From 1941 to 1950 Matt Cvetic successfully infiltrated and spied on the Communist Party of the United States on behalf of the FBI. While there were many others who did the same, what is unique about Cvetic is the speed with which his story became public knowledge. In July 1950, only months after he had surfaced at the end of a decade of spying, he featured in the TV show We the People while simultaneously serialising his account in the Saturday Evening Post. Cvetic’s story was also adapted for a popular and high-budget radio series in 1952.
However it is the Warner Bros. film version, released in 1951 and nominated for an Academy award for Best Documentary, that had the most impact. FBI files on the production show that they followed the production, release and reaction to the film quite closely. The file includes communications between the Bureau and the filmmakers, updates on its production, release information, reviews and details of Cvetic’s movements and activities.
The FBI had no official role in making the film despite attempts by the filmmakers to enlist their help. The filmmakers were not the only ones: after the film’s release it proved very popular, and various theatre owners wrote to the Bureau asking for assistance in promoting the film (the requests were refused). The files also include correspondence from ordinary members of the public who were also so impressed by the film that they too asked the FBI for advice on how to help promote it. Other letters simply express their admiration for the Bureau and its work.
One letter in particular from a theatre in Kokomo, Indiana even included a faked telegram appearing to have been sent from FBI director J Edgar Hoover. The sender requested that Hoover send the telegram back to him so he could have it blown up and used as promotional material. Hoover declined the request:
When the radio show began broadcasting in 1952 the FBI got another flurry of correspondence along similar lines. However, one document is particularly amusing. In March 1953 following one episode an irate and suspicious listener called the FBI to complain, claiming he was a friend of Hoover. He said that in his opinion the episode was a ‘recorded program’ that ‘does not follow the script as originally written’. How he would know this was not explained. The caller expanded on this, saying that the show ‘is not giving the United States any break’ and that he wanted the FBI to check the script. He concluded by saying that ‘the program is obviously infiltrated’.
It is clear from the FBI’s reponse that they did not take the caller seriously:
You can download the FBI’s file on the adaptations of I Was a Communist for the FBI here (PDF 4.5MB).