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 Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical :

John Henry Faulk

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
At an annual meeting of ETHA late in the 1970s, our members were entertained by John Henry Faulk, who came over from Madisonville to Nacogdoches to present a memorable program. Faulk was simply the best storyteller I ever heard.

Some of our audience was unaware that Johnny Faulk had once been atop the show business ladder in New York City, only to tumble when falsely accused during the era of McCarthyism of being a communist. Perhaps it was fighting back that hurt him most, even though he eventually won a court decision against his accusers.

Here is the storyteller's story.

John Henry Faulk was born in Austin in 1913, and attended the University of Texas where he was greatly influence by J. Frank Dobie and Walter P. Webb. A Methodist, Faulk studied African-American ministers and became an expert in mimicking their style of preaching. He also developed an enormous empathy with African Americans, who suffered significantly from segregation.

Faulk taught English at the University of Texas for a time, then served in the merchant marine and finally in the U.S. Army during WWII. While still in the service Faulk visited New York, and through a friend, Alan Lomax, met and impressed media executives with his humor and story telling ability.

CBS gave Faulk his own show, "Johnny's Front Porch," a combination variety/talk show. Until 1957 Faulk appeared on various radio shows and networks along a career path seemingly destined for national stardom-until he encountered AWARE, a watchdog group that investigated alleged communists in media.

Faulk could be called liberal, especially on issues such as race and freedom of speech, but he was not a communist. He did oppose AWARE, and in retaliation, the group branded him communist. CBS didn't investigate for itself-it fired Faulk simply over the accusation.

With the financial and moral support of Edward R. Murrow, Faulk filed suit and after five years-during which Joseph McCarthy's destructive career ended-won a huge judgment in court. All the money went to the lawyers, and CBS still refused to rehire Faulk because of the controversy. So he moved back to Texas, where he became a hero to those who had fought McCarthyism. Eventually John Henry Faulk appeared on "Hee Haw," a syndicated television program featuring country music and corny humor-and occasionally in such venues as the East Texas Historical Association's annual meeting. Faulk's skills could have carried him to stardom and wealth. Instead, he died poor but vindicated, in 1990.

© Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical

July 30, 2007 column
A syndicated column in over 70 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Archie P. McDonald is director of the Association and author of more than 20 books on Texas.
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