The Autobiography of Lester Cole
I was driving home from the market one morning, in 1978, the radio turned to a talk show. A writer and his actress wife were talking about and promoting
their new book, something about the annual migration of swans that stopped to rest and feed in a pond on their estate in Long Island. Suddenly, I was startled; I recognized the stuttering voice of an old
“friendly witness,” Budd Schulberg, who – his father, a millionaire in the twenties and early thirties – had been head man at Paramount. Budd was among the earlier elite Party members to turn informer, who
“sang like a canary,” as the cons would say at Danbury.
Listeners to the radio program were invited to call in and ask questions. I sped home, got on the phone, waited anxiously, and just three minutes before the
show was to end I was put on. A caller only gave his first name, and I was introduced as “Lester, who was interested in your interest in birds.” The name Lester apparently rang no bell then, and he asked pleasantly
what it was I wanted to know.
I was prepared; I’d thought of nothing else since I raced home to telephone twenty minutes before. “Why did you write about swans and not canaries?” I asked.
“Canaries?” He was puzzled.
“Canaries, yes. A bird you really know.” I was suddenly so angry I was shouting. “You know all about canaries because you are a canary! Aren’t you
the canary who sang before the un-American Committee? Aren’t you that canary? Or are you another bird, a pigeon – the stool kind.”
There was an audible gasp at the other end. Schulberg was once again stuttering as he had done in his youth. He finally managed to say, “L-l-ester?
Lester Cole! L-l-ester, I’ve been wanting to see you all these years. I want to explain. I really c-can. I –“
“Just sing, canary, sing, you bastard!” I’d lost control in my fury. I could have done much better had I remained calm.
I was cut off at that point. But sometimes little things like that can make your day.