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'Good Night, and Good Luck'

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Posted: Monday, October 10, 2005 10:00 pm

In Milo Radulovich's living room in Lodi, a black-and-white image fills his Sony TV screen. TV journalist Edward R. Murrow wears a black pinstriped suit and puffs on a cigarette. White smoke curls around him, as he introduces the show.

In the next shot, a young Radulovich appears on this screen, wearing a dark sweater and collared shirt. His hair, too, is dark and thick, and he has a solid frame. His eyes, focused and expressive, are the same.

"There I am," said the gray-haired Radulovich, a sprightly 78-year-old, who today wears a blue-gray polo shirt, khaki pants and black sneakers.

This is not just any broadcast. This is a 1953 episode of Murrow's news show, "See It Now," in which Radulovich stands up against America's most notorious intimidator, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Radulovich was dismissed from the U.S. Air Force Reserves for having close and continuous contact with his father and sister, who were accused of being communists.

Footage from this broadcast is featured in "Good Night, and Good Luck," the latest film directed by George Clooney, which centers around Murrow and his role in ending McCarthy's communist witchhunt in the 1950s. It will be released this month.

Radulovich has been reliving those days of the McCarthy era a lot lately. Last week, he attended the premiere of the film in New York and was on hand to introduce the film and lead question-and-answer sessions at the Embarcadero Theatres in San Francisco. Today, he leaves for Seattle to do more film promotion.

"My throat was shot, but it was fantastic," said Radulovich. "It's not just old people (who are attending) but teens and young people, too."

Life-changing letter

Radulovich still remembers the day everything changed.

His wife was working nights at the telephone company and he was studying, while baby-sitting his two daughters. He was a physics student at the University of Michigan and an Air Force Reservist.

"An Air Force officer's car pulled up and a major sergeant asked if I was Milo Radulovich," the man remembers. He was handed an envelope. Inside, the letter informed him that he was being discharged from the Air Force because of a close and continuing relationship with his father and sister, who were under suspicion for communist affiliation.

Milo J. Radulovich watches himself on a 1953 television show called "See It Now," hosted by Edward R. Murrow, in Woodbridge on Monday. (Mike Graffigna/News-Sentinel)

His father, a Serbian immigrant, was accused of having a copy of "The Daily Worker" on his coffee table and subscribing to a pro-communist newspaper from Serbia. His sister, who was a civil rights activist, was accused of attending suspected communist meetings and demonstrations.

"I was shocked, then apprehensive, then angry. I had intended to make (the Air Force) my career," said Radulovich, who describes himself as apolitical back then.

After visiting his father and sister, he decided to seek legal counsel, but one attorney after another passed on his case.

"They all said, 'You've had it. You can't fight the government.' McCarthyism was rampant. That's the way it was in those days," Radulovich said.

It wasn't until he approached Detroit attorney Charlie Lockwood that things turned around. Lockwood offered his services pro bono and decided to seek out publicity for his case.

There entered the Detroit News, which put Radulovich on the front page. It was this story that caught Murrow's attention. The journalist was looking to shed light on McCarthy's witchhunts, which were branding thousands of American citizens as communists, based on inconclusive or questionable evidence.

Radulovich's story was perfect.

The show airs

Back in Lodi, Radulovich indulges in a Fudgsicle as scenes from his hometown of Dexter, Mich. flash on the screen.

In addition to interviewing Radulovich about his case in the early 1950s, one of the show's reporters, Joe Wershba, goes to his hometown of Dexter and interviews some townspeople about Radulovich's character.

Milo J. Radulovich in his Air Force uniform at age 26. (Courtesy photo)

There's the chief constable from the police department, a woman from Radulovich's cleaners, Radulovich's dentist.

"This is real America right here," said Radulovich, pointing at his dentist on the TV screen.

Most interviewed contended that no American, including Radulovich, should be judged by the activities of their relatives.

"If I'm being judged by my relatives, are my children going to be judged by what their father was labeled? I see this as a chain reaction," said the then 27-year-old Radulovich.

Wershba also interviewed Radulovich's wife, Nancy, his sister, Margaret and his father, John.

Radulovich was cleared on all charges a month after the broadcast and this was also the beginning of the end for McCarthy.

Still, Radulovich did not escape unscathed. His wife Nancy had a breakdown soon after and Radulovich left college prematurely.

"You can't study vector analysis and have all of this on your head," said Radulovich, who noted he was paranoid and afraid to express his opinion for a long time after those events.

He moved to the California coast, but had difficulty getting a job. His had become almost a household name and no one wanted to hire him, despite his proven innocence.

It wasn't until he applied for a job with the North American Weather Consultancy in Santa Barbara that things began to look up. He worked there until 1961, when his contract expired and he was contacted by the National Weather Service where he was employed until he retired in 1994.

The life of Milo Radulovich

1914: Milo Radulovich's father, John, immigrates to Detroit from Serbia and is later labeled a communist because he subscribed to a pro-Communist paper from Serbia. (According to historians, the elder Radulovich didn't speak or read English well and subscribed to the newspaper to keep abreast of events in his native country.)
Oct. 28, 1926: Milo Radulovich was born.
1944: Radulovich joins the Army Air Corps and becomes a meteorologist.
1952: Now a reserve Air Force weather officer in Dexter, Mich., he was being discharged because his father and sister were accused of being communist sympathizers. He was studying physics at the University of Michigan at the time.
Oct. 14, 1953: The Detroit News publishes a front-page article that captures the attention of CBS producer Edward R. Murrow in New York.
Oct. 20, 1953: "The Case Against Lt. Milo Radulovich AO589839," an episode of Edward R. Murrow's "See It Now" airs on TV after a camera crew was dispatched to Michigan to tell his story.
Nov. 4, 1953: Harold E. Talbott, secretary of the Air Force, reverses the findings of the original Air Force board that had declared Radulovich a security risk. He was cleared of all charges and reinstated.
1994: Radulovich retires as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Sacramento.
1997: Lansing, Mich. resident Michael Ranville documented the Radulovich case in his 1997 book, "To Strike at a King: The Turning Point in the McCarthy Witch-Hunts."
2001: Radulovich moves to Lodi.
Oct. 21, 2005: George Clooney's "Good Night and Good Luck" premieres in Sacramento.
- News-Sentinel staff.

Radulovich meets Clooney

Earlier this year, Radulovich was sitting at the table in his Lodi living room, paying his bills, when he got a phone call.

"Is this Milo Radulovich?" the voice asked.

"Yes," replied Radulovich.

"This is George Clooney," replied the voice.

Radulovich said he was shocked, but tried to act real cool.

"I said, 'How're you doing?'" said Radulovich.

It was then that Clooney told him of his plans to make a movie about Murrow's fight with McCarthy. Clooney and his co-writer, Grant Heslov, had already written the script, but Clooney wanted Radulovich to come to Hollywood to be there for the first table read of the script.

Radulovich agreed.

Since then, he has been invited to the film studios a few times. He witnessed some of the filming, watching the action unfold from behind one of the monitors. He was also called back down to watch the first edit of the film. It was exciting, he said.

What does he hope viewers get out of the movie?

"I hope they see the connection between then and now," said Radulovich. "Communism was the enemy then. Now it's terrorism. With the Patriot Act, you can be labeled unpatriotic if you question the government's policies."

The final cut

Murrow finishes the show with his usual sign-off, "Good night, and good luck," before Radulovich hits the stop button.

"That's powerful," he says. "There are no Murrows like that today. That caused the greatest response in CBS News history."

CBS News was reportedly deluged with phone calls following Radulovich's episode and Radulovich received about 200 to 300 letters from Americans expressing their support for his situation.

"I didn't choose this, but I wasn't going to go down without resistance," said Radulovich. "I was labeled a traitor. In any dictatorship, I would've been killed. But I was lucky. The American people were the final judges."

"Good Night, and Good Luck" will be released in Sacramento on Oct. 21. A local release should follow.

Contact Lodi Living Editor Tricia Tomiyoshi at triciat@lodinews.com.

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