False Witness: The Harvey Matusow Library in the Legacy Collection

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Following on from our last post about Rosey Pool’s library, today we’re going to take a look at another sequence of books in the Legacy Collection: Harvey Matusow’s library.

Harvey Marshall Matusow (1926 – 2002) is one of those characters. He’s both brilliant fun and incredibly frustrating to research, because so much of his life is surrounded by stories that it’s really hard to distinguish between truth and fact!

Matusow is most famous for his activities in America during the McCarthy era. Matusow worked for the FBI as a paid informer, giving evidence in court to convict individuals of communist related activities. In 1955 he published a book, False Witness, where he asserted that he had lied during his work with the FBI in order to convict people – and that he had been paid to do so. In return, the FBI found Matusow guilty of perjury and put him in jail for five years, blacklisting him in the process.

After Matusow was released from prison in 1960, he headed for New York’s art scene having spent much time in jail reading and painting canvases. He became editor and publisher of The New York Arts Calendar by 1963, but began to become more interested in the underground arts movement when he sensed that he would never be truly forgiven of his previous McCarthy-related activities.

Matusow’s life after this time is a brilliant series of ‘you’d never guess this but…!’ tales. Matusow:

  • Developed a deep distrust of computers, viewing them as a threat to individual liberty, and founded the International Society for the Abolition of Data-Processing Machines (late 1960s)
  • Founded a band called the Harvey Matusow’s Jew’s Harp Band
  • Married approximately twelve times
  • Is possibly part of the reason The Beatles broke up – he held the party where John Lennon met Yoko Ono
  • Worked as a children’s TV clown called Cockyboo in Tucson, Arizona
  • Converted to Mormonism and spent his last years known as Job Matusow

As you can imagine, Matusow’s library is as diverse as the man himself. We hold over 220 books of Matusow’s, ranging from his old elementary school yearbook to fairy tales for grown ups. The collection contains a vast amount of books relating to McCarthy-era activity: books about the history of the United States, a ‘who’s who’ in the CIA, and of course many books relating to subversive culture during this time. Matusow’s own interests in data, surveillance and distrust of computers are well represented, alongside publications about other ‘trouble makers’ during this time.

Matusow’s archives are held as part of the University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep. They are divided into two parts: the first covers Matusow’s activity up until he was imprisoned, the second contains correspondence during Matusow’s time in prison and his involvement with the underground arts scene.

Matusow’s library is a captivating snapshot of a man deeply distrusting of American society in the 1950s – 1970s, including the McCarthy period. I’m fascinated by Matusow’s distrust of computers; the material in the library complements other material held in the Legacy Collection, including some items discussed previously on this blog. To some extent, though, I think the ‘real’ Harvey Matusow will always remain somewhat of a myth; from a man who spent his entire life dealing with multiple truths and fictions, how could you expect anything else?

If you’re interested in viewing any of Harvey books or would like more information, do get in touch. Matusow’s archives are held with Special Collections at The Keep; anyone is welcome to visit and view the material.

 

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