Political & Social Activism
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Rex Stout, throughout much of his adult life participated in many social and political causes and concerns.
A stalwart opponent of censorship, in the mid-1920s he helped to publish Arthur Machen's barred translation of Casanova's Memoirs,by financing the printing in Mexico, and financed the the start of the career of the artist, Rockwell Kent, who illustrated them.
Raised as a Quaker with a powerful social conscience, he served on the original board of the American Civil Liberties Union & helped start the radical magazine "New Masses" in the 1920s. (When he learned it was sympathetic to Communism, he resigned.)
During the Great Depression, he was an enthusiastic supporter of the New Deal and lobbied vigorously for Franklin Roosevelt to accept a fourth term as president.
In the years preceding Pearl Harbor, Stout strongly advocated for American support of England. Two days after Pearl Harbor, Rex Stout organized The Writers' War Board, the main domestic US propaganda organization. Working with the Writers' War Board, Stout wrote and broadcast the CBS radio program "Our Secret Weapon" during the first few years of the War. He also worked with the advocacy group Friends of Democracy.
Stout did not write any Nero Wolfe or other stories during the war, moved himself with his family to Manhattan to more easily commute to his job at The War Writer's Board, and took no pay or other remuneration for these efforts. As the war ended, Stout supported the embryonic United Nations and became active in the United World Federalists and The Society to Prevent World War III.
Stout was active in liberal causes including author rights, copyright laws, civil rights, and freedom of speech. When the anti-Communist hysteria of the late 1940s & 1950s began, Stout found himself targeted by members of the American Legion. He ignored a subpoena from the House Un-American Activities Committee at the height of the McCarthy era. Stout and Nero Wolfe were both ardent anti-communists throughout the corpus. In fact, plot and dialogue devices in many Nero Wolfe stories mirror Stout's activism.
Stout was one of many writers on Hoover's private enemies list, as found by journalist Herbert Mitgang when he obtained access to Stout's FBI files for his book Dangerous Dossiers (1988). Stout's FBI file ran 300 pages (though the FBI would only release 183 heavily blacked-out pages to Mitgang). But Stout wasn't afraid, knowing that he could rely on both independent means & the love of the public. In 1965, Stout fought back with his novel The Doorbell Rang
, in which Nero Wolfe found himself locked in a duel of wits with the FBI. In later years Stout alienated many with his hawkish stance on Vietnam, and the contempt for communism in his works was denounced frequently.
Two articles on this topic, written in the past few years, are both excellent:
Rex Stout's war-time activities
- The President Vanishes (book & film)
Farrar & Rinehart published Rex Stout's thriller anonymously in 1934. In the late 1930s, Stout did allow his name to be specified as author.
In an interview printed in Royal Decree (1983), Rex Stout's official biographer John McAleer asked the author if there was any chance of Hollywood ever making a good Nero Wolfe movie. "I don't know," Stout replied. "I suppose so. They made a movie of another story I wrote — The President Vanishes. I hate like hell to admit it but it was better than the book, I think."
The book was quickly transformed into a feature film by Paramount Pictures. The President Vanishes (1934, British title Strange Conspiracy) was produced by Walter Wanger and directed by William A. Wellman. It featured a cast that includes Arthur Byron, Edward Arnold, Rosalind Russell and Andy Devine. See IMDB for further information. It was premiered, November 1935 and released in January 1936. The New York Times movie review (based upon a preview showing) states, "Like the anonymous novel (generally credited to Rex Stout) upon which it is based...."
It is quite blatantly pro-Roosevelt and anti-Nazi and anti-"military industrial complex" (a term credited to Dwight D. Eisenhower after the war).
On February 28, 2012, it was shown as part of the William A. Wellman Film Festival at the NYC Film Forum
- Stout Says Help England
- The New York Times Interviews Stout just before Pearl Harbor
- The Illustrious Dunderheads (Stout's post- Pearl Harbor "expose" of officials who espoused pacifism)
- Friends of Democracy
- War Writer's Board
- Our Secret Weapon
"Our Secret Weapon" was a series of 61 radio program scripts, 11 of which were sponsored by Freedom House, Inc., New York, presented on the Columbia Broadcasting System from Sunday, Aug. 17, 1942 through Friday, Oct. 1, 1943.
- Freedom House
Freedom House was formed in October 1941 as an organization dedicated to the defense of freedom throughout the world -- a cause perceived to be in great danger. Founding members included George Field, Dorothy Thompson, Wendell L. Willkie, Herbert Agar, Herbert Bayard Swope, and Rex Stout. These and other members had been involved in both Fight For Freedom and in the New York Chapter of the Committee to Defend America By Aiding the Allies. Freedom House carried on the spirit of these two organizations by acting as a clearing house of information. Its first agenda was to work, during World War II, to prepare the country for peace, and then after the war to continue to defend peace and freedom throughout the world.
In a highly publicized dispute with writer Dorothy Thompson, Stout resigned from his post with Freedom House, but later was reconciled – after Miss Thompson quit as president of Freedom House – to become its treasurer in 1957, a post he held for many years.
In 1965, Rex Stout and Freedom House came out in favor of the Vietnam War. Many Stout fans were appalled at this stance. See the full page advertisement from Freedom House.
- The United Nations
- United World Federalists
The United World Federalists 1928-1988 (Archives for 1946-1986 located at Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington), are the inactive office files of the United World Federalists. This organization was founded in Asheville, North Carolina on February 23, 1947 as the result of a merger of five existing world government groups: Americans United for World Government; World Federalists, U.S.A.; Student Federalists; Georgia World Citizens Committee; and the Massachusetts Committee for World Federation. In the mid-1970s it adopted its present name of World Federalist Association.
- The Myth that Threatens the World (play)
- Society for the Prevention of World War III
The Society for the Prevention of World War III was an organization set up in the U.S. in 1944 during World War II that advocated a harsh peace for Germany in order to completely remove Germany as a future military threat. The Organization was a spin-off of the Writers' War Board, with both headed by (extreme anti-German) novelist Rex Stout and the organization's monthly publication mainly republishing material produced by the War Board. It succeeded in hardening attitudes towards Germany both in the media and in the government, but by 1948 it had failed in its overall mission, with JCS 1067 rescinded and the Marshall Plan helping Germany, along with the rest of Europe, back on its feet.
- The American Civil Liberties Union -- Rex Stout was on the original board of the ACLU and was active in many of its causes.
- Memoirs of Casanova
- Stout nearly causes riot at Hiram Fish Rally
- The Rosenbergs
Although Rex Stout was decidedly anti-communist my the early 1930s, he was
angry when he read Invitation To An Inquest by Walter and Miriam Schneir, an expose of how the government railroaded the Rosenbergs to the electric chair in the 1952 trial. Be sure to read his Rampart's Magazine article:
However, on September 12, 2008 the NY Times interviewed a co-conspirator, Morton Sobell, who had been re le sed from prison after serving more than 19 years in Federal prison. He states that Julius Rosenberg was indeed guilty:
- Rex Stout addresses the audience at the 1966 Books and Authors Luncheon as if they were his "Committee on Grievances."
- Rex Stout on FBI's List
The Doorbell Rang (click the link for information about the book, as well as about "the book within the book," The FBI Nobody Knows) is specifically cited as a reason for earning Rex Stout a place on the FBI's "Not to Contact List," an operation under Hoover's personal direction which was in turn cited as evidence of “Political Abuse of Intelligence Information” in the landmark 1976 Senate Report, Intelligence Activities and the Rights of Americans -- Book II. Rex Stout was one of many American writers closely watched by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI, The FBI had collected 301 pages of data mostly about his association with the ACLU and when he served as president of the Authors League. J. Edgar Hoover considered Stout an enemy of the FBI and therefore a Communist or a tool of Communist-dominated groups and 'an alleged radical'. About one hundred pages of his dossier are about his novel The Doorbell Rang. [“The Doorbell Rang" had "presented a highly distorted and most unfavorable picture of the Bureau." (Memorandum from M. A. Jones to Bishop, 7/11/72 -- http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/cointelpro/churchfinalreportIIce.htm)]
These are the directly relevant lines:
The Bureau also maintained a “not to contact list” of “those individuals known to be hostile to the Bureau.” Director Hoover specifically ordered that “each name” on the list “should be the subject of memo.” 91 This request for “a memo” on each critic meant that, before someone was placed on the list, the Director received, in effect, a “name check” report summarizing “what we had in our files” on the individual. 91
91Memorandum from Executives Conference to Hoover, 1/4/50. Early examples included historian Henry Steele Commager, "personnel of CBS," and former Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. (Memorandum from Mohr to Tolson, 12/21/49.)
- Press Coverage for The Doorbell Rang:
- Material from the Rex Stout Archives at Boston college includes lighthearted renderings of proposed cover designs for The Doorbell Rang from his publisher, Viking Press, as well as reviews from P. G. Wodehouse and Russel Crouse.
- Vietnam Hawk
- In at least three of the Wolfe stories, Rex Stout demonstrates Wolfe's and his own anti-communist sentiments:
- Second Confession
- Triple Jeopardy: The Cop Killer
- Triple Jeopardy: Home to Roost