Zero Mostel testifies before HUAC (1955)

In October 1955 the American actor and comedian Zero Mostel testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Mostel’s political views were left wing. In 1952 he was denounced to HUAC as a member of the Communist Party and blacklisted. When Mostel appeared before HUAC in 1955 he defended his right to privacy and political freedom:

Questioner: “You are in a great field of entertainment of the American public. From now on why don’t you get far removed from groups that are known to be communist dominated, or communist controlled… Why don’t you get so far away from them that the American public will never have any possible claim to think you ever were or ever in the future are a member of the Communist Party?” …

Mostel: “My dear friend, I believe in the antiquated idea that a man works in his profession according to his ability rather than his political beliefs. When I entertain, my political beliefs are not spouted. As a matter of fact, I am casual about my political beliefs, which I wouldn’t tell anybody unless you are my friend and you are in my house.

Questioner: “I am not asking about your political beliefs”…

Mostel: “My dear friend, I believe in the idea that a human being should go on the stage and entertain to the best of his ability and whatever he wants to say, because we live, I hope, in an atmosphere of freedom in this country.”

Questioner: “That’s right, and we will fight for your right to think as you please and be as you please and do as you please, provided you do it within the four corners of the Constitution. Don’t you think it is our duty as a great entertainer to at least find out hereafter where the money you help raise is going… to some subversive cause against the constitutional form of government in our nation?”…

Mostel: “I appreciate your opinion very much… I still stand on my grounds, and maybe it is unwise and unpolitic for me to say this… What if I did an imitation of a butterfly at rest? There is no crime in making anybody laugh…”

Questioner: “If your interpretation of a butterfly at rest brought any money into the coffers of the Communist Party, you contributed directly to the propaganda effort of the Communist Party. Now that is where it is important.”

Mostel: “Suppose I had the urge to do the butterfly at rest somewhere?”

Questioner: “Yes, but please, when you have the urge, don’t have the urge to put the butterfly at rest by putting some money in the Communist Party coffers as a result of that urge to put the butterfly at rest. Put the bug to rest somewhere else next time.”