Alger Hiss was born today in 1903. The Harvard-educated diplomat -- the original "elitist" -- was lionized as an innocent wrongly accused by the establishment Left when, in the late 1940s, he was accused by Whittaker Chambers, a Time magazine writer, of having been a spy in the 1930s as a young man (along with Chambers). When the Venona files were released in the 1990s -- decryptions of intercepts of Soviet communications from the 1930s -- it was proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Chambers had been right and Hiss had, in fact, perjured himself. The essential books about the Hiss-Chambers case are Allen Weinstein's Perjury; Sam Tanenhaus' biography of Chambers; and Chambers' own epic memoir, Witness, one of the truly great books of the century.
Funny story about Witness. Back when I was a graduate student and ABD (all-but-dissertation), I applied for a tenure-track job at Indiana University in their English Department, and got an interview at the annual MLA convention (a coup at the time when you had probably a 50-1 or 100-1 chance of scoring an interview). I remember when I was asked what work of non-fiction from the 20th Century I would teach, I said I would teach Chambers' Witness. The room of academics went silent, although I thought I heard one woman professor gasp. It was as if I had taken a shit on the carpet. There were certain things one just didn't do in polite academic society in the late 1980s -- say anything supportive of Ronald Reagan; admit any sympathy for a pro-life position; go to church. Another apparently was: say anything at all positive about Chambers, or at all negative about Hiss. Needless to say, I didn't get the job.
Looking back, it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I ended up in Milwaukee, ended up meeting my wife, ended up quitting academia for the law. Now I drive a Mercedes and read whatever the hell I want. Now I have a beautiful family, a beautiful wife, three beautiful kids, and a Golden Retriever.
It's also Stubby Kaye's birthday, the great comic Broadway singer, best known from Guys and Dolls. Here he is, in his big number: