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Cactus Pryor on John Henry Faulk and the Blacklist (1997)

Cactus and Peggy Davis Pryor

Sound | 1997

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  •  “It covered America like a giant scab.” 
 
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In this unedited interview shot at Green Pastures in 1997 for a program titled “Austin Remember When,” Cactus Pryor recalls what it was like to grow up in Austin. In this segment of the larger interview, Cactus talks about entertainer and Austin native, John Henry Faulk, and his experience with the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s. In 1957, the right-wing, for-profit organization AWARE, Inc., likely in retaliation for Faulk’s previous efforts to thwart AWARE’s control of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union, blacklisted Faulk for alleged communist associations and sympathies. Faulk filed and won a libel suit against the organization, winning a historic settlement that the jury determined was fair compensation, a sum much larger than Faulk sought in his original petition. Despite his courtroom victory, Faulk's career in show business was effectively over. Cactus Pryor says the Communist Red Scare "covered America like a giant scab."
Richard S. "Cactus" Pryor was a comedic television and broadcast personality from Austin, Texas. Cactus, an Austin native, was born in 1923, straight into the entertainment business. His father owned the Cactus Theater on Congress Avenue (hence the nickname), and starting at just 3 years old, Cactus made stage appearances before the shows began. Cactus attended the University of Texas and served in the US Army Air Corp. When he returned to Austin from his service in 1944, Cactus joined the broadcasting team at Lady Bird Johnson's KLBJ radio station, where he worked until 2008. He joined the world of broadcast television at KTBC in 1951 where he was program manager and hosted a variety of television programs, including a football program with Darrell K Royal and many celebrity interviews. Cactus appeared in two films with his friend John Wayne, Hellfighters and The Green Berets. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, he became a sought-after speaker and event host, famous for his roasts of entertainers and politicians, most of whom he counted as close friends. Cactus was also known for his disguises. He would appear at functions in character, often pulling a fast one on the crowd as he charmed them first in disguise, then again as he revealed himself and used his earlier conversations to entertain the crowd. As an active member of the Headliners Club of Austin, Pryor starred in many humorous television news satires alongside Texas politicians, some of which can be seen in his film collection, as well as the Gordon Wilkison Collection and the Wallace and Euna Pryor Collection. He was nationally-known, but kept Austin his home, helping put the city on the map in the 60s and 70s. Cactus Pryor announced to his KLBJ listeners in 2007 that he had Alzheimer's disease, and Austin's "original funnyman" died in 2011.
John Henry Faulk (1913-1990) was a Texas writer, humorist, television personality, lecturer, and civil rights activist. Faulk grew up in Austin, Texas and studied at the University of Texas where he became the protégé of progressive Texas thinkers J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedicheck. Faulk’s father was a socialist and staunchly anti-racist, and Faulk’s upbringing, coupled with the influence of his three mentors, led his scholarly research into the civil liberties of African-Americans; his master’s thesis focused on the analysis of ten African-American sermons from churches along the Brazos River. Faulk taught English at the University of Texas from 1940-42, where he honed his talents of using storytelling as a commentary on societal norms in front of his students. After serving in the Merchant Marines and the U.S. Army during WWII, he became acquainted with members of the entertainment industry through his close friend, Alan Lomax. In 1946, CBS gave Faulk his first weekly radio program. He went on to have shows on several other regional stations before beginning the John Henry Faulk Show for WCBS in 1951. The show ran for six years until Faulk famously fell victim to Cold War era McCarthyism, and his entertainment career effectively ended due to his blacklisting. In 1957, the right-wing, for-profit organization AWARE, Inc., likely in retaliation for Faulk’s previous efforts to thwart AWARE’s control of the  American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union, blacklisted Faulk for alleged communist associations and sympathies. Faulk filed and won a libel suit against the organization, winning a historic settlement that the jury determined was fair compensation, a sum much larger than Faulk sought in his original petition. Despite his courtroom victory, Faulk was unable to find work as a media entertainer again until 1975 when he joined the cast of Hee-Haw. Faulk wrote two books, one a tell-all about his battle against blacklisting that became an Emmy-winning television movie in 1974. He returned to Austin in 1968, and, along with his work on Hee-Haw, he wrote two one-man plays, unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Congress, and again became a university lecturer, urging students to protect their First Amendment rights. Faulk married Hally Wood in 1940, Lynne Smith in 1948, and Elizabeth Peake in 1965; he had five children. John Henry Faulk died in 1990 after a battle with cancer. Austin’s central branch of their public library system is named in his honor.