The pages of The Adventures Continue have always
been about truth and accuracy, and we're proud of that. And
with this column we hope to set the record straight concerning
accusations and rumors that have been circulating for years in
books and on the Internet about the day Robert Shayne was
visited by federal agents on the set of Superman.
Specifically, it's often been reported that Robert Shayne,
who played Inspector William J. Henderson, was a
"card-carrying Communist." Even a source close to
the series has made this statement. Recently, however,
Stephanie Shayne Parkin, Bob's daughter, asked me to help
dispel that rumor and to clarify just exactly what happened on
that infamous day back in 1951.
While it is true that Federal agents did visit the set of
Superman in 1951, it is not true that Robert
Shayne was a card-carrying Communist. Here, in Stephanie's own
words, is the truth about those events.
Stephanie Shayne: When my dad died in 1992 I assumed
I'd never again need to explain the events of that time, but
the rumors persist, and I'd like you to help me tell the
unvarnished truth. The fact is that Dad was turned into the
House Un-American Activities Committee as a result of
accusations made by his jealous ex-wife. That was precipitated
by Dad's leaving her for a woman twenty-one years her junior
(my mother, Bette). Dad maintained until his dying day that he
was never a member of the Communist party. Indeed, my dad was
a lot of things. He had his faults, but a liar he was not. He
was honest and ethical about everything in his life with the
exception of his marital indiscretions. But, his fidelity in
marriage is not what is at issue here.
The purpose of this is not to whitewash my dad's
reputation. His life and career do not require that of me. I
endeavor only to set the record straight. I have worked to
stem the proliferation of such misinformation about Dad for
many years. At first it was to defend him when he was too old
to defend himself anymore. Now that he's gone, it's also about
bringing no harm and lies into my mother's life, my legacy,
and my life. Careless characterization of Dad does just that.
It has brought harm and pain to both my mother and myself. I
am an actor who still works in this town. To see parallels,
one need look no further than recent events in our country.We
find ourselves, again, in such a conservative political
climate that some of our more visible actors, by simply
speaking out against our country's going to war, can bring
about accusations of disloyalty and lack of patriotism. The
freedom to raise a dissenting voice is one of the principles
our beloved country was founded on.
These, then, are the facts:
Dad was never charged by HUAC. The blacklisting came
about by just being brought before the Committee in executive
session. He never even appeared in the public, open hearings.
There was nothing to charge him on.
2) No one other than his ex-wife ever stepped forward to
corroborate the allegation.
3) Not one scrap of physical evidence with Dad's name on it
was ever discovered to corroborate the allegations. No sign in
sheets from Communist cell meetings... no ID cards... no
membership rosters. Nothing.
4) Dad was cleared by the FBI almost immediately. I have
the letters by the Senator that ordered the investigation on
Dad closed. He was cleared. But the damage of gossip and
innuendo and misinformation had already taken its toll. It is
still taking its toll over fifty years later.
5) Since Dad died in 1992 I have developed a relationship
with my half sister, Roberta. She is the only child of his
second marriage. Her mother was Mary Sheffield Shayne. Mary
was very angry that during her year long separation from Dad
he took up with a my mother who was twenty-one years his and
her junior. I would be too. In Roberta's and my many
discussions the blacklisting has inevitably come up. Among all
her mother's papers, there is not one shred of physical
evidence to support the charge Mary Sheffield Shayne made.
6) I have the transcripts of his appearance, in executive
session, before the Committee on House Un-American Activities.
Before their deaths, I had spoken with Jeff Corey and Adela
Rodgers St. John. I have spoken with John Randolph, Betty
Garrett and Will Geer's daughter, Ellen. I have done a good
deal of research in order to have the facts exactly correct.
That moment on the lot was Dad's detainment for questioning
by the FBI. It wasn't even an arrest. They served
him with a subpoena to appear.
7) Dad and I talked about the McCarthy years and its
aftermath many times. I was one of the few people he would
speak to, openly, about it. He maintained to his dying day
that he was never a member of the Communist Party. Since his
death I have searched all of his archives. He saved
everything. There was nothing in his papers that ever
indicated his membership in the party. Since Dad was an honest
and ethical man, in the absence of any proof to the contrary,
we must honor his declarations.
The internet is an awesome global communication device. It
is more powerful that any newspaper or book could ever be.
This myth of my dad's membership in the Communist party
continues to be misstated in idiotic interviews by ignorant
people that know nothing of the facts. The more often that
misinformation is repeated, the more it is accepted as truth,
and the harder I have to work to set the record straight.
After reading Stephanie's remarks, I asked her these
additional questions which she was kind enough to answer.
1) Do you have an exact date the agents arrived on the
No, sorry. Dad
refers, in his testimony given on September 11, 1951, to the
fact that the service of the subpoena put him out of a job. He
also states "the way the subpoena was served upon me was
not in the best of, let us say, spirit." He states a
couple of sentences later that "the subpoena had my
residence address on it. I could have been served out there
just as easily without it being brought to such-the attention
of studio employees, because the fact that a person is called
before this committee, although they may be friendly or not,
far too often is tantamount to being guilty of something or
other, whatever that may be." It sounds as though he was
served prior to the September 11, hearing. I don't know
exactly, but perhaps it was the day before, Monday September
10th that he was served on the lot. Mom remembers him
testifying on a different day than the one he was served
2) Was it Maxwell or Ellsworth who stood by your
dad? Did you dad ever mention specifics on that?
Bob Maxwell, he was the producer that took the stand against
firing Dad. Whitney Ellsworth came along later after the first
season, although his continued support was always appreciated.
Dad was always grateful for work.
3) George is often
mentioned as showing loyalty toward your dad at this time too.
Did you dad every mention that?
Yes, George, Bob
Maxwell and generally every one connected with the series was
4) Did your dad miss work on "Superman"
because of this incident. "Human Bomb" in 1951
featured Marshall Reed as Deputy Inspector Hill. It is often
reported Reed was in that episode because that's when Shayne
was served. "Human Bomb" was filmed between
September 6 and 15, 1951.
Yes. Tuesday, September 11,
1951 was when Dad appeared before the Committee in Executive
session. Dad mentions losing three days employment with
Superman Productions, at RKO-Pathe, during his testimony. So,
what is widely believed about the "Human Bomb"
episode must be correct. The dates do match. Dad states that
his producers asked for a postponement, but the Committee
denies ever knowing that a postponement was requested.
5) On "Tomorrow" with Tom Snyder in 1976, you
dad spoke of being blacklisted. Did he feel that blacklisting
was a direct result of this incident or was there more to
No, all the blacklisting of the people in
Hollywood, writers and actors alike, came about as a result of
people being brought to the hearings whether they were members
of the party or not. We must all remember it has never been
against any law of the United States of America to be a member
of the Communist Party or any other political party or
religious affiliation for that matter. Every person that
suffered and endured questioning or the resultant blacklisting
had their civil rights violated. It was a very sorry chapter
in our history. That is why I work to keep the record correct.
and Bob Shayne at Carpenteria Beach, 1955.
6) I spoke with your dad regarding George's reported
drinking on the set. He told me he never recalled George
drinking to excess, yet Phyllis often makes remarks to the
Well, Dad would never have said so even if he
felt George had been drinking to excess. But, I can say this.
Dad was very fond of George, Jack, Phyllis, Noel and John. He
always said he had a lot of fun working on the Superman set.
Dad was the consummate pro. He showed up for work, on time,
knowing his lines and didn't get into anybody else's business.
He was grateful for the job. He had a family to support.
Shayne with his children, Bob, Jr. and Stephanie.
Barbara Pier, 1957.