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Matusow Affair

A Project by Ben Kahn

An enigmatic loner with a story to tell. A publisher determined to uncover the truth. A government crusading to destroy its enemies. And the fate of a nation in the balance.

This is Matusow Affair, a stranger-than-fiction political thriller set in the darkest days of the Cold War, reaching from the dusty picket lines of New Mexican mine workers to the highest levels of the United States Senate and the FBI. It’s the forgotten true story of events surrounding one of America’s most controversial public figures and the fight to right his wrongs.

The story opens with Albert E. Kahn, father of three and blacklisted publisher, running his two-man firm out of offices in Manhattan’s Chelsea District during the 1950’s McCarthy era. By its conclusion, he’s staked his success, his freedom, and the well-being of his family and colleagues on a notoriously eccentric, sometimes charming, narcissistic and unstable ex-FBI informer whose secret holds the power to upend Senator Joseph McCarthy’s stranglehold on American politics. This informer’s name: Harvey Matusow.

Harvey is a war veteran, turned failed actor barfly, turned Communist, turned Anti-Communist FBI informer and McCarthy campaigner who’s being paid by the government to lie. By 1954, at the age of 28, he’s successfully transformed himself into a Red-baiting celebrity, Washington, DC socialite, and personal confidant of Senator McCarthy, with little regard for the many lives he’s ruined along the way.

But staying true to form, it’s just a matter of time before Harvey transforms yet again. A sudden religious conversion finds him entangled in a crisis of conscience. Harvey abruptly disappears from the public eye amid rumors that he’s planning a bombshell exposé detailing his fraudulent career as an informant. This pits Albert and his tiny, independent publishing firm against the FBI, the Justice Department, and the United States Senate in a race to find Harvey and his manuscript wherever they are in the vast desert of the American Southwest. Albert’s goals: exonerate an unjustly convicted friend and put an end to the public insanity of the Anti-Communist witch-hunts.

Beating the U.S. Government to find Harvey proves to be the first challenge in an epic struggle of wits and wills. What follows is the gripping tale of Albert’s struggle to publish Harvey’s book False Witness in the face of intimidation, government surveillance, and incarceration. All the while, there lurks the very real possibility that when the going gets tough, Harvey will turn on Albert and his team as he had done to others time and again.

Are they successful? And at what cost? Perhaps the answers to those questions lie in the eye of the beholder, much like the notions of truth and righteousness that define this story. But one thing is certain: in the end, Harvey, Albert, and his band of maverick publishers carve an indelible mark on one of America’s most tumultuous times, a period that leaves our nation forever changed.

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We envision that Matusow Affair will be told in the form of a mini-series for television and online streaming. Through 8-10 hour-long episodes, it will take audiences inside the halls of the U.S. government and into the trenches with Albert’s publishing team as they hold out hope against great odds. Key characters will include Albert Kahn, Angus Cameron (Albert’s publishing partner), Riette Kahn (Albert’s wife), Harvey Matusow, Clint Jencks (Albert’s friend bound for jail thanks to Harvey’s false accusations), Senator Joseph McCarthy, Roy Cohn (McCarthy’s legal counsel and right-hand man), and several composite FBI agents. We are also exploring the possibility of a companion documentary film.

This tale was woven into the fabric of my family almost 60 years ago. I’ve lived with it for as long as I’ve understood myself to be a filmmaker. Though I may be generations removed from the events of the 1950’s, their effects still cling to my soul and that of my family. Albert Kahn was my grandfather; I grew up with this story as family lore. And though he passed away many years ago, as a family we still talk about the importance of those times and what they mean in the context of today’s changing world.

There’s no doubting the timeliness of this project. The echoes of McCarthyism have suddenly grown louder. Contentious debates over domestic immigration and international terrorism have seen the return of fear mongering, spurred by a highly editorialized press and political pundits hungry for headlines. The parallels between these eras are striking. We now find ourselves in a renewed national conversation over the soul of our nation. Matusow Affair is an important part of that debate. It offers us a crucial chance for reflection as our country risks repeating many of the same destructive battles we endured in times past.

Executive Producer – Ben Kahn

What will your contribution to this project do?

Your tax-deductible contribution to this project will go towards the Development phase, being the crafting of story outline, the writing of scripts and synopses, and the editing of a video teaser-trailer. These will all be leveraged to get the project into Production. In order for Development to be completed, we will need a substantial amount of research as well as the acquiring, digitizing, and cataloging of archival materials which we’ve located. We’re currently working from Matusow Affair, Albert’s published account of these events, to which we own the rights. But we’re looking to tell a bigger story, one derived from interviewing experts on the Cold War and the FBI. Doing all of this requires travel; the people and materials are spread out across the United States and parts of Southern England.

Our window to complete this phase is closing.Your help today is critical to our ability to tell this story. Many, many thanks in advance!

Associated Members

We are grateful for the generous support of our sponsors:

Massachusetts Cultural Council
Lowel Cultural Council
Cabot Family Charitable Trust
Liberty Mutual Foundation
City of Boston Arts and Culture