The Great Pink Scare

June 06, 2006


About the Documentary

On Labor Day weekend in 1960, Massachusetts state police troopers swept through the small, idyllic town of Northampton and hauled 15 men off to jail. Three of them were professors at Northampton’s elite Smith College.

The Great Pink Scare tells the story of the devastating persecution that followed, when the three Smith professors were charged with possessing and dispersing obscene literature, tried in Northampton District Court, and eventually convicted as felons.

“Police Break Up Major Homosexual Smut Ring!” screamed newspaper headlines, first in Boston, then across the country and even internationally.

On the surface, it was the routing out of pornographers, but in reality, it was a McCarthy-like witch-hunt against gays.

The alleged ringleader, Professor Newton Arvin, was considered America’s finest literary critic. The other two accused were Smith junior faculty members Joel Dorius and Ned Spofford. All three lost their jobs.

Through interviews, archival film, and commentary, audiences learn the fates of the Smith professors, who never recovered from the scandal. Arvin, who was Truman Capote’s great love, became suicidal and was hospitalized at the Northampton State Mental Hospital. He chose not to appeal his conviction and died of cancer just three years later. Dorius and Spofford struggled to overturn their convictions. Eventually, their criminal records were erased but the stigma remained. Both Spofford and Dorius, who died in early 2006, were in and out of mental hospitals for years, and never recovered their once-promising academic careers.

In the end, brilliant careers were destroyed and young lives ruined. The issues raised then about privacy rights and civil liberties still reverberate in American society today, 50 years later.