I Was a Communist for the FBI: The Unhappy Life and Times of Matt Cvetic
Who is Matt Cvetic? Hero? Scoundrel? Mole? The man who loosely provided the inspiration for the B-Grade cult movie I Was a Communist for the FBI had a life that was marred by alcoholism, damaged expectations, and greed.
Cvetic, at the request of the FBI, joined a Pittsburgh branch of the CPUSA in 1943. He became one of many plants in the Party during that decade and gained the nickname &"Pennsylvania&’s most significant mole.&" However, because of his erratic behavior, the FBI fired him in 1950, at which time he surfaced and suddenly became a celebrity through his testimony before the HUAC hearing. Journalist Richard Rovere described Cvetic as a &"kept witness,&" a term that fits those who &"made a business of being witnesses,&" thereby &"befouling due process.&"
Cvetic was the subject of a multipart series in the Saturday Evening Post. The articles bordered on fiction, but they gave Cvetic the national exposure he needed to secure a screen deal. Warner Brothers bought the story, made the movie, and enhanced Cvetic&’s celebrity as pop icon. In the mid&–1950s, Cvetic was discredited as a witness by the courts. His career ended and he found a new niche on the Radical Right, yet he died in 1962 after years of fighting to uphold his image with the media. Today Cvetic&’s image is dimly remembered as he continues to fight &"the Red Menace&" on late-night television.
Leab juxtaposes Cvetic&’s real life with his reel life. He chronicles his fall from grace, yet admits that Cvetic&’s life offers fascinating and useful insights into the creation, merchandising, and distribution of a reckless professional witness. Leab also writes about Cvetic&’s life prior to his involvement with the FBI, his glory days, and shows that there is much to be learned from the story of an &"anti-Communist icon.&"