Some of the most tragic victims of the fall of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were those character actors who could always be depended upon to provide an appropriately sinister Russian accent. Actings jobs that today routinely call for character actors with a distinctly Middle Eastern look and sound used to almost the sole domain of actors who could do even a halfway decent impression of Boris Badenov. The fall of communism took away many precious things that Americans didn’t realize they loved and needed until they no longer had it. Including the reliable TV communist. With that in mind, I present a long overdue salute to some of the most memorable communists in TV history.
He may well have been the first communist to be a regular on an American TV show. Not that the Soviet from U.N.C.L.E. was the most openly anti-capitalist of communists. Some amount of concern was expressed at the idea of placing a Soviet spy alongside an American spy on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” but just as Napoleon Solo seemed not to be a particularly rabid propagandist for democracy and capitalism, so was Kuryakin a bit of a mystery wrapped inside an enigma floating in a pot of borscht. Buf if you never stopped to question whether Napoleon Solo was a firm enough supporter of democratic values and free enterprise, then why on earth would you ever think that Illya Kuryakin was equally supportive of socialist values? To believe that one half of the men from U.N.C.L.E. was not one of television’s most memorable communists is to give away your ignorance.
One of the most famous communists in TV history actually appeared after the fall of the Iron Curtain. One of the truly astounding number of men with whom Elaine Benes had sex had the fact that he was a communist going for him. Elaine got to enjoy a brief ride on the dark side of the political spectrum by awkwardly informing anyone she meets that she is dating a communist. What is most interesting about this particular episode of “Seinfeld” is that the introduction of Ned the communist is not just a nice little setup for another addition to the really stupid reasons these characters have for dating or breaking up with someone. Ned’s political persuasion begins to spread outward like a line of dominos knocking the next one down as the episode touches upon the Communist Blacklist of the 1950s and unfair labor practices in the shopping mall Santa Claus industry.
Harvey Moorehouse certainly isn’t one of the most famous names to come mind when the subject turns to communist characters on TV shows. He only becomes a memorable TV communist when you realize that he is the biological father of Les Nessman on “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Narrowing down the rabid anti-communist characters that appeared on TV shows over the decade to the most rabid of them all is a dirty job and Les Nessman very well might not wind up topping that list. But he almost unquestionably would have to be considered one of the top five most famous fictional hysterically anti-communist characters in TV history. Which certainly lends his commie pinko biological dad Harvey Moorehouse a certain gravity that might otherwise be lacking.
It is perhaps only fitting for American TV and the manner in which communists were presented for the most part that one of the few openly communist characters to be featured as the star of a TV series was, in fact, only pretending to be a communist. The show was called “I Led Three Lives” and was very loosely based on the real life exploits a man named Herbert Philbrick who did indeed live separate lives as a communist, FBI spy and communist counterspy. Although, in reality, his only real life was as the good American bringing down the dirty God-hating pinkos.