Speaker I don’t know how I came to be involved politically, but even when I was a little kid, I was always annoyed when other kids were picked on because of what they happen to be. I remember there was a very effeminate boy in my class and all the kids made fun of him. He was a sissy, was a pansy. So I deliberately made a friend of that guy. Now, I don’t know what brought that out in me. I really do not know. But that always has been in my character.
Speaker So, OK, now, what kind of activities brought you to be in conflict with the government of the United States?
Speaker Well, the main thing probably was the candidacy of Henry Wallace for president in the 1948 campaign. I didn’t like what Truman was doing. He had had the atomic bomb dropped and he said never lost a night’s sleep over it. I lost several nights sleep, but that is what got me into real trouble, because anybody who supported Henry Wallace was ipso facto a communist because the Communist Party supported him also. Well, I was supporting for my reasons, not very partisan reasons. I knew well well, as personally as a really good man, there was enough for me.
Speaker Now, when did you leave?
Speaker I know you left the country.
Speaker Well, I can see because company with more or less the Florence Ziegfeld’s of England brought me to England in 1934, not because I played the mouth organ well, but they can. You’re the only one I’ve ever seen who wore a dinner jacket. And on the basis of that, he brought me to England. And because Cochran brought me suddenly I was a big name when I’d been a rather middling act in America and suddenly becoming famous, I regret to tell you went right to my head. I was a real son of a bitch. I was telling the British everything wrong with our country and the coffee was lousy. Why? They didn’t just deport me, I do not know. But I stayed there for years. Then in 1949, I had an offer to do a musical tour and that’s when the blacklist really started to hit. So when I while I was in England, I got a wife, my agent. I had two contracts with the Plaza Hotel in New York, Palmer House in Chicago. They were going to cancel the concerts unless I made a public noncommunist affidavit. So I stayed in England.
Speaker So now it was during that time that you met Paul, I met Paul during the Wallace campaign, that was in 1948, and we played St. Louis and showed him in St. Louis in New York and was one wonderful moment. Paul and I were flying from Los Angeles to New York and he and I were sitting together and I said, Paul, I only criticize you for one thing. If you’re going to make a political speech during your concert, OK, you can do that. That should be in your ad so that whoever buys the ticket knows that they’re going to get. And Paul turned on me this brilliant smile of his. Nobody had such a smile as Robin said, Larry, you do it your way. I’ll do it mine.
Speaker I love the good sound. It was nice. OK, now, had you heard of Paul before?
Speaker Oh, yes. No, certainly. I mean, anybody who loved music had heard of Robeson. I had his records. I knew that Old Man River had been written for Robeson, although I don’t think he sang in the original company of another showboat, but also.
Speaker Did you know about. I know you know about him as an entertainer, you also know about his emergently political.
Speaker You couldn’t you couldn’t be unaware of that because a lot of it was in the papers. He was a great supporter of the communist system in Moscow. He sent his children to school there. And the way he acted about Russia, I remember so well what Cassius Clay said about the Vietnam War, why he was against the North Vietnamese, never called me, never. And I think that was Robertson’s attitude toward Russia. They treated him as a human being and didn’t give a good goddamn about his color.
Speaker Let’s see where they go with one of these. Right now, I can see why you feel that you bug the government about everybody.
Speaker When you did you see him when he came over?
Speaker Were you involved in a passport?
Speaker No, I wasn’t. I was over here at the time while he was writing the passport. But then when he got his passport and came to England, he asked me to sit on the stage at Albert Hall with him while he gave his recital. And I still think that’s one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever had in my life.
Speaker What did you think of his deportment? Did you sense that he was tired or did you think he was depressed?
Speaker The one thing no one thing that depressed him and I was tragic that the younger generation of blacks didn’t know who he was and that that affected him so much because of all the work he had done and that they didn’t know the name, that it was a very sad business. And I felt it very deeply when this was, I think, in the 50s.
Speaker Would you say that?
Speaker His lack of presence was due to government efforts to the right.
Speaker I never felt like a presence to me was always a great man. He had the personality of a great man when he was depressed. He had a reason for being depressed, but it didn’t take away from the sort of majestic personality that he had. And on the stage, he was unbelievable. I wish I could have seen him act because I think he did Othello Pig Ashcroft. I never saw that.
Speaker I wish I did. I mean, you’re right. It was a great man. But like you said, young kids didn’t even know. No. Why do you think that was?
Speaker Because the communist publicity tended to black out his professional life. And he started he stopped getting publicity on his country. And then he told me once he was giving a concert in Beaumont, Texas, and he was not allowed to stay in any hotel there. But when they drove away from the recycle the wheel of the car that was driving and came off, they had loosened the nuts and bolts that someone had of the tires. And he also told me and when he went to Rutgers, he was on the football team. The word was, get the [Unrecognized]. He says, from my team, not from the opposition. When was this? I don’t know which years I would be. No, whatever. He was a college student at Rutgers.
Speaker So this accident now, I mean, could you repeat that when he was transferred to Texas?
Speaker Oh, he did come in Beaumont, Texas, and he couldn’t stay at a hotel. We had to stay at the house of one of the committee as they were driving away from the recital or wheel of his car came off. They had someone saboteurs had deliberately loosened the nuts and bolts of his wheels.
Speaker Because he was black, that’s all.
Speaker Do you think that? You two were tight. Did you ever talk again about the difference of opinion, about how you enjoy how you deal with the politics?
Speaker I don’t remember that we did. I was very much on his side. And even when I disagreed with his family was taken, I don’t think I would have argued in the bar that I had such great respect for him.
Speaker One of the things that the court for in the States was the fact that he didn’t back off from his support of Russia even when some of the people. Yeah.
Speaker What do you think about. I think he had a right to his opinion. I would never, never challenge a man for what he actually believed. And he had a very good reason for believing it because of how he was treated. No business about color and the same way with his children. They have no trouble going to school in Russia. I was on his side.
Speaker Do you think that the Russians treated him well because they knew he was a popular figure and he would have spoken well about that?
Speaker That I can tell you. I mean, I wasn’t involved in that. And I’d rather talk about what I knew personally.
Speaker That’s exactly what I wanted to do. One of the things. Do you think that. In his. And both of you, do you think that popular figures like yourself and like. Rosie, do you think that sometimes you used by causes?
Speaker Oh, yes, well, I’ll tell you one thing that one of the few times in my life that I was visibly affected, very much affected. A man who I considered a very good friend of mine told me that a Russian poet and playwright were coming to America. And we’re going to have a rally, a few United States artists, to greet these two Russian artist. And he said he would like me to play at it. And I said no, ordinarily, yes, right away. But you know that I’m involved in a libel case right now in Connecticut with a lady who said I’m a communist, etc.. So I would ask you, are the Communist Party involved with this rally? Said, Larry, the Communist Party has nothing to do with it. So I played at the rally the next day in the World Telegram, not only the Communist Party was backing it, my friend was the secretary of the Communist Party.
Speaker And that really heard, if he’d have told me, would have been all right out of the plane, but that he didn’t even tell me.
Speaker So now so some people will say, well, Rowson was naive because he was used by the Communist Party. Would you agree?
Speaker No, I don’t think he was naive. I think he had good psychological reasons for feeling as he did. And in his plays, I am sure I would have felt the same way. I was a fan of Stalin for two weeks at the Time magazine had an article about Stalin in which he made a speech on the radio in Moscow and he belched and he said, Forgive me, comrades, I had Harring for lunch. I thought, what a nice man I how my politics goes.
Speaker That that, uh, you said he had you thought that he had psychological reasons for the supporting roles and he said, what do you think it was?
Speaker This is simply the way he was treated as an individual. You know, had he been white, none of these things would have happened. He would simply be an artist and there would have been there. That he was a black artist made all the difference. And he took a very strong stand. I mean, when he was before the committee, he would not answer the questions. I asked him about his politics. And I was again on his side because had I ever been called by the committee, I would have taken the same stand that Robinson did. So all the way through. I never felt I was against him. I was for him. I respected him. And to me, he was a great man. And there are very few such great men.
Speaker Hmm. Did anybody did you only hear from are you aware of any criticism from, you know, black I mean, the word criticism of from black? Uh. Leading figures in the community about what he was doing.
Speaker Yes, I had heard that, in fact, I can’t think of the name of the man within the United Nations. Hmm. No, not Ralph Bunche, another man, but only anyway, he said that he thought that nobody was hurting the black cause by the stands he took. I didn’t think so. I thought they should have backed them up completely.
Speaker Did you see him? You saw him. Did you see him a lot when he came back after the past?
Speaker No, I didn’t see him a lot. I saw him here in London. But then he went back and I remained here. And it was a long time before I went back to America. I think it was 1959.
Speaker That just talk a little bit about.
Speaker How you saw him and when he came back here, I mean, what was his?
Speaker Well, when he gave the concert at Albert Hall, he was in top form. It was a wonderful recital. And I forget how many standing ovations there were, but there were several. And I sat there on the stage and I was mesmerized by what I saw happening, a great artist being at his greatest.
Speaker So he didn’t sense any kind of depression?
Speaker Nothing. No, later I did. And that’s when he told me about the fact that the black people didn’t seem to know the younger blacks. And I really so sympathized with him. I would have felt awful that I’d been in his place because he had done political work for the blacks far beyond anything I ever did. I mean, he was a real fighter and that they shouldn’t even know about that.
Speaker And that was pretty much the only thing that was the main reason why he was depressed. Yes. Yes, I do. Because also people said something that. That, well, there’s a lot of fear that he had been. He had a breakdown. Yes, I heard that. And that he was beginning to he went to a psychiatrist at one point, I think.
Speaker Yeah, absolutely. So so did I. I went to a psychiatrist in Hollywood because I felt I was talking myself out of jobs. And I remember in DEC, I was recording for Decca and they wanted me to record the music from the third man. And I said to Jack, I don’t want to do that. That’s Anton Karass theme. He wrote it. He played it. Nobody can stop it. I don’t want to try to cover what he did is very if you do it, I can guarantee you a million sales. And I don’t know, this is to show you the kind of guy that got myself in trouble. I, I remember what Confucius wrote. He wrote, A superior man understands what is right. The inferior man understands what will sell this. I say to my boss, and it’s amazing. I’m still sitting here talking to you.
Speaker Well, listen, OK, you’re a performer. You have strong political beliefs, Rose. As a performer.
Speaker He has strong political beliefs stronger than mine, OK? He fought. He fought harder than I did.
Speaker What? What were sort of outlined for me, the differences in your approach to doing that because you both ended up here?
Speaker Well, you see the difference between Paul and me, I would never put politics into my country. When I gave a concert, it was strictly a concert. I might do something political after the concert or before, but never during. That was our main difference. I don’t feel that politics should be injected into a man’s work if he’s a musician or a singer.
Speaker And it’s interesting, you have been persecuted for political beliefs.
Speaker Oh, yes, I have. But in a peculiar way, you know, you’re talking to a great egotist. I always felt that my musical talent would get me out of any trouble. I remember I flew to New Orleans. My man, my manager’s manager gave me an engagement outside of the blacklist, flew from London to New Orleans. And the owner of the hotel, Mr. Monteleone, said to me, Larry, the American Legion came in and said that if you open, they’re going to picket the hotel. He said, Larry, I live here. I got to deal with these guys. If you can make peace with the Legion, I’ll be happy to play you. I said, look, I’m not going to try to make my peace with the Legion. So I was canceled. And that night my phone rang. Pick up the phone. I said, hello, Larry. I said, yes. Who’s this friend of yours? I said, What’s your name? Said, Never mind my name. I’m a friend of yours. Said, Look, you know who my name. You know my name. You’re talking to me. I’d like to know what it’d look. You better you better get out of town before we ride you out on rail. And suddenly my whole depression lifted if seemed so ridiculous that you would meet me at the cigar counter and a half hour, we’ll see who rides you out on a rail. You won’t show up, you yell, you bastard, and I’ll be there. And I was. But he didn’t show up. But those things, I could never take all that seriously. I’m over here in London. I organized a reading from Salman Rushdie’s book Satanic Verses, and I got a call here in my own flat. The moment you begin to read from that book, you will die. I said, look, meet me at Carnegie Hall a half hour before they can kill me. Then it’ll save so much time. And I took my name is with me. But course the assassin never showed up. Mind you, a translator of The Satanic Verses was killed.
Speaker Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
Speaker So but the thing is, Paul had great musical ability and they actually stopped him for a while, right?
Speaker Oh, yes, they did. So did that make you rethink about music? We’ll get you out.
Speaker I know it did make me rethink it at all. I was absolutely certain, God dammit, I still had my talents. I could still play music. I was improving every year. No political pressure was going to get me out of that. I would get over it. I would conclude that the way I felt and having this lucky break of coming to England where they didn’t give a damn about my political opinions, they made fun of it.
Speaker And all seem to have been a big story.
Speaker Oh, of course, it was a big story everywhere. I mean, he was still a star in America, but they wouldn’t let him sing, but his name was just as big.
Speaker Uh, I’d like to know how to avoid detection before and also how the blacklist affected both Larry and his brother. And then one last thing. Can you remember maybe name the kind of thing that you play with Rosen?
Speaker No, never did.
Speaker I wish I had you know, he was kind of like. OK.
Speaker There’s an elementary question, how did the blacklist affect you and Paul Robeson? I’m sorry, Paul and your brother.
Speaker Now, what my brother you talking about Paul Draper, I’m sorry. Yeah, powder dry presidential. He and I gave conjugates and he and I were both of the same political opinions. We both got into trouble equally. But as I say, I was lucky enough to come to England. Paul went to Switzerland. But while I was in America, everybody was offering me deals, if I would only get off the stand, I was taking one person name an actor who’s dead. You’re not hurting them. I said, I don’t like naming anybody. I just didn’t like the principal. And I wasn’t going to compromise in any way with the idea I get myself out of trouble by playing their game.
Speaker I would not do it, nor would I today.
Speaker I’m not sorry I took the stand, I did because I can at least look my children in the face and they can see their father and they know that daddy didn’t sell out.
Speaker How did you feel when you heard that Paul died? Did you think that his life was a success or do you think it was his way?
Speaker His life certainly was a success because he will be always remembered as a great, great man. But of course, I was sorry to hear that he died. He was a great man. And one mourns every such death.
Speaker All right. Uh.
Speaker Detroit will offer you a deal.
Speaker Well, what happened was there was a public relations man, Benjamin Sahlberg, in fact, his son married my daughter, but then arranged that Roy Cohn see me. And I said then Roy Cohn is not going to do anything for me to look, Larry, if he’s willing to say you should see him. So I went down to his office in Foley Square and he said, Bensel this.
Speaker I’m doing this for Ben.
Speaker I know that you don’t want to give names now in your case, I have an appearance before the McCarthy and General Security Committee, nobody will know you. There is a professional. And in your case, Marion is only applies to you. You don’t have to give names. She really said, we’re going to give you a list of names other people have given us. All you do is read that list of you’re not hurting anybody because we already have the list. And I said, Mr. Cohen, what’s the sense am my reading you a list of names you already have. And I looked out the window and he shrugged his shoulders and said, Go fight City Hall. We’re all trying to get you back to work and you won’t cooperate. I had a lot of such deals offered to me.
Speaker You also had deals then I didn’t know about it.
Speaker Again, he would never. No, I don’t I cannot imagine Paul Robeson ever compromising on a matter of principle, ever.
Speaker That’s a pretty strong statement. Yeah.
Speaker Oh, did you know his wife? Oh, no, I didn’t. You know, because it’s pretty known now that Paul had a lot of relationships outside of his marriage.
Speaker So I think you wouldn’t have asked you about my message, would you? Yeah. Oh, you would get out of my face.
Speaker I want your phone number. Uh, yeah.
Speaker Yeah. That’s exactly what we’re trying to do in the film is going to be a little portraits of many portraits of people playing. Could you get a couple notes on your house? And one thing you might ask. Tetsu, did you wear your tie with.
Speaker No, I didn’t even know him. In fact, I did a documentary recently with a singer here named OK, I think any good name is he’s making a documentary about. The other great folk singer of the. No, that’s why I know none I have a hammer. Yeah, what’s his name? Guthrie. Woody Guthrie. Yes. Incidentally, I worked with Josh White, Paul Robeson, and I had him with us on our children’s show as New New York City Center Real Estate in New York. And that was before the troubles hit us.
Speaker And so you actually worked with Paul before you?
Speaker I didn’t know. I didn’t work with Paul Robeson. I worked with Josh White.
Speaker OK. I wish I had worked with Paul.