1958 June 19

Joe Papp, Future Theater Great, Takes Fifth Before HUAC; Is Fired by CBS

 

Joe Papp, later famous as an innovator in American theater, was a stage manager for CBS television in the 1950s. When he took the Fifth Amendment before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), CBS on this day fired him. Supported by his union, Papp appealed the firing and an arbitrator ordered him reinstated, on November 12, 1958.

Papp later became one of the most important figures in American theater, and was the founder of the Public Theater and Shakespeare in the Park, both in New York City.

Because so many people refused to testify before HUAC and other investigating bodies regarding their political beliefs and associations, the term “Fifth Amendment Communists” arose as a derogatory label. In 1954 a national controversy arose over the issue, and there were calls to amend the Fifth Amendment. The Dean of Harvard Law School spoke out in defense of the Fifth Amendment on February 5, 1954. But on August 20, 1954, President Eisenhower signed a new law empowering congressional investigators to compel testimony from reluctant witnesses in return for a grant of immunity from prosecution.

Read: Helen Epstein, Joe Papp: An American Life (1994)

Honor Joe Papp by spending an evening Joe’s Pub at the NYC Public Theater: http://www.joespub.com/

Learn more about Joe Papp:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Cn2L6CTcvI

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