Chapter 12: Don’t Give Your Right Name!
After a long string of seemingly unconnected questions about my activities in Hollywood, it finally came out what they were driving at. "Look, Mr. Deitch, we don't have to beat around the bush. We have information that you held regular Communist Party meetings in your home." What? Now it all was clear.
In our slightly above-the-poverty-line existence after the war, my first wife and I, being intense jazz fans, had evolved a very cheap weekly social event. What extra money we had went for jazz records, very hard to come by in those days. Those were our substitute for cigarettes. We had a terrific collection of ancient 78 RPM jazz records, and a suitable pre-pre-stereo record player, so we started having Friday night kaffee-klatches and jazz record sessions. As I was then doing my jazz cartoons for The Record Changer magazine, I ran a small ad, reading, "all you CATS in the los angeles area... you're invited to marie & gene deitch's regular Friday night record sessions." At our little Hollywood bungalow on Westbourne Drive, my wife would whomp up a large pot of beans and weenies, and we brewed a tank of coffee. Everyone who came gave 50 cents to defray expenses, and contribute to our current favorite candidate - always a Democrat... We met a lot of new people that way. They were all fans of traditional jazz, but some were certainly political radicals, even communists. There was some political talk, especially having to do with Negro rights, because we were all champions of Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, and King Oliver.
So it was a great relief to realize what those generals and admirals had gotten a hold of. I tried to be jolly, and to patiently explain to them the essentials of the above true story. It went over like a lead balloon.
"Mr. Deitch, are you telling us that you allowed perfect strangers to come into your home?"
I could tell right away that these guys were definitely not jazz fans. How in the name of Buddy Bolden was I going to convince these men that we did exactly that; opened our house each week to perfect strangers, just to listen to jazz records, and not to plot the overthrow the U.S. Government by force and violence? I went over the story from every which way, trying to get them to understand a glimmer of what goes on in the heads of young jazz fanatics.
Even when they seemed on the verge of half-way believing me, they came on with the typical poison pill of that time: The List.
"We have a list here of those we suspect of being communist agitators, who regularly visited your home. Will you please look over this list carefully, and tell me which of them you knew?"
That was it. I expected that I was sunk. I glanced at the list, and sure enough, there were names I knew. I did my best not to react.
"Sirs, even if I might recognize some names on this list it wouldn't mean that I thought they were subversives. Even by saying I know someone could mean I was making some sort of accusation. I traveled here from Detroit at my own expense for the purpose of defending myself. I'm willing to talk about myself, even if I think that it is wrong that I must do so in order to save my career, but I am not willing to talk about anyone else."