Their star-light shone bright in the blackout
Like the beams of the usherette
But when the Big Bear bit deep after Yalta
There were those that came to forget.
They went out West for the screening
And they carried a sharp-tooth comb
In search of the double meaning
They were making the fur fly at home.
So get up! Go on! Grip that stand!
And press your hand to your heart
Big Mac is asking the questions
And this is only the start.
Now Mac came on hot and noisy
In his search for aid Uncle Joe
As he tracked him down to Tinsel Town
For Boise, Idaho.
And the folks that queued up for Coogan
Now queued up for the end of a myth
To sit open-mouthed at the newsreel
The night that Chaplin took the Fifth.
And the offers packed up for so many
Dropped like a Wurlitzer into the pit
And what we got for the pain was more John Wayne
And anything else that they saw fit.
Because when they needed to break resistance
And they could not go on using a fist
They took the cameras into the court-house
They circulated a list.
By the end of the 1940s and at the beginning of the 1950s America had resumed its cold war with the Soviet Union (“Big Bear”). Gone was the friendship with Josef Stalin (“Uncle Joe”) that had helped the Allied forces defeat Hitler. Sensing an opportunity to make a name for himself US Republican Senator Joseph Raymond McCarthy (“Big Mac”) hit on the idea of an anti-communism campaign. His portrayal of Communism as the supreme evil allowed his accusations of “disloyalty” to be incredibly effective.
During the early 1950s McCarthy, a master of the art of playing on people’s fears, set about ridding America of the supposed red menace at home. Blacklists, deportations, imprisonment, ruined careers and marriages were the order of the day, especially for non-Americans. Actors, writers, musicians, radio and television entertainers were targeted because of their prominence in society. The authorities took Hollywood’s (“Tinsel Town”) actors, directors and film script authors under special scrutiny. Many artists were taken to the chairman of the “House of Un-American Activities Committee”, there they looked for any ambiguities in their statements or liberal or left wing beliefs. To defend an accused was perceived as sharing the accused’s views.
Charlie Chaplin was never a member of the Communist Party and was never anti-American. He did however stand up for many different peoples with a good cause, including America’s allies the Russians during war. He did have an affinity for some Communist ideas on a humanitarian level. His 1936 film “Modern Times “was seen by some critics as an attack on capitalism. Life for Chaplin became unbearable in the States during the McCarthy witch hunts, in the atmosphere of paranoia McCarthy instigated Chaplin became a hate figure. He was eventually forced to leave America and spent the rest of his life living in Switzerland, returning to the US only once.
The song begins with an original speech clip from one of the sessions of the committee. The chairman calls for order and makes a swearing-in. An accused says: “You have spent one week vilifying me before the American public and you refuse to allow me to make a statement on my rights as an American citizen.”