John Henry Faulk

John Faulk redirects here. For those of a similar name, see John Falk (disambiguation)
John Henry Faulk
Born (1913-08-21)August 21, 1913
Austin, Texas, USA
Died April 9, 1990(1990-04-09) (aged 76)
Austin, Texas
Cause of death Cancer
Resting place Oakwood Cemetery in Austin
Nationality American
Alma mater University of Texas at Austin
Occupation Humorist
Radio & TV personality
Known for Having Austin central library named in his honor
Religion Methodist
Spouse(s) Harriet Elizabeth Wood ('Hally Wood") (m. 1940 div. 1947)
Lynne Smith (Gordon)
Elizabeth Peake
Children Cynthia w/Hally Wood
Johanna w/Lynne Smith
Evelyn w/Lynne Smith
Frank Dobie Faulk w/Lynne Smith
John Henry Faulk III w/Elizabeth Peake

John Henry Faulk (August 21, 1913 April 9, 1990), from Austin, Texas, was a storyteller and radio show host. His successful lawsuit against the entertainment industry helped to bring an end to the Hollywood blacklist.

Early life

John Henry Faulk was born in Austin, to Methodist parents Henry Faulk and his wife Martha Miner Faulk. John Henry had four siblings: Hamilton Faulk (1905–1905),[1] Martha Stansbury (1908–2005), Mary Faulk Koock (1910–1996),[2] and Texana Faulk Conn (1915–2006).[3][4]

Faulk spent his childhood years in Austin in the noted Victorian house Green Pastures. A journalist acquaintance from Austin has written that the two of them came from "extremely similar family backgrounds -- the old Southern wealth with rich heritage and families dedicated to civil rights long before it was hip to fight racism." [5]

Education and military service

Faulk enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin in 1932. He became a protégé of J. Frank Dobie, Walter Prescott Webb, and Roy Bedichek, enabling Faulk to hone his skills as a folklorist. He earned a Master's degree in Folklore with his thesis "Ten Negro Sermons". He further began to craft his oratory style as a part-time English teacher at the University 1940–1942, relating Texas folk tales peppered with his gift of character impersonations.[4][6]

He was initially unfit for service with the United States Army because of an eye problem. Instead Faulk joined the Merchant Marine in 1942 for a one-year stint,[5] spending 1943 in Cairo, Egypt, serving the American Red Cross. World War II had caused the United States Army to relax its enlistment standards, and Faulk finally enlisted in 1944. He served as a medic at Camp Swift, Texas.[4] It was during this period Faulk also joined the American Civil Liberties Union.[6]


While a soldier at Camp Swift, Faulk began writing his own radio scripts. An acquaintance facilitated an interview for him at WCBS in New York City. The network executives were sufficiently impressed to offer him his own radio show. Upon his 1946 discharge from the Army, Faulk began his Johnny's Front Porch radio show for WCBS. The show featured Faulk's characterizations that he had been developing since his university years.[6][7] Faulk eventually went to another radio station, but returned to WCBS for a four-hour morning talk show. The John Henry Faulk Show ran for six years.[8] His radio successes provided opportunity for him to appear as himself on television, in shows like the 1951 Mark Goodson and William Todman game show It's News to Me, hosted by John Charles Daly.[9][10] He also appeared on Leave It to the Girls in 1953 and The Name's the Same in 1955.[11]

Cactus Pryor met Faulk in the studios of KLBJ (then KTBC) where Faulk stopped by to thank Pryor for letting his mother hear his New York show. Pryor had been "accidentally" broadcasting Faulk's radio show in Texas where Faulk was not otherwise heard. Although the broadcast happened repeatedly, Pryor always claimed he just hit the wrong button in the studio. Pryor visited Faulk at a Manhattan apartment he shared with Alan Lomax and became introduced to the movers and shakers of the east coast celebrity scene of that era. When Pryor stood by Faulk during the blacklisting and tried to find him work, Pryor's children were harassed, a prominent Austin physician circulated a letter questioning Pryor's patriotism, and an Austin attorney tried to convince Lyndon B. Johnson to discharge Pryor from the airwaves. The Pryor family and the Faulk family remained close and supportive of each other for the rest of Faulk's life.[12][13]

In December 1955, Faulk was elected second vice president of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Orson Bean was the first vice president and Charles Collingwood was the president of the union.[14] Collingwood, Bean and Faulk were part of a middle-of-the-road slate of non-communist, anti-AWARE organization candidates that Faulk had helped draft. Twenty-seven of thirty-five vacant seats on the board went to the middle-of-the-road slate.[15] Faulk's public position during the campaign had been that the union should be focused on jobs and security, not blacklisting of members.[5][16]

In the 1970s in Austin, he was also befriended by the young co-editor of the Texas Observer, Molly Ivins, and became an early supporter of hers.[17]

Blacklist controversy

Faulk's radio career at CBS[5] ended in 1957, a victim of the Cold War and the blacklisting of the 1950s. AWARE, Inc., a for-profit corporation inspired by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy, offered a "clearance" service to major media advertisers and radio and television networks; for a fee, AWARE would investigate the backgrounds of entertainers for signs of Communist sympathy or affiliation.

In 1955, Faulk earned the ill will of the blacklisting organization when he and other members wrested control of their union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists from officers backed by AWARE. In reprisal, AWARE labeled Faulk a Communist.[18] When he discovered that AWARE was actively keeping radio stations from offering him employment, Faulk sought compensation.

Several prominent radio personalities along with CBS News vice president Edward R. Murrow supported Faulk's attempt to put an end to blacklisting. With financial backing from Murrow, Faulk engaged New York attorney Louis Nizer. Attorneys for AWARE, including McCarthy-committee counsel Roy Cohn, managed to stall the suit, originally filed in 1957, for five years. When the trial finally concluded in a New York courtroom, the jury had determined that Faulk should receive more compensation than he sought in his original petition. On June 28, 1962, the jury awarded him the largest libel judgment in history to that date — $3.5 million.[18] An appeals court lowered the amount to $500,000. Legal fees and accumulated debts erased most of the balance of the award.[18] He netted some $75,000.[19]

Faulk's book, Fear on Trial, published in 1963, tells the story of the experience. The book was remade into an Emmy award-winning TV movie in 1975 by CBS Television with William Devane portraying Faulk and George C. Scott playing Faulk's lawyer, Louis Nizer.

Other supporters in the blacklist struggle included radio pioneer and Wimberley, Texas native Parks Johnson and reporter and CBS television news anchor Walter Cronkite.[5]

Personal life and death

In 1940 John Henry Faulk married Harriet Elizabeth ("Hally") Wood, a music student of the University of Texas Fine Arts School whom Faulk married six weeks after meeting her.[6] The marriage ended in divorce in 1947; the couple had one daughter, Cynthia Tannehill. In 1948, Faulk met New Yorker Lynne Smith and married her about six weeks later. That marriage also ended in divorce because of fallout from the blacklisting upheaval. Faulk and Smith had two daughters, Johanna and Evelyn, and one son Frank Dobie Faulk.[20] In 1965, Faulk married Elizabeth Peake, and the marriage produced one son, John Henry Faulk, III.[4]

John Henry Faulk died in Austin of cancer on April 9, 1990, and is interred there at Oakwood Cemetery.[21] The Austin restaurateur Mary Faulk Koock (1910–1996) was Faulk's sister.[22] His nephew, Mary's son, is actor Guich Koock.

Awards and tributes

Film and television credits




Radio appearances and speeches



Further reading


  1. Hamilton Faulk at Find a Grave
  2. Mary Faulk Koock at Find a Grave
  3. "Texana Faulk Conn". 4 Hearing Loss. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  4. 1 2 3 4 Foshee, Page S. "John Henry Faulk". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "As Faulk learned, Cronkite was giving behind the scenes" by Charles McClure, Lake Travis [TX] View, July 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-26. McClure writes that his own father shared the same professors with Faulk at UT.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Lief, Caldwell (2004) p.122
  7. Lief, Caldwell (2004) p.109
  8. Lief, Caldwell (2004) p.123
  9. McDermott, Mark. "Mark Goodson and Bill Todman". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  10. Grace, Roger M (23 February 2003). "TV Anchors Host Game Shows". Metropolitan News Company. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  11. Timberg, Erler (2002) p.232
  12. Pryor, Cactus (March 1992). "He Called Me Puddin'". Texas Monthly: 101, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137.
  13. Biffle (1993) p.227
  14. Sterling (2003) p.270
  15. Foerstel (1997) p.77
  16. Smith, Ostroff, Wright (1998) p.60
  17. "Troublemaker" Book review by Lloyd Grove, The New York Times Book Review, December 24, 2009 (Dec. 27, 2009 p. BR17 of NY ed.). Book reviewed: Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith, illustrated, 335 pp. PublicAffairs.
  18. 1 2 3 Ivins, Molly (July–August 1990). "Johnny's Fight". Mother Jones: 8, 9.
  19. "Humorist will address United Way volunteers", Minden Press=Herald, Minden, Louisiana, September 19, 1984, p. 2B
  20. Gerard, Jeremy (10 April 1990). "John Henry Faulk, 76, Dies; Humorist Who Challenged Blacklist". New York Times. Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  21. John Faulk at Find a Grave
  22. Koock, Mary Faulk (2001). The Texas Cookbook: From Barbecue to Banquet-an Informal View of Dining and Entertaining the Texas Way. University of North Texas Press. p. Back cover. ISBN 978-1-57441-136-2.
  23. "The Broadside Tapes 1". Phil Ochs discography. Discogs. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  24. "Paul Robeson Award". Actor's Equity Association. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  25. "John Henry Faulk Public Library". City of Austin. Retrieved 31 January 2011.
  26. "Tejas-John Henry Faulk Award". Tejas Storytelling Association. Retrieved 2 February 2011.

Additional sourcing

External links

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