Belfrage, Cedric, 1904-1990Alternative names
Cedric Belfrage, socialist, author, journalist, translator, and co-founder of the National Guardian, was born in London in 1904. His early career as a film critic began at Cambridge University, where he published his first article in Kinematograph Weekly (1924). In 1927 Belfrage went to Hollywood, where he was hired by the New York Sun and Film Weekly as a correspondent. Belfrage returned to London in 1930 as Sam Goldwyn's press agent. Lord Beaverbrook of the Sunday Express soon hired him and in 1932 sent him back to Hollywood as the paper's film correspondent. In 1936, Belfrage resigned from the Express and settled in Hollywood. At his point he became politically active, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, co-edited a left literary magazine, The Clipper, and began work on his second book, The Promised Land, a critical look at Hollywood. In 1937, Belfrage met Claude Williams, a radical Presbyterian preacher from Arkansas, and wrote a biography of Williams, published as Let My People Go in 1937. Belfrage joined the Communist Party in 1937, but withdrew his membership a few months later, and thereafter maintained a friendly but critical relationship. In 1941, Belfrage published an autobiography, They All Hold Swords. In 1944, he became a Press Control Officer in London for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditional Forces (SHAEF) Psychological Warfare Division (PWD) and helped found the first anti-fascist newspapers in Germany after World War II, the Frankfurter Rundschau, along with Jim Aronson.
The fall of 1948 marked the birth of The National Guardian, a progressive newsweekly. The first issue featured an article by Henry Wallace, Progressive Party presidential candidate, and throughout its existence the paper supported independent left political initiatives. The Guardian's investigative reportage was critical to the development of the campaign to defend accused atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Guardian reported on the Korean War (the paper opposed it), the indictment of reporter Anna Louise Strong (NG foreign correspondent) in the Soviet Union as a U.S. spy, and covered the growth of the Civil Rights movement and supported national liberation struggles around the world. Another cause taken up by the National Guardian was the defense of poltical prisoners such as Alger Hiss, Corliss Lamont, the Hollywood Ten, and Ann and Carl Braden, many of whom Belfrage knew personally. Due to such reportage Belfrage was summoned in 1953 to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and in 1955, he was deported back to his native England. There he became the editor-in-exile of the National Guardian, travelling widely, and wrote a book about his deportation experience, The Frightened Giant (1956). Belfrage travelled to Cuba in 1961 and in 1962 travelled throughout South America. In 1961 he wrote an historical novel, My Master Columbus. In 1963 Belfrage settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico with his fourth and last wife, Mary. There they ran a left-wing guest house and offered refuge to South American exiles. In 1967 Belfrage resigned from the National Guardian (which then shortened its name to the Guardian), as did Aronson. The new Guardian staff wanted the paper to become an ideological leader of the New Left. Neither Belfrage nor Aronson could endorse this move, as they had deliberately founded the Guardian on a non-sectarian basis. Belfrage's relations with the Guardian remained hostile for a time, though by the 1980's he was corresponding with the staff and writing book reviews and articles. Belfrage also made his debut as a Spanish/English translator with Eduardo Galeano's Guatemala Occupied Country. From about 1970 to 1973 Belfrage's main project was his book on the McCarthy era, The American Inquisition. In 1973, Belfrage returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1955, on a publicity tour for his new book. Belfrage continued to write extensively until his last years. He translated Eduardo's Galeano's trilogy on Latin America, Memory of Fire (Pantheon, 1985). He died in Mexico on June 21, 1990.
From the description of Papers, 1922-1990 (bulk 1945-1985). (New York University). WorldCat record id: 475901590
Cedric Belfrage, socialist, author, journalist, translator, and co-founder of the National Guardian, was born in London on November 8, 1904. He came from a conservative middle-class family and his father was a doctor. During his childhood and adolescence he attended public school, and at the age of twenty-one went to college at Cambridge University. His early career as a film critic began there, where he published his first article in Kinematograph Weekly on May 8, 1924.
In 1926 Belfrage travelled to New York where film criticism was a more profitable occupation. There he wrote for magazines and newspapers such as Picturegoer, Bioscope, The New York Herald Tribune, The Daily News, and Commercial Art. Belfrage's characteristic ironic humor is evident even in these early writings. In 1927 his career as a film critic propelled him further west, to Hollywood. He traveled by train and arrived with $23.00. He was hired by the New York Sun and Film Weekly (based in London) as a Hollywood correspondent. In 1928 he was married to Virginia Bradford, a Hollywood starlet, whom he divorced about two years later.
Belfrage returned to London in 1930 as Sam Goldwyn's press agent. Once there, Lord Beaverbrook of the Sunday Express (later Daily Express) soon hired him and in 1932 sent him back to Hollywood as the paper's correspondent. The Express sent him on another film criticism journey in 1934, this time around the world. This voyage provided Belfrage with the material for his first book, Away From It All (published in 1937 by Gollancz, Simon and Schuster, and Literary Guild, and in 1940 by Penguin). It was also during this voyage that Belfrage became politicized. Not only did he witness the poverty brought about by imperialism, but also "the advent of Hitlerism and the lack of alarm in the British ruling circles."(Guardian obituary, 7/4/90)
When Gollancz accepted Away From It All in 1936, Belfrage resigned from the Express to settle back in Hollywood, with his new wife Molly Castle, and their daughter Sally. At this point he became politically active for the first time, joining the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League and the Spanish Republican Committee, and co-editing a left literary magazine, The Clipper. He also collaborated with Theodor Dreiser on a book. Away From It All proved successful, and Belfrage soon began work on his second book, The Promised Land, dispelling various myths about Hollywood. In 1937, Belfrage met Claude Williams, a Presbyterian preacher from Arkansas, with whom he became fast friends and would have an on-going collaborative relationship. Williams was on a fund raising tour for his People's Institute of Applied Religion, a Christian Marxist organization in solidarity with southern sharecroppers and the Civil Rights movement. Belfrage wrote a biography of Williams that was published as Let My People Go in 1937 by Gollancz (and as South of God in 1938 by Left Book Club, and as A Faith To Free The People in 1942 by Modern Age, Dryden Press and Book Find Club).
Belfrage's political engagement, which seems at this time to have centered on the broad based anti-fascist effort, led him to join the Communist Party in 1937. The fact the he withdrew his membership a few months later, and that he had only just begun to read Marx and Lenin, suggests that he joined because of the C.P.'s visible, accessible and organized protest against fascism, rather than because of any allegiance to the C.P. itself. After this break, Belfrage would maintain a friendly but critical relationship with the Communist Party.
In 1941, the Belfrage family, now including two year old Nicholas, moved to New York where Cedric served with British Intelligence. Also in 1941, he had an autobiography published, They All Hold Swords (Modern Age). He continued his work with British Intelligence until 1943, and in 1944 became a Press Control Officer in London for the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditional Forces (SHAEF) Psychological Warfare Division (PWD). He was sent in this capacity to France and then to Germany where his mission was to de-Nazify the German press by helping found the first anti-fascist newspaper in Germany after World War II, the Frankfurt Rundschau. At this time Belfrage met Jim Aronson who was working on the same project. The two would go on to found the National Guardian (along with Jack McManus) and become life-long best friends.
Belfrage returned to the U.S. in 1945, where he settled with his family in Croton-on-Hudson, New York. He received a Guggenheim fellowship to write Seeds of Destruction, his chronicle of de-Nazifying the German press, but the Cold War made its publication impossible until 1954 (Cameron & Kahn). At this time, he also worked on his novel about the U.S. funeral industry, Abide With Me (Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948, Secker & Warburg, London, 1948, translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia). In 1947 his third child, Anne, was born.
In the summer of 1948, Belfrage travelled to southeast Missouri to visit Claude Williams. He spent several months there and was introduced to Claude's friends, Owen Whitfield (Whit), a black sharecropper preacher, and Thad Snow, a white cotton planter and Whit's neighbor. From them Belfrage learned about the Sharecropper's Strike of 1939, which was organized by Whit and Thad. He began writing a book on this event and these two men, but never completed it (though he took it up again in 1982), due to another project that came up: founding a newspaper.
The fall of 1948 marks the birth of The National Guardian, a progressive newsweekly. Its purpose was, as Belfrage put it in his address to the 1980 Meiklejohn Institute Symposium on HUAC, "to oppose head-on both the witch-hunts and the Cold War of which they were the domestic auxiliary," but on a strictly non-partisan basis. The paper also aimed to unify the left, as Belfrage explained in a 1986 Guardian interview: "There's apparently something about Marxism which makes its devotees fight each other like cats and dogs. And this was an attempt to stop that." (published in the Fall 1988 40th Anniversary Journal) This goal of unity typifies Belfrage's political stand, which was critical but always aiming to strengthen ties among leftist groups rather than emphasize differences.
The National Guardian drew its readership largely from the Progressive Party. The first issue featured an article by progressive Henry Wallace, whom the National Guardian endorsed as a presidential candidate on the independent ballot that year. The paper also found support in the American Labor Party. Congressman Vito Marcantonio was especially enthusiastic about the paper. It reported on such issues and events as the trial and execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, charged with 'atomic espionage' for the Soviet Union, the Korean War (the paper opposed it), the indictment of reporter Anna Louise Strong (NG foreign correspondent) in the Soviet Union as a U.S. spy, the Trenton Six, the murder of Emmet Till, and the growth of the Civil Rights movement (it was the first American newspaper to have a Black History section). It supported national liberation struggles around the world: Africa in the 1950's, Southeast Asia in the 1960's and early 1970's, and Latin America in the 1980's. It also supported the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (in which Sally Belfrage was extremely active and about which she wrote her first book, Freedom Summer). The National Guardian was among the first papers to oppose the Vietnam War with on-scene reports from foreign correspondent Wilfred Burchett. Another cause taken up by the National Guardian was the defense of political prisoners such as Alger Hiss, Corliss Lamont, the Hollywood Ten, and Ann and Carl Braden, many of whom Belfrage knew personally and had an on-going correspondence with.
Due to such reportage the National Guardian was constantly harassed by the government, culminating in 1953 when Belfrage was summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and Senator Joe McCarthy. Belfrage invoked the fifth amendment at his hearing in response to charges of being a Communist Party member. The next day he was arrested by immigration officials at his desk in the National Guardian office. Belfrage alone among the paper's staff was vulnerable to arrest due to his status as an alien; he had never obtained U.S. citizenship. He was taken to Ellis Island where he spent one month in jail.
But Belfrage's troubles with the government were not over and he was again arrested in 1955. This time he spent three months at the West Street Federal Penitentiary before he was deported (along with his third wife, Jo) back to his native England. There he became the editor-in-exile of the National Guardian . As a reporter, he travelled to India, East and West Europe, Israel, Russia (just after Nikita Krushchev's 1956 attack on Stalin), China, where in 1957 Belfrage was "the only person...reporting for an American publication" (1986 Guardian interview), and Ghana, where he renewed his friendship with W.E.B. DuBois. He also helped organize a British committee to obtain a U.S. passport for African-American singer Paul Robeson. In addition to reporting, Belfrage wrote a book at this time about his deportation experience, The Frightened Giant (Secker & Warburg, London, 1956, Guardian Books, N.Y., 1957).
In 1961, Belfrage travelled to Cuba and in 1962 throughout South America. He used his experience in Cuba to write a historical novel, My Master Columbus (Secker & Warburg, 1961, Doubleday, N.Y., 1962) and his South American experiences were published in 1963 as The Man at the Door With The Gun (Monthly Review Press). In the same year, Belfrage settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico with his fourth and last wife, Mary. There they ran a left-wing guest house and offered refuge to South American exiles.
In 1967 Belfrage resigned from the National Guardian (which then shortened its name to the Guardian), as did Aronson. The new Guardian staff wanted the paper to become an ideological leader of the New Left. Neither Belfrage nor Aronson could endorse this move, as they had deliberately founded the Guardian on a non-sectarian basis and as a unifying force on the left. As Belfrage wrote in a letter dated April 11, 1966 to staff member Jack Smith, "What seems beyond a doubt is that our non-sectarian radicalism is the main basis of the support we receive, the main thing NG has that other Left publications don't have...I would describe the paper as an organ and defender of, and newspaper of record for, all groups and individuals who are fighting the political and social status quo..." Belfrage's relations with the Guardian remained hostile for a time, though by the 1980's he was corresponding with the staff and writing book reviews and articles.
While 1967 marks the end of one phase in Belfrage's career, it also marks the beginning of a new one. He made his debut as a Spanish/English translator with Eduardo Galeano's Guatemala Occupied Country (Monthly Review Press). He achieved great success in this field and was extremely talented. From about 1970 to 1973 Belfrage's main project was researching and writing his book on the McCarthy era, The American Inquisition (Bobbs Merrill, 1973, Siglo XXI, Mexico, Thunder' Mouth Press, 1989). In 1973, Belfrage returned to the U.S. for the first time since 1955 (after a lengthy campaign to obtain a visa) on a publicity tour for his new book. He lectured at universities and to left organizations throughout the country.
In 1981 Belfrage suffered a stroke which partially paralyzed his left hand. In spite of this handicap, he continued to write extensively until his last years. He translated Eduardo Galeano's trilogy on Latin America, Memory of Fire (Pantheon, 1985), for which he received much acclaim. He also began writing (but never finished) a memoir, and a book on his time in Hollywood, focusing on the social and cultural side rather than the political, and returned to his book on Thad and Whit. He also began biographies on the Mexican Revolutionary, Emiliano Zapata, and the Spanish priest Las Casas who befriended the natives at the time Spain conquered Mexico. Belfrage's sense of humor remained sharp during his last years as is evident in various short writings such as an Encyclopedia of Useless Information, and a novel about a nudist colony. In addition to writing, he was active with Mary in the aid of South American refugees, and together they continued to welcome friends and comrades to their home. He died in Mexico on June 21, 1990.
- 'Away From It All.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Simon & Schuster, 1937; Literary Guild, 1937 Penguin (Britain) ppbk. 1940.
- 'Promised Land.' Gollancz, London, 1937; Left Book Club, London, 1937; Republished by Garland, N.Y., Classics of Film Literature series, 1983.
- 'Let My People Go.' Gollancz, London, 1937.
- 'South of God.' Left Book Club, 1938.
- 'A Faith to Free the People.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1942; Dryden Press, N.Y., 1944; Book Find Club, 1944; (translated into Chinese and German) by the People's Institute of Applied Religion.
- 'They All Hold Swords.' Modern Age, N.Y., 1941
- 'Abide With Me.' Sloane Associates, N.Y., 1948; Secker & Warburg, London, 1948; (translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia)
- 'Seeds of Destruction.' Cameron & Kahn, N.Y., 1954
- 'The Frightened Giant.' Secker & Warburg, London, 1956
- 'My Master Columbus.' Secker & Warburg, 1961; Doubleday, N.Y., 1962; Editiones Contemporaneos, Mexico, (in Spanish). Also translated in Germany and Czechoslovakia.
- 'The Man at the Door With the Gun.' Monthly Review, N.Y., 1963
- 'The American Inquisition.' Bobbs-Merrill, 1973; Siglo XXI, Mexico (in Spanish) Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989.
- 'Something to Guard.' Columbia University Press, 1978
- Galeano: Guatemala Occupied Country, 1967.
- Silen: We the Puerto Rican People, 1971.
- Galeano: Open Veins of Latin America, 1973.
- Galeano: Workers' Struggle in Puerto Rico, 1976.
- Fraginals: The Sugarmill, 1976.
- Selser: Sandino, 1981.
- Galeano: Memory of Fire (translated 1983) Pantheon, 1985.
From the guide to the Cedric Belfrage Papers, Bulk, 1945-1985, 1922-1990, (Bulk 1945-1985), (Tamiment Library / Wagner Archives)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|New York (State)--New York|
|Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)|
|Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)|
|California--Hollywood (Los Angeles)|
|Civil rights movement|
|Vietnam War, 1961-1975|
|Civil rights movements--United States|
|Journalists--New York (State)--New York|
|Political prisoners--United States|
|Korean War, 1950-1953|
|Journalism, Socialist--United States|
|Periodical editors--United States|
|Secret service--New York (State)--New York|
|Socialists--New York (State)--New York|
|Political activists--California--Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.)|
|Peace movements--United States|