CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — A new 30-minute-long documentary tells four separate stories of individuals or programs at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign that were either affected by harsh Cold War politics and their destructive aftermath or, in one segment, shed light on a government film studio dedicated to Cold War propaganda. “Cold War: Illinois Stories” premieres Sept. 29 at 7 a.m. CDT on the Big Ten Network.
The Cold War’s presence on American universities would have many lasting effects, including the four episodes featured in the documentary:
- Music professor Norman Cazden was being considered for tenure in 1952 when he was investigated by the FBI for being a communist. Subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Cazden exercised his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer any questions. With mounting pressure from local politicians eager to gain recognition for purging communists from public life, Cazden was let go from the U. of I. and blacklisted from any academic employment for the next 16 years.
- English professor Charles Shattuck, the co-chairman of the Student-Community Interracial Committee, sparred with infiltrating communist sympathizers who hoped to use his group’s influence for their own agendas. The committee sought to reduce racial discrimination on campus and in several local establishments from 1945 to 1951. Influenced by secret communists inside the group, other members became more radicalized. Shattuck said he knew the only way to stop them from taking over was to disband the committee in 1951.
University President George Stoddard (1946-53) was hired during a time when student enrollment skyrocketed with the return of WW II veterans. Recognizing an opportunity to bring change to the major research university, Stoddard doubled the size of the faculty, advocated for educational television at WILL-TV, and opened satellite campuses in Galesburg and Chicago’s Navy Pier. Some of Stoddard’s actions were seen as too progressive and he was once accused of harboring communists on campus. The Board of Trustees voted “no confidence” in Stoddard in 1953 and he was asked to write a letter of resignation on the spot.
University President George Stoddard was asked to resign in 1953 after the Board of Trustees passed a “no confidence” vote. His actions were seen as too progressive and he was once accused of harboring communists on campus.
Photo courtesy University Archives.
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- College of Fine and Applied Arts Dean Kevin Hamilton and communication professor Ned O’Gorman uncovered a secret Hollywood studio tasked with creating propaganda films. In their 2019 book “Lookout America!: The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War,” the two Illinois educators described how the U.S. government used the Lookout Mountain Laboratory in Hollywood, California, from 1947 to 1969 to create hundreds of films covering nuclear testing and anti-communist materials. Top Hollywood talent including Jimmy Stewart, Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe were often called upon to participate in the films.
The documentary ends with a behind-the-scenes look at the Krannert Art Museum exhibit “Hot Spots: Radioactivity and the Landscape,” on view from October 2019 to March 2020. The exhibition showcased the environmental impact of nuclear testing and its long-term impact in the U.S. “We are the most bombed country in the world,” Hamilton said. “People are surprised when they learn just how many detonations happened.”
“Cold War: Illinois Stories” was produced by Tim Hartin and Kaitlin Southworth for the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s Office of Public Affairs and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.