The newspaperman and widely read scholar of the Hollywood Left
BY PAUL BUHLE
Dave Wagner, a leader of the 1977 Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper strike at The Capital Times/ Wisconsin State Journal, and a leader in the cooperatively-produced daily progressive newspaper Madison Press Connection (1977-1980) created by the striking workers, died on February 21 at the age of seventy-eight.
Wagner was born on July 3, 1944, spent his early years with his widowed grandmother in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, at the heart of Amish country, where the formation of the Grange politics in the later nineteenth century had given farmers a voice in their destiny. His father took a teaching job in Bradford, PA, when Dave was seven, and he graduated from high school there.
Wagner received a BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, became poetry editor of the underground newspaper Connections, and editor of the alternative weekly, Madison Kaleidoscope. He worked at The Capital Times from 1966-1972, a protege of left-leaning editor Elliott Maraniss (himself a former newspaper striker and unapologetic ex-Communist during the 1940s). In 1972, Wagner left Madison to teach, for a year, at the Cambridge-Goddard Graduate School in Boston, then devoted a year to advanced graduate study in Germany. Returning to Madison, he resumed his job at The Capital Times until the historic strike.
Blacklisted from returning to work after the strike, Wagner became the editorial page editor of the Waukesha Freeman, later an editor at The Arizona Republic until his early retirement for health reasons.
Wagner subsequently became a noted scholar of the Hollywood Left, including its activity in films and in the politics of antifascism, antiracism, and (after the Blacklist witch hunts ended) the social struggles of the 1960s-1970s. His most widely-read volumes included Tender Comrades, a book of interviews with the survivors of the Blacklist (co-edited by myself and Patrick McGilligan), A Very Dangerous Citizen (a biography of the blacklistee and noir master, Abraham Lincoln Polonsky), Radical Hollywood, and Hide in Plain Sight (the work of Blacklist victims after 1950).
The Politics of Murder was a study of the Goldwater family in Arizona from the 1930s to 1980s and the interconnections of mob activities with the political leadership of the state. He also became a fine writer of non-fiction graphic novels, including A People’s History of American Empire (the graphic adaptation of Howard Zinn’s classic, A People’s History of the United States).
Dave Wagner leaves behind his wife, Grace Wagner, well known for her own political work in Madison, his daughter Anna, and grandchildren Nathaniel, Madeleine, Abigail, Seraphina, Lily, and Diego.
Paul Buhle was the long time editor of Radical America, an important New left journal.