Like many of his peers in comic book publishing, Lev Gleason was a staunch supporter of liberal, even leftist, causes. Unlike most of them, though, he was suspected of having been a full-fledged Communist Party member. Those same peers mostly came from hard-scrabble, immigrant Jewish beginnings. Gleason’s upbringing was the polar opposite.
Unless otherwise footnoted, all italicized quotations used come from the Federal Bureau of Investigation files on Leverett Stone Gleason I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Information taken from the documents provided by the FBI is presented exactly as it is appears in the originals, misspellings and typos included. The only exceptions occur whenever illegible wording is completed by my best guess at the intended word. In those cases, my wording appears in parentheses. -- Ken Quattro )
Though he downplayed it later on, Edgar made his mark by rounding up the Bolsheviks. He wasn’t long out of law school, working for the Justice Department, when he was tapped to head the new General Intelligence Division. Starting in November, 1919, his agents began their raids on the bomb-throwers, the anarchists who made a jittery post-War America fearful it would go the way of Russia. They started with the Communists, a loosely defined target that included anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of a meeting hall. Thousands were arrested, a couple hundred were eventually deported.
Edgar moved on, moved up. Prohibition created a new class of organized criminal activity. The media created Robin Hoods out of common criminals. He had to get that under control, re-instill order and respect for the law. Then came the damned Nazis and another war.
But he still had his eye on those Communists.
John Edgar Hoover at his desk. (Dec. 22, 1924)
[image obtained from the Library of Congress]
The teachings of Communism are directed toward one final result—world revolution and the triumph of international Communism. The achievement of this aim would mean the violent and complete destruction of the American Government. -- J. Edgar Hoover 1
“Date: December 16, 1943
To: SAC, NEW YORK
From: J. Edgar Hoover -- Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Subject: LEVERETT S. GLEASON
INTERNAL SECURITY -- C”
The Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the New York office knew that any correspondence from the Director was serious. That Hoover himself took a personal interest gave the subject the highest priority.
“The Bureau has noted that the above-captioned individual and his wife have recently attended the Convention of the Federation of Organizations for the Aid of Spanish Republicans held in Mexico City from August 21 to 23, 1943. Gleason was designated as a delegate from New York representing the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee.”
First page of Leverett S. Gleason's FBI file
There was a familiar name. That organization had been on the Bureau’s radar for a while. Particularly after that messy business when Helen Keller quit as honorary national chairman of their American Rescue Ship Mission back in early ‘41. As it said in the NEW YORK TIMES article, “Miss Keller has been investigating the evidence that she had been used as a front for controlling figures more interested in communism than in the avowed purpose of the ship mission to rescue Spanish republican refugees from France.” 2 They should have suspected something was up when Mrs. Roosevelt quietly resigned from the mission back in December 1940, stating, “there are other groups serving the same purpose with which I would be happier to be affiliated.” 3
Gleason was named in that same article. No surprise that he eventually came to the Director’s attention.
“Other information in the possession of the Bureau indicates that Gleason formerly served as the Circulation Manager of “Friday“ in 1940 and that he was listed as the Editor and Publisher of “Inside of Russia,“ the sale of which latter publication was sponsored by the Worker’s Book Store in New York City.”
FRIDAY vol. 1, #1 (March 15, 1940)
[image courtesy of Michael Feldman]
Of course, the SAC knew about FRIDAY as well. Dan Gillmor’s left-wing version of LIFE MAGAZINE. The Bureau had Gillmor broomed from the Office of the Coordinator of Information for being a suspected Red. If guilt by association counted for anything, Gleason was immediately suspicious.
“For your further information there is attached a photostatic copy of a report dated November 9, 1942, which the Bureau received from the War Department. In view of this subject’s presence in Mexico it would appear that he has since been discharged from the Army.
Your office should immediately open a case on Gleason and conduct a thorough investigation to develop fully all information concerning his Communist activities and connections and any possible connections he might have with the international organization of the Party.”
Despite the urgency stressed in this line, it took a while to get the requested information about Gleason; a little too long for Hoover’s satisfaction. One reminder letter was sent in February, 1944, followed by another, more direct missive from the Director on May 6th.
“The Bureau’s files fail to disclose the submission by your office of a report on the above-captioned subject as requested by Bureau letters dated December 16, 1943 and February 21, 1944. This matter should be given prompt attention and a report submitted in the near future.”
This time it took the SAC only four days to comply.
The report contained Gleason’s basic biographical data. Born in Winchendon, Massachusetts on February 25, 1898 (though the file incorrectly had it as 1897) attended Harvard 1916-17, served in the U.S. Army 1917-1919.
Nothing radical in any of that. Nothing to explain how he may have come to be a Communist.
To an outsider, Leverett Stone Gleason was confounding.
He was the son of wealthy physician, Dr. Mardis E. Gleason, whose deep New England roots can be traced back to the early 1600s. Eldest son Leverett graduated from Newton (Mass.) High School in 1915, before moving on to the exclusive Phillips Academy boarding school in Andover--hardly the breeding ground for potential revolutionaries. Briefly, from 1916 until early 1917, Gleason attended Harvard University. Then, on April 26, 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.
THE PHILLIPS BULLETIN (Oct. 1916)
From February of 1918 until the war’s end on November 11th of that year, Gleason saw action numerous times at the front as a driver with the 110th Field Artillery. While still in the military, and although he was only a Private First Class, he was detailed to Paris for a four-month course “in letters” at the Sorbonne, before being discharged on September 4, 1919.
Lev (as he was familiarly known) eventually found employment as a salesman for the Charles P. Dow & Company investment bank in Boston. But, like the song of the period asked: "How 'ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?". Gleason returned to France for a vacation in August, 1921 and didn’t return until April of 1922.
Emerging from the ruinous War to End All Wars, Paris of the 1920s was the epicenter of radical thought. Home to the Lost Generation and the Dadaists; artists and writers crowding the smoky Left Bank cafes, rubbing elbows with like-minded émigrés from the world over. Lenin himself spent four years in the French capital a decade earlier.
Did this environment help shape young Gleason’s life philosophy?
“From 1922 until 1942, GLEASON was employed as magazine editor and publisher at Comic House, Incorporated, 114 East 32nd Street, New York City, at a weekly salary of $150.”
The FBI’s case file on Gleason may have had the beginning date wrong, but they were right about his connection to Comic House. Of course, it wasn’t as simple as that; nothing in comic book publishing was ever that clear cut. No mention of Arthur Bernhard, his partner in publishing, or the several name changes the company had undergone. And consider Lev’s reported salary--about the same amount that could be earned by an industrious artist working for him. Being true to his egalitarian beliefs, Gleason believed in profit sharing with his employees, likely keeping his own income low.
As their unnamed informant detailed, Gleason had been knocking around the publishing industry for a while.
“Subject further admitted to [name redacted] that he had spent most of his adult life in Eastern United States, or in the vicinity of New York City, and had been engaged in the publishing business. He stated that he had served on the staff of the “National Sportsman”, a sporting magazine, and for nine years had been employed by the “Open Road for Boys”.
Lev had been advertising manager there. By the mid-Thirties, as his file noted, “…(Gleason) had been employed by the Eastern Color Printing Company and the United Features Syndicate…”. It was while working at Eastern under sales manager Harry Wildenberg that Gleason became exposed to the comic book industry. In fact, Wildenberg and Lev’s fellow salesman, Max Gaines, jousted in print for years over claims to having invented the modern comic book.
It’s likely that the Bureau didn‘t have many comic book fans, as the file duly noted such Gleason publications as, “…“Boy Comics”, “Silver Streak Comics”, “Dare Devil”, [sic] “Crime Doesn’t Pay,” [sic] and “Scoop Detective Cases”. (The last title was a crime magazine and not a comic.) It’s apparent, though, that the agent putting the file together had made a very recent trip to the newsstand. The very first issue of CRIME DOES NOT PAY (#22, replacing the canceled SILVER STREAK) had just come out, but still made it into his report.
Their informant wasn‘t much of a comic fan either.
“According to [name redacted], the publishing of the cheap pulp paper type comic booklets is a common practice and is considered a racket in the publishing fraternity in New York as little capital is needed to engage in this type of business, which is not highly regarded by reputable publishers.”
Bob Wood, Lev Gleason and Charles Biro publicity photo
A brief listing of Gleason’s publishing efforts follows.
“…he has produced a cheap publication, known as “Picture Digest” and has also published a magazine known as “Burlesque” [sic] emphasizing “leg art”. GLEASON is also known to have published a magazine “Friday” and to have published a booklet entitled “The Truth About the Red Army” which dealt with the Soviet Military Machine.”
BURLESK #1 (Aug. 1942)
[courtesy of Frank Motler]
Nothing new there. The Director had noted some of these in his initial letter. The file then gets more personal.
“Regarding subject’s habits and activities, [name redacted] was unable to furnish any derogatory information but stated that in his conversations he appeared to be above average in intelligence, liberal in his views an sincere in his feeling against Totalitarian forms of Government. GLEASON, by his conversation, indicated to [name redacted] that he is pro-Labor and is impartial to capitalism and that he advocates the (advance)ment of the under-privileged. [name redacted] further states (that) the subject speaks, reads and writes French fairly well.”
Then it starts in on Gleason’s involvement with the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC).
“[name redacted] indicated that a chapter letter, addressed to the Communist Party, Baltimore, Maryland, on May 5, 1943, signed by FELIX KUSMAN, of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, indicated that after the above-mentioned letter had referred to the work done by the Committee to bring about release of prisoners in Spain and France, it stated that LEVERETT S. GLEASON, a member of the Board of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, together with Miss Bryan, Executive Secretary, visited the State Department, “last week”.
A heavily redacted paragraph follows and contains these damning lines.
“ [name redacted] further advised that the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee is almost entirely Communist controlled, Communist managed and Communist backed. It‘s purpose is to bring about the release of Spanish political prisoners in Europe and to provide transportation to this country to carefully selected and capable organizers for use in the United States by the Communist Party.”
The Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee had been controversial since its inception. It had grown out of the original Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign (SRRC), a broad-based, liberal-leaning organization founded in 1936 to aid the beleaguered Loyalists in their struggle against the Fascist-backed insurgents of general Francisco Franco.
Spanish Refugee Relief Campaign poster (1939)
While the original organization enjoyed popular, high-level support (President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes, was its honorary chairman) and numbered many well-known artists and intellectuals among its members, it eventually came under the scrutiny of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, chaired by Martin Dies.
Internal squabbling and pressure from governmental inquiries into suspected Communist infiltration of the SRRC led to a split in March, 1940, and the formation of the United American Spanish Aid Committee, which evolved into the JAFRC.
In September, 1941, Gleason and his new wife Margaret, moved from their apartment at 15 W. 106th Street in Harlem, to the bucolic lifestyle offered by Chappaqua. This Westchester County hamlet within the larger town of New Castle, had at one time been the home of another publisher, Horace “Go West, young man!” Greeley.
Chappaqua was a curious choice of residence for Lev. Not only was the upscale enclave far removed from the common men he championed, it was also the home base of READER’S DIGEST and a bastion of the Republican party.
Despite being what yet another unnamed source called, “…a person who is very important in Communist circles,” Gleason kept a low profile. Usually.
On July 21, 1943, Gleason addressed a letter to the editor of the local Chappaqua, New York newspaper, the NEW CASTLE TRIBUNE. In it, Lev responded to a statement made by Justice Hamilton Hicks, chairman of the town’s American Legion Post’s Committee on Americanism. Justice Hicks had commented on the ignorance of American children exhibited in a Legion sponsored essay contest, noting that some, “…had so slight a conception of the meaning of free government that they thought Russia is a republic.”
“Regardless of how one may feel toward our Russian ally,” wrote Gleason, “I think that the truth will stand on its own feet and that little is to be gained by distortion. I dread to think of the future of education if the children are to be told that the Soviet Union is not a republic.”
Gleason goes on to cite specific articles of the Soviet Constitution that reaffirm his contention. Further, he avers that, “The Constitution also guarantees by law freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of street processions and demonstrations, as well, of course, as freedom of religious worship.”
“If the Soviet Union,” he writes in closing, “regardless of what virtues or faults one wishes to credit it with, is not a republic, what in heaven’s name is it?”
Lev’s impassioned defense of what he saw as an attack on the Soviet Union, drew public attention; likely more than he had bargained for.
Hicks responded with his own letter to the editor. After first castigating Gleason for being either, “…a victim of such ignorance or one of its promoters,” Hicks writes, “The report criticized by Mr. Gleason states that none of the students who entered the essay contest knew that the United States is a republic and that none understood that our freedom depends largely on our republican form of government, Mr. Gleason makes no comment on this shocking condition. It does not interest him. He is only interested in defending Russia from the implication that Russia is not a republic…”.
Gleason responds with one more volley in the August 20th TRIBUNE.
“…frankly I do not believe that, by and large, American school children are unaware that the U.S.A. is a republic. I think they know our country is a republic, love it deeply and fully appreciate its significance when they repeat: ‘I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands.’ Ours is an excellent school system, the teachers are of a high character, very capable instructors, and I believe personally the present crop of youngsters is about the best informed n all our history. Sorry, Mr. Hicks, I am interested, but I am not disturbed about the students.”
“I am, however, disturbed about you, for you apparently wish to instruct the children that our Russian ally is not a republic. You answer me with quotations intended to prove that Russia is not democratic. This, of course is a different point altogether. Great Britain, for example, is a democracy--yet it is not a republic. The terms are not synonymous. For the sake of the young students, let us not confuse terms. Though, be assured, I am perfectly willing to uphold the argument that the Soviet Union is not republic--but democratic as well.”
Lev goes on for a bit before finally asking that, “We might well refrain from criticisms of our allies at this time, if only for selfish reasons, and I for one believe that closer understanding of, and friendship for, our allies, together with ever stronger unity at home, are the first patriotic requirements of the hour.”
In spite of his closing appeal to patriotism, Gleason’s public debate mainly drew suspicion to him. The FBI interviewed several residents of Chappaqua, beginning with Lev’s aforementioned sparring partner, Justice Hicks.
Hicks, however, could provide little. While he didn’t know Gleason personally, Hicks mentioned that, “he believes that GLEASON is enrolled as a member of the American Labor Party,” and nothing more.
The New Castle Chief of Police concurred. Chief Lester Romaine, “…stated that GLEASON had never been reported to him as a Communist nor had he received any indications that GLEASON was a member of any subversive organization.” Obligingly, he also checked to see if Lev had any local criminal record. He had none.
An anonymous source at the Westchester Lighting Company provided that Gleason moved into his home on Park Drive on September 26, 1941. The name redacted source at the New York Telephone Company agreed with that date. Mundane stuff.
A detailed accounting of his personal banking information was supplied by yet another unnamed person at Chappaqua National Bank. No suspicious transactions, but there were several checks from Comic House and Magazine House.
Even his mail was checked, as the Bureau recorded the names and addresses of all mail he received for several months in early 1944.
The paucity of incriminating information regarding Gleason is reflected the “Undeveloped Leads” assigned to both the Washington, DC and New York FBI field offices. While Washington confined their searches to State Department files, New York laid out an ambitious plan.
“Will contact the officials of the “National Sportsman” and discreetly obtain information regarding the past activities of subject.”
“Will similarly contact officials of the “Open Road for Boys”.
“Will similarly contact the officials of “Eastern Color Printing Company”.
And so on.
The Bureau apparently intended to interview virtually everyone Gleason had ever worked for, associated with or passed on the street.
“Will, if feasible, discreetly contact reliable individuals in the vicinity of 114 East 32nd Street, New York City, subject’s place of business, and obtain from them information relative to his activities and associates.”
They also planned to photograph Lev, check his phone records, and go through his garbage.
“Will, if feasible, obtain trash coverage of subject’s place of employment at 114 East 32nd Street.”
Gleason’s home life would be scrutinized as well. A “confidential informant” would keep an eye on his activities, his mail would still be monitored and they would, “…through suitable pretext or other discreet methods, attempt to obtain a photograph of subject.”
The drought of information was broken in September, 1944, when Gleason formed a political action committee to reelect President Roosevelt and mass-mailed a letter to his fellow Chappaquans.
“We plan an active campaign to roll up the largest possible Roosevelt vote in this Republican stronghold,“ he wrote, “We can, by hard work, pile up several hundred additional Roosevelt votes in our district.”
The Bureau sent an informant to cover the first meeting.
In the report of the meeting followed, the informant detailed every speaker’s words and noted that Gleason was elected President of the PAC.
While noting that “about 35 persons were present at the meeting,” and that, “most of them there were well educated and well dressed. Many were dark and of swarthy appearance,” nothing subversive was discussed. Still, the informant provided a list of automobile license plates near the meeting hall.
Months of following undeveloped leads went by. Finally, on March 14, 1945, Director Hoover received a teletype headed, “URGENT”, from the New York field office.
Gleason had mentioned to Helen Bryan (a possible informant?), executive secretary of JAFRC, that he had an appointment with Walter Winchell, the powerful newspaper columnist and radio commentator.
Although Winchell was a close friend of Hoover’s and a avowed anti-Communist, he was also a fan of Gleason’s muckraking digest, READER’S SCOPE.
The potentially explosive combination apparently set off alarms at the Bureau.
Walter Winchell, J. Edgar Hoover & Al Jolson
On May 5, 1945, a report was filed at the Bureau that collected a number of leads related to Gleason.
While not directly attributing any Communist activity to Lev, the report does present information that appears to link him to the Party.
The fact that Gleason was editor of READER’S SCOPE and that the magazine published articles by “known Communists”, was apparently of note.
So, too, was the DAILY WORKER article of March 23, 1943, that told of Gleason and publishing partner Arthur Bernhard’s presentation of the Reader’s Scope Award, “to the American who had made the year’s most outstanding contribution to the fight against native Fascists and the threat of Fascism in America.”
A clipping from the NEW CASTLE TRIBUNE dated April 6, 1945, covered the first meeting of Gleason’s newly formed Chappaqua Community Council, held in his home. Gleason moderated a panel discussion which concerned the sensitive topic, “The Obstacles to Permanent Peace”. This was a subject frequently featured in leftist magazines of the period, as it propounded the need for America and the USSR to continue as allies after the coming defeat of Hitler.
Among the panelists invited to talk was Lement U. Harris, an unabashed Communist. If Gleason was hoping to avoid the FBI’s attention, he was picking the wrong friends.
However, with leads leading nowhere and nothing substantially incriminating, the SAC of the New York field office sent this memo to Director Hoover on July 2, 1945.
“A review of the file fails to disclose that the subject is of sufficient importance in the Communist Movement to warrant the continued designation of a key figure. Therefore, he is being deleted from the New York Key Figure List. A Security Index Card on the subject is being maintained.
“The undeveloped leads in this case are not being covered and the case is being marked closed, subject to being reopened if any information is received in the future to warrant such action.”
And within six months, the Bureau reopened Lev’s file.
Lev’s Chappaqua Community Council was drawing bad publicity in the community. A number of speakers invited by him carried leftist credentials and unfavorable coverage of the council’s meetings in the NEW CASTLE TRIBUNE led Gleason to create his own competing paper, the NEW CASTLE NEWS.
The newspaper, which premiered on November 1, 1945, reflected Gleason’s personal leanings. One of his columnists, Johannes Steele, was singled out for mention in the Bureau report for supporting among other things, “that the atomic bomb secret should be given to Russia.”
The tension between Gleason’s paper and the community manifested in a Halloween night act of vandalism. Someone smeared the words, “Jews” and “Communist” on the window of the NEW CASTLE NEWS office. While police chief Romaine assured the Bureau that it was the action of “several young boys”, Gleason printed a photo of the offensive graffiti along with a photo from pre-War Germany with a similar window scrawled with the word, “Jude”.
According to the report, Gleason, “made a comparison of the smearing of his newspaper office windows to the action of the Fascists in Germany smearing the store windows of Jews prior to the war. He also wrote an editorial on this matter, stating that the individuals who smeared his newspaper windows were undoubtedly Fascists.”
As the war ended, the Bureau’s attention became more overtly directed at the perceived threat of homegrown Communists.
“An article appeared in the “New York Telegram” on December 11, 1945 by FREDERICK WOLTMAN, World Telegram Staff Writer, stating that LEVERETT S. GLEASON intends to act as promoter and publisher of a new monthly magazine entitled “Salute”, due to be published in February 1946.”
Gleason’s involvement with SALUTE had been public knowledge, reported in numerous articles leading up to its publication. A NEW YORK TIMES article of March 3, 1946, was typical, citing the YANK and STARS AND STRIPES credits of its editors and writers.
“Most of the contributors to the fifteen-cent monthly will be veterans whose names are familiar to soldier readers of the two Army publications.” 4
Woltman, however, had a totally different take on Gleason and the staff.
“WOLTMAN, in his article, sets out background information of GLEASON alleging that he has been known as a pro-Communist fellow traveller [sic] in the past.”
Woltman notes Gleason’s connection to FRIDAY and READER’S SCOPE, “…a magazine which closely follows the Communist Party Line.”
“It is pointed out here,” the report goes on, “that the foreign editor of “Reader’s Scope” is JOHANNES STEELE previously reported as a pro-Soviet radio commentator.”
“Woltman’s article also sets out the fact that GLEASON became one of the five directors of the “Peoples Radio Foundation”…”.
People’s Radio was a proposed network of FM radio stations with a leftist lean and an illustrious group of supporters.
Along with Lev, charter members included Charlie Chaplin, Rockwell Kent, Langston Hughes and Howard Fast. In April, 1946, the FCC denied the People’s Radio application for a license to broadcast in New York City.
“Information received from [name redacted] indicates that GLEASON is closely associated with ALEXANDER L. TRACHTENBERG, head of “International Publishers”, official Communist book publisher. GLEASON and TRACHTENBERG have on a number of occasions discussed publication projects of the Communist Party. Also information received from [names redacted] indicates that GLEASON and [name redacted] are rather closely associated and on occasion confer regarding political matters pertaining to Communist Party policies.”
The latest Bureau report coincided (but probably not coincidentally) with the most public scrutiny yet of Gleason. On April 4, 1946, the House of Representatives Committee on Un-American Activities (HCUA) began its investigation into “Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States”. One of its targets was JAFRC and as a consequence of his membership on its executive board, Lev Gleason.
Gleason and 17 other members of the JAFRC had been subpoenaed to testify before the HCUA concerning their refusal to produce records and papers previously requested by the investigating body. JAFRC’s chairman, Dr. Edward Barsky, have already appeared before the HCUA empty-handed, stating that the executive board had agreed unanimously to deny the House committee’s request.
Ernie Adamson, HCUA’s counsel, questioned Gleason about his part in the meeting wherein the executive board members reported denied to produce the records.
“MR. ADAMSON: I want to ask you if you participated in that meeting either by personal attendance or proxy or by telephone?
MR. GLEASON: I was not present at the meeting. By telephone I voted with the majority.
MR. ADAMSON: And you voted to withhold the record from the committee?
MR. GLEASON: No, I did not. That was not the question that was asked.” 5
Gleason contended that the only question asked was whether custodianship of JAFRC’s records should be changed from Helen Bryan, the executive secretary, to Dr. Barsky. Lev resolutely adhered to this position, denying that he ever voted to refuse the records to HCUA or that he personally had the capacity to produce those records. Representative Karl Mundt was suspicious.
“MR. MUNDT: What are you trying to conceal?
MR. GLEASON: We are not trying to conceal anything.
MR. MUNDT: It seems to me that there is a strange, stubborn conflict between your testimony and that which Dr. Barsky gave, his sworn testimony before this committee when he was here.” 6
Dr. Edward Barsky (1937)
[image obtained from the Library of Congress
Barsky had previously testified that, “…the board of directors, the executive board had the ultimate authority to produce the records,” 7 apparently contradicting Gleason’s own words.
Mundt had inadvertently touched upon an internal dispute within the JAFRC that would soon manifest itself publicly.
The very next day, the JAFRC ran a full page ad in the NEW YORK TIMES.
NEW YORK TIMES (April 5, 1946)
The public appeal failed to garner sufficient support within Congress. On April 17th, by a split of 292 to 56, the House voted to cite Gleason and 16* other members of the JAFRC for contempt. The accused fought in court to get the charges dismissed, to no avail. On March 31, 1947, they were finally indicted by a District grand jury and on July 16, 1947, they received their punishments.
Dr. Barsky received the stiffest sentence: six months in prison and a $500 fine. Ten others, including writer Howard Fast, Gleason’s collaborator on the Tito booklet, received three months in jail and the same fine. Lev got off a bit easier.
THE INCREDIBLE TITO, MAN OF THE HOUR (1944)
by Howard Fast and published by Gleason
[despite the hyperbolic title, it's not a comic book]
“Five of the original sixteen defendants were fined $500 each, and received also three-month suspended sentences. They had told the court that they had resigned from the committee and desired to purge themselves of the contempt.”
“Among them were Herman Shumlin, Hollywood and Broadway theatrical producer, and Leverett Gleason, publisher of the magazine, “Reader’s Scope”.” 8
* While 17 seem to have been originally indicted for contempt, it appears only 16 made it to conviction.
The Bureau report of July 3, 1946 contained their latest revelation.
“The title of this report is being changed to reflect the addition of the subject’s nickname LEV GLEASON.”
Details of Gleason’s past were gradually being revealed, in large part due to a biographical piece that ran in the New York City “negro weekly” , PEOPLE’S VOICE, on August 5, 1944.
“Gleason is a tall, New Englander,” wrote journalist, Ted Zitel, “a veteran of both World Wars, a fast thinker, who has been a stock broker, a Broadway restaurateur, a comic book publisher, as well as a publisher of other fast selling paper covered books…”.
The agent compiling the Bureau’s report summarized, “The article stated that many years ago GLEASON worked in a stock exchange firm editing its monthly paper to the clients but that he was very unhappy in this job; that a fellow employee of his shared his dislike and together they planned to leave, this fellow employee being WALTER PIDGEON, the screen actor.”
The agent also gleaned a possible reason for Gleason’s social consciousness from the same article.
“According to the article, GLEASON was a Bostonian whose maternal grandfather and the person for whom he was named, LEVERETT G. E. STONE, devoted much of his fortitude and energies to the abolitionist movement in the border states of Kentucky and Ohio. The article stated that his (grand)father Dr. AARON GLEASON, a sergeant in the United States Army during the Civil War, retired to New Hampshire where for many years after the war he devoted much of his practice to the free treatment of negro veterans.”
Another article was cited, from the DAILY WORKER of December 17, 1944, that named Lev as one of the five directors of the People’s Radio Foundation, “…a community type FM station in which trade unions, peoples organizations and progressive leaders in religious, civic, fraternal and community life could participate and guide the policies of programs and services.”
This surprisingly even-handed tone was suddenly reversed with the cold conclusion, “PEOPLE’S RADIO FOUNDATION INC. is known to the New York Field Office to be a Communist front project.”
According to one of the Bureau’s unnamed informants, Gleason apparently showed some reluctance when it came to funding the JAFRC.
Gleason, he stated, “…has been long a financial angel for numerous Communist front organizations and projects in New York City.”
“…GLEASON gave him a song and dance about how many thousands of dollars he had raised for the Spanish Appeal Committee during the previous period. According to [name redacted] GLEASON claimed he had for the time being exhausted his contacts.”
The Bureau report went on to summarize the Frederick Woltman article that had referred to Gleason as, “a pro-Communist fellow traveller [sic]”. One of their informants had more to add.
“ [name redacted] advised that on December 16, 1945 that GLEASON told ALBERT E. KAHN…that he was suing FREDERICK WOLTMAN of the NEW YORK WORLD-TELEGRAM for the article previously mentioned.”
Gleason brought a libel suit against Woltman and the NEW YORK WORLD-TELEGRAM for $500,000.
Frederick Woltman had been at the WORLD-TELEGRAM since 1929, when he was fired from his career as a philosophy instructor at the University of Pittsburgh. He was accused of being a Communist for an article he had written condemning police brutality during a coal strike.
Over time, Woltman’s world view swung rightwards and he began to specialize in reporting upon Communist infiltration of labor and political organizations.
At about the same time Gleason was suing him, the WORLD-TELEGRAM was publishing a series of articles Woltman wrote under the umbrella title of, “Exposing Communist Infiltration”. In May, 1947, he won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting based upon that series.
The attacks on Gleason were coming from all sides. Congressman George Dondero derided Lev and his latest publication in the March 15, 1946, WORLD-TELEGRAM.
Dondero, noted the FBI report,“…officially accused “SALUTE” magazine of being an insidious hoax and a means by the Communist Party of infiltrating into “veterans organizations and to incite veterans against our government.”. Representative DONDERO said the magazine in its first issue “followed the Communist line to the letter”.
Apparently, Gleason refused to back down and hide. To make his case, he chose the editorial page of his NEW CASTLE NEWS to use as his bully pulpit. The March 28, 1946, edition of the paper contained his words under the title, “Playing With Our Children’s Lives”, and according the compiling agent, he condemned the, “…evil men in our country and other lands” who were conspiring to risk another world war in order that “they and their interests might become enriched”.
An article in PRINTER’S INK dated May 2, 1946, castigated Congress for what they deemed the Un-American acts of the HCUA, an article which Gleason quoted in an editorial a week later.
His editorial of May 16th, though, confronted the whispers head on.
“GLEASON was the writer of another editorial which appeared in the NEW CASTLE NEWS for May 16, 1946 entitled “DON’T BELIEVE RUMORS”. In this editorial he talked about the “Communist threat in New Castle Township. He said that his community was the least likely in the whole country where Communism could take root. He said he seriously doubted whether the Communist Party had ever heard of Chappaqua and that he was certain it had no concern for the affairs of this township.”
The Bureau report further noted, “He pointed out that under American laws any citizen may be a Communist if he chose but he doubted that in all New Castle Communists would number one tenth of one percent of the population. GLEASON declared that it was an easy though cowardly device to shout “Communist” at anyone and everyone with whom one disagreed…”.
The report ended with the “Undeveloped Leads” to-do list in Chappaqua for the New York Field Office .
“Will follow and report subject’s activities in Communist Party affairs.”
A redacted copy of Lev’s local draft board application from April, 1942, was contained in the next Bureau report of January 17, 1947. The additional personal data to be gleaned from it indicates that Gleason stated a yearly income of $7,500 from his various publishing ventures. Furthermore, in 1939, he was the proprietor of a “tavern“.
The tavern in question was named Kent’s, an eatery lauded by columnist L. L. Stevenson in his May 16, 1939 column, “Lights of New York“.
“A newspaper man going into the restaurant business being something of a bit out of the ordinary, stopped for dinner at Kent’s where Leverett Gleason, who used to edit comic pages, is one of the two impresarios. Found the food of such excellence and the company so congenial that we lingered late, the fact that prices are modest despite the Broadway location, also possessing appeal.” 9
For a period of less than a year, Lev’s restaurant at 1677 Broadway hosted such typically bourgeois gatherings as theater afterglow parties and art showings before he apparently called it quits.
He was also paying alimony to his ex-wife, Marie, totaling $1,550 per year.
The Bureau report dated February 19, 1947, divulged that Lev had married Margaret, reportedly his second wife, on September 20, 1941, before a Justice of the Peace in Stamford, Connecticut.
Leaving no stone unturned, this information led to the next “Undeveloped Leads” request for the New York Field Division to “secure appropriate data concerning her parents”.
A March 18, 1947, report dug even deeper into Gleason’s affairs. And into his personal mail.
“ [name redacted] advised on December 12, 1946, that a letter addressed to LEVERETT GLEASON, c/o the NEW CASTLE NEWS, Chappaqua, New York, was postmarked Islington, Mass., on December 9, 1946, bearing the return address of [name redacted] Islington, Mass.
The letter stated:
I’ve got the dope on Wally and will leave the stuff with Welen’s. Will see you in the store 9 A.M. Saturday, December 14; Be there.
The informant advised that WELEN’S is a drug store and stationary store located in Chappaqua and the Informant offered the opinion that the subject probably was meeting someone there each Saturday morning. Regarding the individual termed as “Wally” in the letter, the Informant also offered the opinion that this might refer either HENRY WALLACE former Vice-President and Secretary of Commerce, or [name redacted].”
Unknown to Gleason and most other Americans, the FBI had been performing “mail covers” for a number of years. Post office employees were led to believe that this just entailed the copying of names, addresses and postmarks off envelopes, but in actuality, there was more to it.
A select group of FBI agents were schooled in undetectable mail-opening techniques. This program, designated “Z-Coverage”, was initially begun in 1940 and targeted the Axis powers. It lived on, though, lasting until 1966.
The Bureau report continued.
“The Informant pointed out that GLEASON in his local newspaper has been carrying on a crusade against the READER’S DIGEST, alleging that the DIGEST is anti-labor and pro-capitalist.”
A revelation that surely startled nobody.
“The Informant also advised that information had been received to the effect that the New York World Telegram in defending its suit by GLEASON against the World Telegram and FREDERICK WOLTMAN, in the Supreme Court, New York County, had filed a defense brief.”
And their brief contained a bombshell.
“They stated that under the name of ALEXANDER LEV, GLEASON became a member of the Communist Party in or about the year 1939."
The brief goes on to note Gleason’s signing of a nominating petition for a Communist candidate under his own name.
“The files of the New York Field Division were checked for information under the name ALEXANDER LEV. It was determined that an individual by the name ALEXANDER LEV was Business Manager for a publication known as SOVIET RUSSIA TODAY. He was employed by the SOVIET RUSSIA TODAY PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC., located at 114 East 32nd Street, New York City. It is pointed out that this is the same address where GLEASON presently maintains his publishing business.”
To this point, Gleason’s comic publishing business had been apparently unaffected by the unfavorable publicity and scrutiny. The mere mention in the WORLD-TELEGRAM’s brief that his funny book company shared an address with a Communist publishing firm was a game changer. If the case made it to court, then everyone would know.
What red-blooded American parent would let their kid buy a comic published by Commies?
"Trigger-Happy Durkin" page
from CRIME DOES NOT PAY #52 (June 1947)
[on newsstands around the time Gleason
was indicted for contempt]
Gleason had been instrumental in presenting a positive face for the comic industry. (Among his efforts was the proposed dropping of comic books to children in the Soviet Union.) As of late, it had been under increasing criticism from concerned parents, politicians and professionals over the supposed adverse societal effects the comics had upon children. The offending comics most often cited were the brutal crime books, of which, Gleason’s CRIME DOES NOT PAY was the poster child.
In an attempt to head off the witch hunters, Gleason ran a “self-imposed censorship” letter on the inside front cover of both CRIME DOES NOT PAY #63 and CRIME AND PUNISHMENT #2 (May 1948 issues).
inside cover of CRIME DOES NOT PAY #63 (May 1948)
[recognize the photo?]
Though ostensibly penned by editor Charles Biro, the list of “don'ts” obviously had Gleason’s blessing. And while it was primarily geared toward assuaging concerns about inappropriate sexuality and violence, note that “don’t” number 12 mandated, “Any political propaganda is out--in other words--no between-the-lines political soap-boxing.”
“Special Agent [name redacted] ascertained from [name redacted] staff writer for the New York World Telegram, that LEVERETT GLEASON, when he was known as ALEXANDER LEV was manager of SOVIET RUSSIA TODAY from 1933 to 1939.”
A time period roughly coinciding with his employment at Eastern Color and United Features Syndicate.
In addition to signing a petition for a Communist political candidate, the informant claimed Lev also, “at one time was Campaign Manager for the Communist Party.”
The hoped-for chilling effect of the defense brief was expressed in the informant’s, “…belief that no further action would be taken by GLEASON in furtherance of the suit.”
He was right. Gleason dropped the lawsuit.
A heavily redacted portion of the Bureau report mentions the formation of Leverett Gleason Publications, Inc. on April 17, 1946. According to the file, this corporation was created from the merger of Comic House, Boy Comic, Inc., Reader’s Scope and Magazine House. For some unexplained reason, Gleason and his unnamed partner (Arthur Bernhard perhaps?) both withdrew their names as principals in the corporation. A likely guess would be that they wanted to distance themselves and their politics from the company.
One intriguing tidbit that also emerges is the existence of yet another corporation owned by Gleason and friends. It appears that Teledrama, Inc. was formed on July 16, 1945, “to produce silent films with musical backgrounds of various comic characters appearing in LEV GLEASON publications.”
Lev was apparently busy during the fall months of 1946.
In August, he co-sponsored a JAFRC event at Lake Mahopac, New York; an event that was noted to have, “caused considerable adverse publicity,” in the region.
Then, in September, he met with an official from the National Council of American Soviet Friendship to discuss holding a rally for former Secretary of Commerce, Henry Wallace at Yankee Stadium. The two, “…indicated that they intended to build WALLACE into a new ROOSEVELT.”
In October, Gleason joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “The informant advised that GLEASON was attempting to use the VFW against the AMERICAN LEGION POST at Chappaqua.” As the American Legion was in the forefront of anti-Communist sentiment in general, and the local post anti-Gleason in particular, this droplet of information rings true.
Finally, in November, Lev was involved in a conference with yet another official of an American-Soviet friendship organization. During this discussion, Gleason made reference to several individuals who fell under the purview of the “Foreign Agents Registration Act”. This act requires that anyone representing the interests of a foreign power register with the Department of Justice. At least one person mentioned by Gleason had failed to register in violation of the act.
While this section of the Bureau report has been redacted to near-incomprehensibility, the implication is that Gleason was wading into dangerous waters.
A letter from M.A. Jones of the FBI addressed to a name redacted staff member of READER’S SCOPE MAGAZINE.
“Reference is made to the telegram dated April 29, 1947, from the captioned individual requesting permission to have exclusive rights to reprint the Director’s article entitled, “How Good A Parent Are You?” which appeared in This Week Magazine on April 20, 1947.”
The letter writer details Gleason’s involvements with JAFRC, the People’s Radio Foundation and his HCUA contempt conviction. After sternly noting that Gleason had been, “in contact with known Communist Party leaders and having aided in raising funds for various front groups,” he further describes READER'S SCOPE as, “Anti-Fascist and pro-Russian”.
READER'S SCOPE (Dec. 1946)
The fact that the magazine had also run a recent article suggesting that the FBI was being made into a “political police organization”, didn’t help either.
“RECOMMENDATION: That the request be denied.”
A brief report was filed on April 15, 1948, noting the concern of an unnamed citizen of Chappaqua to Gleason’s election as the local VFW Post Commander.
Despite the approval of 90% of the post’s members, the election was the subject of a White Plains newspaper article that stated that a county VFW official had been dispatched to question them individually.
An office memorandum dated February 8, 1949, from “Mr. Nichols” of the New York field office to “Mr. Tolson” in Washington, D.C.
“SUBJECT: LEV GLEASON PUBLICATIONS, INC.
[name redacted, but possibly Charles Biro?] for the above publications, called at the Bureau this morning for the purpose of obtaining information as a basis for a feature article on scientific methods of crime detection. He asked to go on a tour of the Bureau and was conducted by Supervisor [name redacted]. On his return he was informed that in view of the man commitments at the present time, it would not be possible to develop any material for him along the lines that he wished. This action is taken in view of the character of Gleason and the type of publications he has handled in the past of which “Reader’s Scope” magazine is typical.”
The letter goes on, “ [name redacted] during his visit stated that the Gleason Publications are putting out a new magazine in June or July which will be called “Tops”.
TOPS #1 (July 1949)
“When [name redacted] left the office he stated that he would forward a copy of the first issue of the magazine “Tops” to our attention as soon as it was released and he hoped that at some future time arrangements could be made for an article. He was given no commitment or encouragement along this line.”
Clyde Tolson’s handwritten response was scrawled across the bottom of the copy:
“We will have nothing to do with this crowd.”
An Inspection Report dated October 17, 1949, notes that there have been no updates to Gleason’s information file since May 5,1947.
“Bureau instructions that reports be submitted every six months in key figure cases have obviously not been complied with in this case. Immediate arrangements should be made so that a current report shall be submitted to the Bureau without further delay.”
An updated report was filed on January 30, 1950. Apparently, the New York SAC took the Inspection Report to heart. Along with the previously recorded information, new details and a close reading of Gleason‘s writings were included.
“On February 4, 1948 [name redacted] of known reliability advised that according to [name redacted] of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, the subject had severed all relations with Dr. EDWARD BARSKY, National Chairman of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee and had not spoken to him since the contempt sentences had been received.”
A current battle being fought by Gleason was the allegation that he employed a man named Gerhardt Eisler as a writer at READER’S SCOPE. Eisler was a prominent member of the German Communist Party who came to the U.S. in the Thirties. He was indicted by HCUA in 1947 for contempt and for misrepresenting his Communist affiliation to the government. NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE described Eisler as the “number one Red agent”,10 and his supposed connection to Lev was proving to be yet another problem.
To combat this and other allegations, Gleason once again took to the pages of his NEW CASTLE NEWS on March 13, 1947, to respond.
This time, though, instead of writing an editorial, he submits to an interview, with carefully crafted questions that would allow him to make his points. As inclusion in the Bureau report occurs some 2 ½ years after publication of this interview, some of Gleason’s thoughts are painfully dated and at odds with what eventually transpired.
NEW CASTLE NEWS Gleason interview (March 13, 1947)
as it appeared in FBI report.
After the presentation of Gleason’s interview, the Bureau report notes his attendance at a dinner sponsored by the Civil Rights Congress which was essentially an inauguration of a campaign to oust Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi.
Bilbo was a notorious, unabashed racist, who once proclaimed his membership in the Ku Klux Klan and by stating, “"No man can leave the Klan. He takes an oath not to do that. Once a Ku Klux, always a Ku Klux." 11
Gleason contributed $500 to the cause.
He, too, was an attendee at a meeting of the Congress of American Women on March 28, 1947. At this meeting, Gleason commented on a speech made by President Truman that, “When Truman spoke he shot the works and he shot the American people.”
The compiling agent follows this item with, “It is to be noted that the Congress of American Women is as organization that has been designated as a Communist front organization by the Attorney General…”.
Gleason editorialized once again within the pages of his NEW CASTLE NEWS on March 27, 1947, regarding the inquiries being made by officials into the loyalty of government workers.
quoted in FBI report.
Lev had thoughts, too, about the current American foreign policy in the March 20, 1947, edition of the NEW CASTLE NEWS.
quoted in FBI report.
From the Bureau report of July 27, 1950.
“RE: LEVERETT STONE GLEASON
LOUIS F. BUDENZ, formerly managing editor of the “Daily Worker” and a Communist Party functionary until he broke with the Party in October, 1945 has been interviewed during the past few months concerning the concealed Communists whom he knew. The person named above as the subject of this case, was one of those individuals whom BUDENZ described as a concealed Communist. BUDENZ describes a concealed Communist as one who does not hold himself out as a Communist and who would deny membership in the Party.”
From a letter to the Director.
“Attached is a blind memorandum dictated by LOUIS F. BUDENZ and containing all the pertinent information concerning the subject which BUDENZ could presently recollect.”
From Louis Budenz’s memo regarding Leverett Gleason.
“I have met him on several occasions as a Communist, notably, twice at the home of FREDERICK VANDERBILT FIELD on 12th Street. Mr. GLEASON was a very active Communist in 1944 and 1945, to my knowledge., advising the Daily Worker on its tabloid appearance and also participating in other advice to the Party on publication matters.”
“While I received official information of this at the Daily Worker through members of the Politburo, specifically my chief source of information, [name redacted] at the same time I met GLEASON and discussed these matters with him personally. Also, he advised me, as I knew from other sources, that he employed members of the Daily Worker staff as writers on the Reader’s Scope.”
“In the Politburo discussions, and confirmed by Mr. GLEASON to me, Reader’s Scope was also established in order to fight the Reader’s Digest and to be a Communist Party means of invading that field.”
The revelations of the Budenz memo apparently failed to impress the New York SAC. Soon after, on August 25, 1950, he filed this report.
“SUBJECT: LEVERETT STONE GLEASON
Review of the subject’s file indicates that he has been carried as a key figure in the New York Office because of his importance in the Communist movement. This activity appears to have been his associations with the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee, “Reader’s Scope”, and individuals who are known Communists or are believed to be pro-Communists. The file review also reflects that he is no longer associated with the tow above mentioned organizations although he is still reported to maintain pro-Communist sympathies. There is nothing to indicate that he is important in the Communist movement at the present time.
In view of the above, this individual no longer will be carried as a key figure in the New York Office.”
The SAC’s report was filed along with an updated report that offered little new information other than a quotes from the competing NEW CASTLE TRIBUNE of June 16, 1950, which detailed Gleason’s JAFRC conviction and noted, “Mr. GLEASON was enrolled to vote on the Communist ticket in 1933 and 1935, according to the registry of voters of the Board of Elections of New York City…”.
Currently, though, Gleason had gone mainstream and registered in 1949 as a Democrat.
After three years without any mention, the FBI had an interest once again in Lev Gleason. The Bureau was looking into suspected espionage activity by Walter Bernstein, a former writer for Gleason’s SALUTE magazine. On August 13, 1953, a new report--stamped ’SECRET’--was filed. And a new view of Gleason was being seen.
“Gleason was reported to have been a CP member and pro-Communist; he was a director of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee (JAFRC), and was convicted of contempt of Congress. He resigned and recanted. As a result, he received a three months suspended sentence and $500 fine instead of a jail sentence. He was reported to have severed relations with Dr. Edward K. Barsky, National Chairman of the JAFRC. During 1944-1945, he was consulted by the CP for advice on the operation of its publications. He is self-employed at the present time, publishing a weekly newspaper at Chappaqua, New York, and comic and pulp magazines in NYC. He is reported to be anti-Communist and approachable at this time. Gleason is presently on the security index. Letter prepared for New York Office authorizing interview with Gleason.”
A report detailing Gleason’s history was once again attached. This time, though, there was an assurance that he was now, “definitely anti-Communist and could be approached.”
“The New York Office is being authorized by the attached letter to interview Leverett Gleason. If cooperative, Gleason can furnish information about Bernstein’s activity around the pertinent period. If he is completely cooperative, Gleason can furnish information about his own Communist Party and front activities. [name redacted] can adequately be protected during the interview as our interest in Bernstein can stem from his mention in “Red Channels” or other public records and our real interest does not have to be disclosed. Gleason’s cooperativeness should be readily apparent early in the interview and if he is not cooperative, the interview can be terminated.”
Hoover authorized Gleason’s interview in an attached letter.
A letter from the New York SAC to J. Edgar Hoover dated September 25, 1953.
“GLEASON was interviewed on 9/23/1953 by SAS [name redacted] and [name redacted] which interview was conducted in accordance with existing instructions relating to interviews of Security subjects.
GLEASON was cooperative during the interview and stated that he recalled WALTER BERNSTEIN as a writer for “New Yorker” magazine from whose conversation he appeared pro-Communist but GLEASON had no information regarding BERNSTEIN’S CP membership.
GLEASON could not recall any specific incidents to bear out GLEASON’S belief that BERNSTEIN was pro-Communist.
He stated that several years ago, at a time that he cannot recall, BERNSTEIN and two or three other men, names not recalled, approached him and suggested he publish a magazine entitled, “Salute”, which would be written along the style of “Yank”, a US Army publication for GIs. GLEASON stated that BERNSTEIN appeared to be a spokesman for the group. He stated that, after the magazine was described to him, he thought it would be a good idea and might make some money so GLEASON consented to publish “Salute”. He put in $5,000.00. He stated that, when he saw the first issue, he was immediately of the opinion that the magazine was too “arty” and would not sell. He voiced his objections to BERNSTEIN but his objections were talked down. After about two of three issues, GLEASON saw that the magazine was a losing proposition and he stated that he wanted to get out of the venture. GLEASON stated that he was bought out by [name redacted] and that within a year “Salute” went out of business. GLEASON stated that he has not seen or heard from WALTER BERNSTEIN since that time.”
SALUTE MAGAZINE (Jan. 1947)
[after Gleason left SALUTE, it evolved into a "men's interest" magazine]
“In view of GLEASON’S cooperativeness, he was questioned further about his own Communist activities.
GLEASON stated that, in the early 1930s, he believed that the Soviet Union was the answer to the world’s problems and he was sympathetic to the Soviet Union. He stated that he joined the CP in 1936 or 1937 and remained a member for approximately two years. He stated that he became disillusioned with the Party with the Soviet-Nazi Pact in 1939 and thereafter had nothing to do with the Party.
In connection with the magazine, “Salute”, he stated that FREDERICK WOLTMAN wrote an article stating that GLEASON had thought up a new magazine to be called “Salute” which he was going to use as a sounding board for Party doctrine among GIs. GLEASON stated that he was particularly incensed because the original idea for “Salute” was brought to him by WALTER BERNSTEIN and the two or three other men with BERNSTEIN and that the only reason GLEASON went into the venture was to make some money.
GLEASON stated that, when he was in the CP, he as known as LEV.
He stated that he is sympathetic to the work that the FBI is trying to perform but that he has no use for Senator JOSEPH MCCARTHY.
He stated that, in his opinion, MCCARTHY is a “head-line hunter” and he contrasted this type of “sensationalism” with the attitude of Director J. EDGAR HOOVER toward his work. He stated that, in his opinion, the Director avoids “making headlines” and is performing much more constructive work along security lines than any other organization he has ever heard of.”
The SAC took time at this point to mention the contradicting statements made by Gleason and Louis Budenz concerning Lev’s status as a “very active Communist in 1944 and 1945.”
“It may well be that GLEASON’S comment concerning BUDENZ could be classified as a self-serving declaration.”
The rest of Gleason’s interview concerned his connection to Gerhardt Eisler. Lev apparently sought to distance himself from him as well. According to Gleason, Eisler approached him with an offer to write articles for READER’S SCOPE on “the international scene.” Gleason (not quite matching his answer in his earlier interview published in the NEW CASTLE NEWS) agreed to publish two of them for a payment of $50 a piece.
When Eisler apparently claimed in a newspaper article to have been an editor for READER’S SCOPE, Gleason contacted the paper for a retraction, which they refused to give. Gleason’s disavowal of Eisler contradicted the latter’s employment history claim and helped lead to his deportation.
“GLEASON stated that to top it all off, when the hearing was over, as MRS. EISLER passed GLEASON she looked at him and spit in his face.”
The FBI figured that Lev had more to give and was given permission for yet another interview with him in a letter from Hoover dated October 16, 1953.
From FBI memorandum of January 5, 1954.
“GLEASON was interviewed on 12/22/53 by SAS [name redacted] and [name redacted] concerning [name redacted] Communist activities.
As previously reported in relet 9/25/53, GLEASON stated that he joined the CP in 1936 or 1937 and left in approximately 1939, after the Soviet-Nazi Pact came into existence. He stated that during his membership he went to meetings for a short while somewhere on the Lower East Side of NYC. Thereafter, he moved over to a study group which spent its time on theoretical discussions. GLEASON stated that he never held any office during this time but that he has no recollection of any details concerning these groups, such as identities of members, officers, meetings, etc.
GLEASON stated that his break with Communism was not a thing which occurred overnight but was a gradual process being completed with the Soviet-Nazi Pact, mentioned above.”
The next portion of Lev’s interview was regarding his involvement with the DAILY WORKER as charged by Louis Budenz. Gleason’s version was that he was simply invited by someone at the paper to a meeting to discuss details about the tabloid size of the publication. Most of the comments offered were, “complimentary”, including his own that size didn’t matter as much in improving circulation as, “improvement of the quality of news coverage”.
“Concerning the CP itself, GLEASON stated that he believed the party consisted of reformists who were motivated by a desire to improve social conditions of the common man. He characterized his description of the party as a group of “super new dealers”.
He stated that he does not believe this today and refused to give his present opinion, stating that he has no opinion of the party’s purposes, since his complete divorcement with party philosophy from about 1940 to date, would prevent him from having an opinion. He stated that at no time as a member did he ever believe that the organization had revolutionary aims and purposes.”
“Concerning “Reader’s Scope” formerly edited by GLEASON, he stated that sometime in the early 1940’s another publisher then in the same building where GLEASON maintained his office (114 East 32nd St., NYC) whose name was [name redacted, but probably Arthur Bernhard] approached GLEASON with the idea of “Reader’s Scope”.
Inside back cover READER'S SCOPE (Dec. 1946)
According to GLEASON, [name redacted, but likely Bernhard] had made a lot of money publishing “trashy” and “leg art” magazines and wanted to get on to a higher plane in the publishing field.
GLEASON agreed to go in on the venture because he thought he could make some money out of it, and HOWARD FAST was engaged by [name redacted] (for) “Reader’s Scope”. FAST was chosen, according to GLEASON, because he name was becoming well known as the author of “Citizen Thomas Paine” and other works.
GLEASON stated that trouble between him and FAST started since GLEASON saw the proofs of the first issue. The issue was almost completely filled with articles dealing with phases of the Jewish question such as persecution, advancement, history, destiny, etc.
GLEASON told FAST that the articles should be more diversified for greater reader appeal, thereupon FAST accused GLEASON of being anti-Semitic and as a result of the ensuing argument, FAST quit and GLEASON became Editor. The magazine lasted about five years and “folded” about 1948. GLEASON denied any knowledge of Communist influence in the “Reader’s Scope” or that any of the writers employed on the staff were party members.
GLEASON further stated that he really did not know if anyone was a party member to his knowledge, that he may have “guessed” a person’s political philosophy through things that person stated or his reaction to a set of circumstances, but that he did have no actual knowledge of anyone’s membership or other Communist activity.”
“Regarding the JAFRC, GLEASON stated that one time (GLEASON states he is very poor on remembering dates) his friend and personal physician, Dr. EDWARD BARSKY, told him about the JAFRC and said that it was set up to collect funds for the relief of Spanish refugees, which funds were to be administered by the Unitarians and Quakers. Dr. BARSKY asked GLEASON to become a member of the Executive Board. GLESON agreed, both out of his friendship for BARSKY and also out of sympathy for the plight of Spanish refugees.
This state of mind existed, as far as GLEASON was concerned, until the trial of the JAFRC for contempt, which it will be recalled ended for GLEASON with his resignation from JAFRC on 7/16/47.
GLEASON stated that this trial brought several things to his attention. First, it appeared to him that Dr. BARSKY and the majority of the committee welcomed the trial as a chance to become martyrs. Secondly, the desire to lost the case was shown by the introduction of minutes of the committee meetings by the defense of which GLEASON had no recollection, which minutes actually strengthened the government’s case rather than the defendant’s case, to the consternation of Mr. O. JOHN ROGGE, defense attorney.
Next, people were listed as members of the Executive Board, whom GLEASON had never known to be members, such as HOWARD FAST, who according to GLEASON, had never attended a Board meeting.
Finally, after the verdict GLEASON suggested that the committee’s books be turned over to the HCUA. This suggestion was met with vehement opposition by Dr. BARSKY, et al and since that time GLEASON and BARSKY have not been friends.
GLEASON stated that he did not believe at first that the HCUA was entitled to know the names of contributors to the JAFRC, but with the verdict he reversed his position in proper compliance therewith, and it was this which prompted his suggestion to turn over JAFRC books to the HCUA.”
“GLEASON was asked if he knew any Communists and he replied that he did not know any of his own knowledge. He “guessed” that [names redacted].
He also “guessed” that [name redacted] because of his actions in the JAFRC trial and afterwards, but he stated that he knew nothing “for certain”.
“In conclusion it may be stated that GLEASON is careful “to walk a tight rope” when he talks. He studiously avoids anything which would cast doubt on his premise that he was in the party originally for the uplift and betterment of mankind, and that since 1939 or 1940 he has been completely separated from any party activity.
GLEASON’S fear of involvement is based, in part at least, on a possibly adverse effect which might result to his earning power.”
Following soon after, this FBI memo was placed in Lev’s file.
“SUBJECT: LEVERETT STONE GLEASON
Enclosed herewith are five copies of the report of SA [name redacted] dated 2/11/54, at New York, New York, in the above captioned matter, which places this investigation in a closed status.
New York letter to the Bureau, 1/5/54 suggested that GLEASON’S name be deleted from the Security Index Program [redacted information] and stated break with the Communist Party. The Bureau notified New York that the Security Index card on GLEASON was cancelled, 2/1/54. Accordingly, GLEASON’S name has also been removed from the Security Index Program at New York.”
Except for a detailed reiteration of all information gathered about and from Gleason, that ended the FBI’s interest in him.
By 1956, Gleason had moved on; out of the comic book business, out of publishing. Lev became a real estate broker, selling ranch homes, split-levels and suburban estates. Selling the American Dream. In his ads, he referred to himself as, "The Friendly Broker".
NEW YORK TIMES (March 16, 1958)
Away from the scrutiny of comic book censors, away from the scrutiny of the FBI. Forgotten.
...until the Bureau began looking into the activities of Morris and Lona Cohen. American born, the two had left the States and re-emerged in England under assumed names. No one knew that the antiquarian book dealers were actually Soviet spies. Some time before their eventual arrest in 1961, they came to the attention of the FBI.
On December 26, 1957, Director Hoover received a message from the New York SAC:
“UACB [Unless Advised to the Contrary by the Bureau] by 1/2,58, NYO will interview GLEASON for information concerning [name redacted] and MORRIS and LONA COHEN.”
Long after the close of Leverett S. Gleason’s extensive FBI file, long after his death in September, 1971, the Soviet Union collapsed. Along with the fragmentation of the old USSR, the rise of capitalism and the Russian mob, came unprecedented access to the forbidden files of the KGB.
Former KGB agent and journalist, Alexander Vassiliev, was granted limited access to those files, specifically from the Thirties to the early Fifties. He made detailed notes which were in turn translated into English when he came to the U.S. to co-author a book.
Among the notes was this entry by Soviet agent “P. M. Fitin” from September, 1945.
“Regarding the entreaty debate, Browder (Earl Browder, former American Communist Party leader and Soviet agent) made derogatory comments about Foster (William Z. Foster, current U.S.Communist Party leader), calling him a “feeble-minded schemer”.
Browder discussed the same issue with the publisher of Reader’s Scope, the Communist Gleason.
He told Gleason that if he were given an opportunity to go to the Soviet Union for talks, those talks would result in his position in the party being restored.” 12
1 U.S. News Staff, “How Communists Operate: An Interview with J. Edgar Hoover”, U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT, (August 11, 1950).
2 “Miss Keller Quits Rescue Ship Drive”, NEW YORK TIMES, 8 Feb., 1941.
4 “Magazine for Ex-GIs”, NEW YORK TIMES, 3 March, 1946.
5 INVESTIGATION OF UN-AMERICAN PROPAGANDA ACTIVITIES IN THE UNITED STATES, Hearings Before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, (April 4, 1946).
8 “Barsky, 10 Aides Sent to Prison, Fined for Contempt of Congress”, NEW YORK TIMES, 17 July, 1947.
9 L.L. Stevenson, “Lights of New York”, SAN JOSE EVENING NEWS, 16 May, 1939.
10 NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE, (Feb. 23, 1948).
11 Fleegler, Robert L., “Theodore G. Bilbo and the Decline of Public Racism”, THE JOURNAL OF MISSISSIPPI HISTORY, (Spring 2006).
12 Vassiliev, Alexander, "Translation of Original Notes from KGB Archive Files", White Notebook #2, (1993-1996).
Additional general information obtained from J. EDGAR HOOVER: THE MAN AND THE SECRETS by Curt Gentry, the NEW YORK TIMES archives and Ancestry.com.
My inclination has been to see the stuff from Gleason and Biro as unhinged. Now I wonder what was cause and what was effect. Perhaps Gleason involved himself with Communists because he just couldn't get a handle on things, or perhaps the moral framework of his comic books was so bizarre because he was attempting to pass as subscribing to a world-view that was, in fact, utterly alien to him.ReplyDelete
In view of some of the revelations from these files, Daniel, I suspect there will be a lot of people taking another look at the content of his comics.ReplyDelete
Absolutely fascinating history and research, Ken! Wonderful job. About 10 years ago, Lev's son-in-law contacted me about a book he was researching about his father-in-law. He came to me via a connection where his father was a college roommate of a professional colleague and friend of mine. Anyhow, I may have put him in touch with some people, including the Lev Gleason Yahoo list, but never heard from him again.ReplyDelete
Thank you for the kind words, Michael!ReplyDelete
I've been fascinated by Gleason for many years and have been researching him for nearly a decade. I'd love to know more and hope some member of his family does write a bio that reflects that aspect of his life.
Blogspot ate my comment: so I'll just mention that Bernhardt is listed on early issues of Picture Scoop and Reader's Scope as an owner.ReplyDelete
Salute was sold to a "Woolworth heir" after a couple of issues - who had their own run-ins with the FBI.
My disappointment is that the FBI had nothing more than what they gave to the Chicago Tribune back in the 1940s. They even missed the political journal that Gleason was trying to do in the late 1920s - early 1930s era. However it is nice to see what proof they had for the allegations they made then.
This is awesome Ken, great job in digging it up and thank you for posting it.ReplyDelete
And thank you for the kind words, Jamie!ReplyDelete
shows you what a real researcher can find. I have an issue of Friday and some other very political Gleason magazine here. Never did anything with it, because it didn't contain anything except the name in the masthead.ReplyDelete
You're being humble, Ger! You are one of the great comic historians and I appreciate just having the honor of knowing you!ReplyDelete