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TV REVIEWS : McCarthyism and Harvey Matusow

March 26, 1993|ROBERT KOEHLER

Be patient with the sometime-slow-going two hours of the BBC-produced "The Un-Americans" (at 9 tonight on the Arts and Entertainment Channel's "Time Machine"). While producers Archie Baron and Anita Lowenstein assemble a remarkable gallery of survivors of the McCarthy Era Communist witch hunts, much of it is sadly familiar.

But for all the tragic consequences of a Paul McCarty trying to still clear his name 40 years later or a Frank Wilkinson finding evidence that he was the target of government assassination, there is one character in "The Un-Americans" who will forever alter your view of the McCarthy Era.

His name is Harvey Matusow. Today, he has a long, flowing gray beard, long gray hair, and is constantly holding his pet dog in his arms while he talks for the camera. In the early '50s, though, Matusow was a quizzical-looking young man who got it into his head to inform on his friends in a New York Communist group.

As he describes it, once he began naming names for the House Un-American Activities Committee, the excitement and fame of being a wined-and-dined government source swept him up into a veritable orgy of lies.

Age hasn't made Matusow any less a complex, deeply intriguing figure. He chuckles now at the horror of his betrayal.

When Matusow told the committee that he was lying, that, no, he didn't personally know 10,000 Communists, the Congressmen didn't believe him.

Matusow was trapped by his own ghastly joke, and went to prison. But he then made the logical career move: He became a stand-up comic.

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