BROOKE GLADSTONE: Composer Aaron Copland did not testify in public before Joe McCarthy's infamous committee. We know that because just this week the transcripts of 161 of his closed-door sessions were released. These were dress rehearsals for an endless run of public hearings the Wisconsin Republican staged in the '50s to fan the flames of the Red Scare. It's been noted that only those who looked suspicious or confused or weak were called to testify. Copland, it seems, failed the audition. His testimony would not have been televised in any case. Broadcast gavel to gavel coverage was reserved for the senator's investigation of the Army over 36 days in the spring of '54. And though the 1951 Kefauver Crime Committee has prior claim as the first congressional reality TV show, and the Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings riveted the nation, the Army-McCarthy hearings beat them all for sheer theatricality. Senator Joe McCarthy as Sergeant Joe Friday playing Inspector Javert. [TAPE PLAYS]
SENATOR JOE McCARTHY: I want to tell the secretary of state this: if he wants to call me tonight at the Utah Hotel, I'll be glad to give him the names of those 57 card-carrying Communists. Now I, I don't claim to be any FBI or anything, so that when I have the names of 57, you can be right well sure there are a lot more.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:The irony, as any Hollywood agent could have seen with eyes cleared of fear was that McCarthy was a bad actor, a Johnny one-note with an expiration date. "The American people have had a look at you for six weeks," Senator Stuart Symington told him near the end, "You're not fooling anyone." No matter how much Vaseline you smear on the camera lens, eventually the folks at home will see through it, and you'll look ugly if that's what you are. [MUSIC]
MAN: [SINGING] I GOT THOSE SENATOR McCARTHY, CHAIRMAN MONT, MAGLELLAN POTTER SENATOR DIRKSEN BLUES!
BECAUSE MY GAL WON'T LEAVE HER TV SET, I THINK THAT SHE'S ABOUT TO BLOW HER FUSE!
I GOT THOSE OPEN-SESSION CLOSE A SESSION AND THE SESSION NO CONFESSION BLUES!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, a Hitler mini-series in hot water, and a history of the wildly successful and ever-lastingly annoying laugh track. This is On the Media from NPR.