As previously mentioned, one particular source will be a sort of “star” in our documentary. That source is the transcript and recording of the Hearings Before The Subcommittee To Investigate Juvenile Delinquency Of The Committee On The Judiciary United States Senate Eighty-Third Congress Second Session Pursuant To S. 190.
There are a few key and well known stars of these hearings that are most often cited: Senator Kefauver, Dr. Fredric Wertham, William Gaines, and even Milton Caniff and Walt Kelly.
There are also lesser known individuals whose presence and testimony greatly informed the final report produced by the Committee.
During the mostly sedate and professional proceedings a few moments rise to the surface as… “bristly exchanges”.
Two very interesting exchanges involve the testimony of Gunnar Dybwad (left), Executive Director of the Childhood Study Association of America and Dr. Lauretta Bender, Senior Psychiatrist at Bellvue Hospital and member of the Editorial Board of the National Comics Companies. During the testimony of Mr. Dybwad Senator Kefauver became highly agitated over the apparent conflict of interest of individuals that were advocating for comic books through their respective organizations or titles while also being members of comic book advisory boards established by publishers in an effort to assuage fear and anger about the issue of comics, crime, and juvenile delinquency. Later during the hearings Dr. Bender was subjected to similar questions regarding conflict of interest, though she fared better than Mr. Dybwad.
There is also the presence of Committee member Senator Thomas C. Hennings (right) of Missouri. At one moment during the hearings Senator Hennings demonstrates what I believe is the true nature of the Committee’s work. From my readings I have concluded that the Committee was not on a witch hunt; they were not out to ruin the comics industry, or sniff out insidious individuals with secret agendas. Actually, quite the opposite, the Committee seems to hone in quite early on the notion that this whole ordeal is one with a financial motive whose impact has become a social concern.
The Senate Subcommitte on Juvenile Delinquency, represented by Senator Robert C. Hendrickson of New Jersey, Senator William Langer of North Dakota, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Senator Thomas C. Hennings, Jr. of Missouri, and counselors Herbert J. Hannoch and Herbert Wilton Beaser called to order hearings to investigate, discover, and act, in some way upon, a major concern in the United States: juvenile delinquency at its relationship to comic books. Senator Hennings, quite humbly, reiterates this goal as he thanks Mr. Henry Schultz, General Counsel for the Association of Comic Magazine Publishers, for his testimony (see video below).
This is quite an appropriate statement from Senator Hennings if you consider his other work. He took interest and action in matters regarding ethical behavior and transparency by the U.S. government and its officials. He was a proponent and protector of civil rights.
In line with that, Senator Hennings had been a prominent critic of Senator Joseph McCarthy. In Donald J. Kemper’s book Decade of Fear: Senator Hennings and Civil Liberties, the author illustrates the longstanding disapproval that Hennings had of McCarthy:
“In the early 1950 ‘s Hennings began, undramatically but persistently, to oppose Senator McCarthy. In sum, he contributed as much as any single public figure to McCarthy’s decline in power. His opposition had personal as well as political basis, for to him McCarthy embodied much that was personally and politically distasteful. McCarthy’s crude discourtesy, his practice of name calling, his pursuit of personal vendettas, and his accusations based on flimsy evidence offended the Missourian’s sense of decency, while the fever McCarthy fomented against the expression of any but the most orthodox and “patriotic” sentiments violated Hennings’ commitment to the broadest liberty of thought and expression. Despite the very immediate danger of becoming involved in a personal feud with McCarthy, Hennings vigorously opposed him and, eventually, succeeded in lessening his impact on public life.”
Senator Hennings eventually led hearings investigating ethical violations of Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1952.
Two years later America was watching McCarthy’s communist witch-hunt play-out on television in the news and through his own broadcasted hearings which became popularly known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings. Coincidentally, the Army-McCarthy hearings began airing the day after the Senate Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency opened.
Fortunately, reason won out over panic and fear and McCarthy again found himself the subject of an investigation when in August of 1954 a Senate committee was formed to investigate his actions. In September the committee released a unanimous report calling McCarthy’s behavior as a committee chairman inexcusable, reprehensible, vulgar and insulting. By December the Senate passed a resolution condemning McCarthy for abusing his power as a senator.