Profiles in “Courage”: Howard Rushmore

Howard Rushmore had dreamed from a young age of being a progressive journalist, and by age 16 he was writing both for his high school and town newspapers. This was back in late ’20s, when they still let students do such things. Unfortunately, the stuff he wrote in the local paper about the school got him expelled.

Rushmore wasn’t too worried about the expulsion; he had bigger fish to fry. While working his beat he had witnessed a lynching, and the tragedy moved him; the anti-lynching cause would be his cause of choice. Hard as it is to believe, anti-lynching legislation at the time was controversial; Rushmore’s search for a paper that opposed lynching with sufficient consistency brought him all the way to the Daily Worker. The Daily Worker  was a Communist paper, but at least they were anti-lynch. Rushmore began writing for them, and was soon the Daily Worker‘s film critic.

He ran into trouble, though, over his review of Gone with the Wind, which was essentially that the film was racist and bad but had nice cinematography; unfortunately, the party line was that Gone with the Wind was racist and bad and also bad; in every way bad. Rushmore refused to change his review and condemn the DP, and so not for the last time he got fired.

For whatever reason, this firing struck a chord with the American public, who were tickled to see the Communists purging their ranks over something so minor. Rushmore’s sacking became national news, and he ended up a mini-celebrity, easily landing a job at a real newspaper, The New York Journal-American. There Rushmore pulled the first of his patented switcheroos, using his new position to rake up muck against his former cronies, the Communists. Soon he was writing anti-Communist pieces for several papers, including a regular column, “Heard on the Party Line”, for the American Mercury. His celebrity was assured as he branded himself an expert on the Communist menace. He specialized in “outing” Communists, and in 1947 he was a star witness for the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Joe McCarthy made famous the practice of waving around a piece of paper purporting to list Communists, but Rushmore did it first. He scattershot named so many Communists in his articles that he accidentally got some right; in fact, he made allegations overlapping an FBI investigation of Communists in the US Navy, which panicked J. Edgar Hoover — did Rushmore have the inside track?

But if Rushmore did not have the inside track yet, he soon would: Joe McCarthy hired Rushmore to help with research on his senate subcommittee, and Rushmore paid him back by sneaking back to the Journal-American and scooping the subcommittee, publishing their secret strategies and findings. This got Rushmore sacked, predictably, from his research job. So Rushmore pulled another switcheroo and started penning attacks on McCarthy’s aide Roy Cohn, which got him fired in turn from his job as a red baiter. Nobody wanted an anti-Communist who attacked Roy!

Rushmore was now persona non grata with both Communist and anti-Communist papers. If you can’t work for A or for not A, who is left?

The answer was Confidential, the sleazy tabloid that dared to call celebrities drug-addicted homosexuals. It was hardly even a paper at all! It had a clever racket going, because before it published a juicy story, the paper would vet it with the celebrity involved, who had the option to “buy it back,” so it would never see the light of day. Somehow this is different from blackmail? In any event, Rushmore oversaw the paper in its heyday, assuming editorship and also writing articles outing celebrities as gay or Communist or even (thank you, Cary Grant!) both.

But when he tried to publish an article on Eleanor Roosevelt’s (alleged) affair with her black chauffeur, the publisher quashed it as one step too far. Howard “the truth must be told!” Rushmore considered this interference an affront to his integrity, and quit in a huff, leaving to became editor of The National Police Gazette, the only paper lower than Confidential without being explicitly pornography.

Oh, and also—switcheroo! Confidential was (somewhat predictably) being sued by a cadre of Hollywood the elite, and Rushmore became the star witness for disgruntled celebrities, testifying against the paper he’d edited.

Rushmore’s testimony helped neuter Confidential, but it lost him his editorship at the Police Gazette, which had enough trouble looking respectable without a troublemaker on its staff. Worse yet, the constant switcheroos, plus flamboyantly inconsistent behavior of every stripe, made it almost impossible for Rushmore to land writing gigs.

The following year, while riding in the back of a taxi, he shot in the head first his wife and then himself. She’d told the cab driver, over Rushmore’s protests, to drive to the nearest police station. So fell Howard Rushmore.

There’s got to be a moral in all this, but durned if I can figure it out what it is.

One comment

  1. Lord Gro can tell you the moral.

    Liked by 1 person

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