Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Forgotten TV: I LED THREE LIVES



From Wikipedia

I LED THREE LIVES was loosely based on the life of Herbert Philbrick, a Boston advertising executive who infiltrated the U.S. Communist Party on behalf of the FBI in the 1940s and wrote a bestselling book on the topic, I Led Three Lives: Citizen, 'Communist', Counterspy (1952). The part of Philbrick was played by Richard Carlson.
I Led Three Lives lasted 117 episodes. Philbrick narrated each episode and served as a technical consultant — and all scripts were approved by J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Nonetheless, the episodes often had very little to do with the actual events of Philbrick's life, with plotlines taking Philbrick on journeys to Europe and South America. They gradually became more and more outlandish, featuring such supposed "Communist plots" as an attempt to convert vacuum cleaners into bomb launchers.

ILTL was on from 1953-56 and I barely remember it. I do remember that a nest of Communists was routed out of the house behind me when I was a child. The people who bought the house next became friends and it was fun to go down to their basement and see the knotty pine paneling, the bar, the furniture where these blackhearts had conducted their business. It was scary much as the show. 

THE AMERICANS has a bit of the feel of it, but of course, hindsight makes it much less shrill than it was when the red menace was part of our life. Any kid from the era remembers the world maps where the Communist bloc was all in red, and seemingly growing bigger every day. 

16 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I must admit I've never seen this one, although I've heard of it. Interesting that it was based on real events.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid this was before my time, though I've heard of it. If I was watching anything then it was Roy Rogers, Howdy Doody or Romper Room.


Jeff M.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Ah yes, the good old days, comrade - though frankly, doesn't feel all that different now really, does it?

Bill Crider said...

I remember this one well. Our family watched it every week.

George said...

Patti, you're right about the paranoia of those days. Commies were spawns of the Devil. And they seem to lurk under every bed!

John said...

"...a nest of Communists" Is that supposed to be ironic? I hope so. Or were those nasty Reds really using the paneled basement as a vacuum conversion laboratory? {cue the melodramatic music)

Richard said...

Same as Bill, the family wayched it every week. I liked Carlson in it.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes. meant as a reflection of the show's tone, John.

Ed Gorman said...

"The people who bought the house next became friends and it was fun to go down to their basement and see the knotty pine paneling, the bar, the furniture where these blackhearts had conducted their business."

--You are such a sweetie, Patti. I can picture you doing that.

As for the show...long before I knew he was a fraud and a very bad guy (I still don't believe he was a cross-dresser--that b.s. was to sell sleazy books) I did have an aversion to anything he was involved in. Mention of his name or the appearance of his face guaranteed that what was to follow would be BORING. A solid 10 on the Gorman Snore-O-Meter.

Walker Martin said...

One of my favorite shows as a kid. The atmosphere and plots emphasized paranoia and suspense. It's a wonder poor Carlson didn't put a bullet in his head. Many people back then really believed the saying, "Better dead than red".

pattinase (abbott) said...

I can still hear his voice to this day. Couldn't even play this clip in case he was on there. Boy, did they do a number on us.

Jerry House said...

Later in life Philbrick ran a general store in Rye Beach, New Hampshire. The main thing I remember being on sale there were copies of his book on which the television show was based. I never met him and never saw him, but seeing all those books on display gave me an overwhelming feeling of sadness, a feeling that here was a small man holding desperately onto a small, misguided, and eventually meaningless past. I still get that feeling of sadness when I think about the Fifties paranoia being transformed in somewhat different clothing to today's Washington.

pattinase (abbott) said...

We have been manipulated in so many ways, I fear.

Cap'n Bob said...

I watched it. The only episode that stuck with me is one in which Philbrick gets into an auto accident and is judged to be dead. He's fully awake and aware but can't move. Just as he's about to be loaded into the meat wagon someone notices a tear running down his face.

I also remember a MAD magazine title parody called I Fled Three Mice.

Todd Mason said...

Recall Bob Newhart's joke...paraphrase: "Hey, has anyone else noted that whenever anyone tells Philbrick anything, we all get arrested?"

I WAS A COMMUNIST FOR THE FBI was similarly insane on the radio side...

Todd Mason said...

The clip sounds like every bad corporate boss ever...So, you Don't want the promotion? Well, we thought you were a comer...