Who is Matt Cvetic? Hero? Scoundrel? Mole? The man who loosely provided the inspiration for the B-Grade cult movie I Was a Communist for the FBI had a life that was marred by alcoholism, damaged expectations, and greed.
Cvetic, at the request of the FBI, joined a Pittsburgh branch of the CPUSA in 1943. He became one of many plants in the Party during that decade and gained the nickname "Pennsylvania’s most significant mole." However, because of his erratic behavior, the FBI fired him in 1950, at which time he surfaced and suddenly became a celebrity through his testimony before the HUAC hearing. Journalist Richard Rovere described Cvetic as a "kept witness," a term that fits those who "made a business of being witnesses," thereby "befouling due process."
Cvetic was the subject of a multipart series in the Saturday Evening Post. The articles bordered on fiction, but they gave Cvetic the national exposure he needed to secure a screen deal. Warner Brothers bought the story, made the movie, and enhanced Cvetic’s celebrity as pop icon. In the mid–1950s, Cvetic was discredited as a witness by the courts. His career ended and he found a new niche on the Radical Right, yet he died in 1962 after years of fighting to uphold his image with the media. Today Cvetic’s image is dimly remembered as he continues to fight "the Red Menace" on late-night television.
Leab juxtaposes Cvetic’s real life with his reel life. He chronicles his fall from grace, yet admits that Cvetic’s life offers fascinating and useful insights into the creation, merchandising, and distribution of a reckless professional witness. Leab also writes about Cvetic’s life prior to his involvement with the FBI, his glory days, and shows that there is much to be learned from the story of an "anti-Communist icon."