I LED THREE LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick’s Television Program

I LED THREE LIVES: The True Story of Herbert A. Philbrick’s Television Program

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Described by one critic as a “product of the McCarthy era [which] contains what was perhaps the most explicit political propaganda ever found in a popular dramatic series on American television.” During the 1950s, I Led Three Lives gained a lot of attention for television viewers who were fascinated with the weekly adventures of Herbert A. Philbrick, who for nine frightening years did lead three lives — average citizen, member of the Communist party, and counterspy for the FBI. Today, the series remains favored by those who remember the program, starring Richard Carlson in the lead role, which reflected the stereotypes that were all too prevalent during the Red Scare of the 1940s and early 1950s. In this television program, Communist spies really were behind every bush, and anyone with liberal views was indeed suspect.

The series today is regarded as a product of its time. Television stations will probably never air the series in syndication and fans now have to resort to DVD collectors to enjoy the programs they remembered watching. I Led Three Lives had a documentary flavor, opening with an announcer booming: “This is the fantastically true story of Herbert A. Philbrick, who for nine frightening years did lead three lives – average citizen, member of the Communist Party, and counterspy for the F.B.I.  For obvious reasons the names, dates and places have been changed, but the story is based on fact.” An opening inspired by Dragnet? Who knows?

On radio, Frederic Ziv produced a similar program, I Was a Communist for the FBI, based on the book by Matt Cvetic. But personal issues between the producer and the author resulted in a nasty lawsuit and Ziv, wanting to create a television program of similar nature but hoping to avoid Cvetic, contacted Herbert A. Philbrick whose best selling book, I Led Three Lives, was very popular at the time. Philbrick signed contracts, agreed to become the script consultant, and the rest as they say… is history.

Ziv was just breaking into television production and did not have the money to deeply invest in a television series, especially because he was uncertain whether television stations would accept such a series for syndication. Richard Carlson accepted $80 a day for his role, the same as most actors on the program. (Large guest star roles made even more than Carlson!) Carlson, in return, accepted ten percent of the profits. He even lent his own house (seen in most of the first season episodes) for production, his own suits and wardrobe, and by the end of the second season became one of the wealthiest television actors in California. The series was a big hit across the nation and grossed $10 million dollars…. ten percent of that was Carlson’s. Ziv, who was uncertain about whether or not a series about a counterspy for the FBI would sell on television, also became wealthy and from that day forward, never struck a similar deal with any actor.

This 450 page book documents the entire history of the television program, including production, unaired pilot, the book which the series was adapted from, how Carlson recorded his voice overs, the financial stakes both producer and lead actor accepted before the premiere, and Herbert A. Philbrick himself.


* A complete production history of this fascinating program, including memories and quotes from Richard Carlson, Frederic Ziv, and others.
* A complete episode guide listing in extreme detail, all 117 episodes in production order, including dates they were filmed, complete cast lists, where each scene was filmed on location throughout California, and other pieces of trivia so detailed it will make your head swim.
* Reprints of story ideas and suggestions that just never fleshed out into a feasible television episode.
* Internal correspondence between Philbrick and the television producer so you can see first hand exactly what kind of involvement the real Philbrick had with the production of this series.
* Background information about Philbrick’s book, including reprints of book reviews, and Philbrick’s opinions about how his involvement with the F.B.I. founded the book, and how the book changed his life.
* Brief critical essays about other Anti-Communist films including Red Planet Mars (1952), I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), and Invasion USA (1951) to name a few, and their influence and comparison with the I Led Three Lives series.

“Mr. Grams’ 449 page book is the ultimate reference guide to IL3L and moreover it serves as a literary Methadone for those fans desperately awaiting MGM Home Video to wake up and release the entire series on DVD. The episode guide alone is well worth the $24.95 price of admission. Grams provides a detailed synopsis of every single IL3L installment including titles, airdates, credits, production notes and even shooting location information! The book also features fascinating script and memo material as well as a full production history of the show. There are also revealing short biographies of Philbrick and Carlson (who knew the real-life Philbrick shunned Senator Joe McCarthy?).”
— Bill Geerhart of the Conelrad.com web-site


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