that there are various convincing causes to doubt the veracity of her account.)
Whereas doing PR for the company raider Robert Younger, Karr thought to enter enterprise himself. Via a collection of machinations too detailed to recount, he was quickly embroiled in a profitable company takeover operation. In only a few years, Karr went from a disgraced journalist-turned-flack to being the CEO of Fairbanks Whitney, an organization that employed 5,000 individuals and had annual gross sales of $150 million. Across the similar time he was scaling the company heights, two of his mates, theatrical producers Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin, had been adapting a e-book for the stage, they usually instructed Karr’s spouse that the play’s most important character—a window cleaner who turns into a CEO “by utilizing each soiled trick within the e-book”—reminded them of Karr. Angered by the comparability, David Karr would later refuse to attend a celebration celebrating his mates’ play, The best way to Achieve Enterprise With out Actually Attempting, earlier than its premiere in 1961.
Predictably, Karr’s tenure at Fairbanks Whitney, whereas personally worthwhile, was not a enterprise success. He bought ousted as CEO after just a few years. (Amongst different issues, the agency had authorities contracts and, as soon as once more, Karr’s communist previous turned a difficulty.) Time for an additional profession shift. Karr moved to Los Angeles and, utilizing a variety of contacts he’d developed going again to the Drew Pearson days, quickly set himself up as a film producer. He would finally coproduce the Glenn Ford and Rita Hayworth film The Cash Lure (1965), the tv film The Harmful Days of Kiowa Jones (1966), and Welcome to Onerous Instances (1967) starring Henry Fonda.
Then got here Karr’s remarriage to a lady from a rich French household and his relocation to Paris, the place he hobnobbed with the Rothschilds and different European elite. In 1968, he seems to have flown again to the US in order that he and Pearson may personally inform President Johnson that former First Girl Jackie Kennedy was going to enter her second marriage, to the transport magnate Aristotle Onassis. Karr, on this interval, had develop into an affiliate of the Democratic politician and Kennedy brother-in-law Sargent Shriver, and in addition of the infamous pro-Soviet businessman Armand Hammer. It was these connections that enabled Karr to begin wheeling and dealing within the Soviet Union, in addition to enter Democratic Social gathering politics on the highest ranges. Our Brooklyn-born Gump was now rubbing elbows with the likes of California’s new younger Governor Jerry Brown and President Carter himself.
Klehr painstakingly demonstrates that Karr was reporting on his acquaintances’ political actions to the KGB. There are additionally some notable asides in regards to the extent of Senator Ted Kennedy’s eyebrow-raising back-channel communications with the Soviets. Karr died in a Paris lodge virtually precisely 40 years in the past in July, 1979. His sudden demise at age 60 got here beneath mysterious circumstances. His spouse halted the burial so an post-mortem may very well be carried out (no foul play was decided) whilst rumors swirled that he had swindled Russian enterprise companions and should have been the sufferer of a “moist job” by both the CIA or the KGB.
Plus Ça Change . . .
When you suppose all the small print recounted above provide you with an excellent image of Karr’s life, guess once more—neither his 4 stormy marriages nor the varied theories in regards to the position he might have performed within the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy have been touched on. It’s exceptional how a lot dwelling the person packed into his 60 years, and it’s additionally an actual tribute to Klehr that The Millionaire Was a Soviet Mole is tightly organized and dispenses a torrent of knowledge with out managing to go away the reader confused. (I’ll confess that the e-book did ship me scrambling to Google a couple of instances for extra context on the 20th century notables and references it mentions.)
Ultimately, it’s one helluva life story, and Klehr judiciously stays out of the way in which and lets the details render judgment on Karr. Nonetheless they’re details that, as soon as once more, must trigger mainstream historians to reassess how they’ve persistently downplayed the Soviets’ attain into key U.S. establishments. And except for offering loads of perception into American communism, Karr’s shut associations with a number of high-flying mid-20th century figures are an excellent reminder that there’s nothing new beneath the solar. If the Trump period has ignited sudden and urgent considerations about overseas meddling in our politics, faux information, FBI surveillance, and the extent of belief we are able to put in our leaders and our establishments—effectively, most of the shenanigans described on this e-book make a persuasive and extremely entertaining case that issues have been worse.[ad_2]