How Kirk Douglas and Radio Free Europe countered Soviet propaganda

By Ted Lipien

RFE-RL Wire Wall001Despite gasps of indignation from the Kremlin and quite a few Western fellow travelers who could not identify Soviet propaganda if they saw it right in front of them, Radio Free Europe (RFE) and later Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) always had broadcasters and analysts who responded to propaganda effectively and countered it without violating journalistic ethics.

As reported a few years ago by former RFE/RL security director Richard H. Cummings in his fascinating Cold War Radio Broadcasting And More Blog, Radio Free Europe got famed Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas to do a program in Russian, after he had been insulted by Radio Moscow. Kirk Douglas celebrated his 99th birthday on Wednesday at his home in Beverly Hills.

More than sixty years ago, in 1954, the Soviet propaganda station reported that Kirk Douglas, who had played the lead part in a movie based on Homer’s “Odyssey,” did not know who Homer was. Radio Moscow then praised the quality of superior Soviet education.

What Radio Moscow said about the American-born actor was a lie. Kirk Douglas, whose Jewish parents immigrated to the United States from Belorussia, responded in a May 6, 1954 Radio Free Europe broadcast in which he spoke Russian.

(In another post, Richard H. Cummings describes how the great American jazz musician Louis Armstrong introduced one of his songs in rehearsed Russian for a Radio Liberty program. Armstrong was also a quest on Voice of America programs hosted by Willis Conover. Both RFE/RL and VOA continue their multimedia programs for millions of Russian speakers in the Russian Federation and in former republics of the Soviet Union.)

 

READ MORE: Ulysses Fights Moscow: Kirk Douglas and RFE, Richard H. Cummings, Cold War Radio Broadcasting And More, December 26, 2010

 

Richard H. Cummings is also the author of “The Dangerous History of American Broadcasting in Europe, 1950–1989” and “Radio Free Europe’s ‘Crusade for Freedom’: Rallying Americans Behind Cold War Broadcasting, 1950–1960.”
 

ADDENDUM

 

In 1982, Kirk Douglas again lent his hand to fight Soviet block propaganda. He participated in the special television program “Let Poland Be Poland,” which was produced by the United States International Communications Agency (USICA) with private Hollywood partners. The agency, ran by President Reagan’s close friend Charles Z. Wick, was earlier known as the United Information Agency (USIA). Later, its name was changed back to USIA. At that time, the Voice of America was one of the elements of USICA.

Kirk Dougals in Let Poland Be PolandThe 90-minute 1982 “Let Poland Be Poland” program also included statements of support from Henry Fonda, Charlton Heston, Glenda Jackson, Paul McCarthney, Bob Hope, President Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra, who performed the Polish folk song, “Ever Homeward” in both English and Polish, Czeslaw Milosz, Helmut Schmidt, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and others famous political leaders and artists. In total, 16 heads of state and government leaders made statements in support of Poland and of Solidarity. SEE: “How Frank Sinatra and Voice of America countered communist propaganda.”

In “Let Poland Be Poland,” Kirk Douglas talked about the connection between artistic and political freedom, and shared memories from his visit to the National Film School in Łódź in 1966.
 
 


 

Link to “Let Poland Be Poland – Kirk Douglas
 

 
 
 

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