A McCarthy who may have been a victim of McCarthyism
Senator Joe McCarthy is remembered today as the leader of a crusade to expose communist traitors in the U.S. government. His investigations, which produced sensational allegations but little new evidence of actual subversion, also led to the coining of the word “McCarthyism” to characterize a period marked by fear, intolerance and official persecution of persons who were suspected of unpopular beliefs or behavior.
Ironically, it appears that one of the earliest victims of this atmosphere of suspicion was another man named McCarthy – a highly regarded Army officer who was not related to the senator from Wisconsin, and who briefly held an important position in President Truman’s State Department.
Frank McCarthy was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1912 and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1933. After working as a press agent for a theatrical producer in New York, he joined the Army Reserve in 1940 and soon became acquainted with the nation’s most famous VMI graduate, General George C. Marshall, the Army chief of staff.
During World War II, as assistant secretary and then secretary of the War Department general staff, McCarthy acted as Marshall’s military aide and accompanied him to the Allied conferences at Casablanca, Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of brigadier general and received the Distinguished Service Medal. Late in 1945, after leaving the Army, McCarthy was appointed assistant secretary of state by President Truman. He was the youngest man ever to hold that office.
However, only a month later, McCarthy suddenly resigned. The official explanation was that he was suffering from poor health. Some scholars now believe McCarthy was pressured to resign because of suspicions about his personal life.
During the postwar years, a number of official efforts were made to remove people who were labeled as “sex perverts” from the U.S government, on the grounds that homosexual behavior made such employees vulnerable to blackmail. This “lavender scare,” as it has come to be called, forced many gays and lesbians from government service. The tactics used against them by investigators were very similar to those employed against alleged communists during the same period: gossip, innuendo and inquiries into personal affairs that had little or nothing to do with an employee’s official duties.
General Marshall’s letters to McCarthy, which are included among McCarthy’s papers at the George C. Marshall Research Center, indicate Marshall neither knew nor cared very much about his trusted aide’s sexual orientation. Frank McCarthy was a confirmed bachelor, and Marshall did offer him some good-humored advice as to the advantages of marriage, observing that “a wife is a very necessary part of the balance of life in a man.” (Marshall enjoyed a long and happy marriage to his second wife, Katherine, whom he had married after his first wife died of a heart ailment.)
Whatever the reasons for his resignation, Frank McCarthy did not vanish into obscurity after he left the State Department. He went to work for the Motion Picture Association of America and enjoyed a successful career as a movie producer. One of his most popular productions was the Walter Matthau comedy “A Guide for the Married Man” (1967) – an interesting title, in view of McCarthy’s lifelong bachelorhood.
But McCarthy achieved his greatest success in 1970, as the producer of “Patton,” a film biography of the legendary World War II general. Patton received the Academy Award for Best Picture, and George C. Scott was named Best Actor for his performance in the title role (although Scott refused to accept the Oscar).
McCarthy’s personal experiences in the military during World War II must have provided him with insights that contributed to the success of both “Patton” and his subsequent production, “MacArthur,” with Gregory Peck as General Douglas MacArthur. He also planned to produce a film biography of his old mentor, General Marshall, but this project was never completed. McCarthy died in 1986.
More information about “McCarthyism” and its legacy will be available for the public to see when the Harry S. Truman Library’s newly-renovated museum reopens this year.
Randy Sowell is an archivist at the Truman Library in Independence.