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2023 marks the 75th anniversary of the Hiss-Chambers espionage case, which gripped America in 1948 and still provokes controversy. Take a deep factual dive into the story of two brilliant, fascinating men, sensational Congressional hearings, spy documents hidden in a dumbwaiter shaft and a pumpkin, the trial of the century, and the launch of Richard Nixon’s career. Comments and politely phrased corrections or criticism are welcome by the writer and narrator, at

Mar 15, 2023

 Pic: Library of Congress

In Podcast 11, Nixon and Stripling pull off another tactical masterstroke.  They bring Hiss and Chambers together, to the surprise of both of them, in a hotel room in New York City.  Despite the locale, it’s a formal hearing of Nixon’s HUAC Subcommittee and there is a transcript (not to mention half a dozen memoirs).  Nixon asks Hiss, once and for all, if Chambers is the man he knew as George Crosley 10-15 years before.  What happened next has been called “bizarre and even incredible” and “a bit like a Henry James story, . . . full of subtleties and ambiguities.”  Hiss and Stripling were both there and, although they agreed on very little, each in his memoir used the exact same phrase to describe what happened — “something out of a dream.”

Further Research:

Episode 11:  The descriptions of the scene in Suite 1400 of the Commodore Hotel in New York City in the principals’ memoirs are Chambers at 599-615 (at 603 “I felt what any humane man must feel when, pursuing an end he is convinced is right, finds himself the instrument of another man’s disaster”), Hiss at 81-99 (at 99, “I resented the Committee’s callous and ruthless procedures.  . . .  [T]he Committee and I were now at war.”), Nixon (Six Crises at 31-37, (RN at 61-63 (at 61), “I do not think that I have ever seen one man look at another with more hatred in his eyes than did Alger Hiss when he looked at Whittaker Chambers.”), Stripling at 126-32 (at 128, when Chambers entered the hotel sitting room where Hiss was, “Hiss did not turn around, did not change his expression.  I suppose I expected him to leap up, wheel around, and demand why this man — whom he had testified he did not know — had made these astounding charges against him.”).   See also Weinstein at 45-49 and  Alistair Cooke (at 73-84) describing (at 74) the scene as one that “began circumspectly enough and ended in a naked and desperate scramble for reputation.”

Hiss brought along a friend, Mr. Charles Dollard, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York.  Chambers writes (Witness at 603) that Dollard “hovers at the edge of the ensuing scene like the ‘first attendant, friend to the Duke’ in a Shakespeare play.  Most of the time he  lurked in one corner of the room . . . with a curiously fixed smile on his face, which Hiss’s loftier jibes turned incandescent with amusement.  . . .  I am not alone in supposing that this by-play was intended to convey the sense that these two beings were native to another atmosphere, were merely condescending, a little impatiently, to the summons of the earthlings in the room.”   Dollard later told Hiss’s attorneys that “Alger behaved very badly.”  (Weinstein at 49 (footnote).)

Questions:  Do you think, as I do, that when Hiss asked to speak with Chambers’ dentist, he was just trying to abort the hearing, to close down the scene because he had no idea what to do — ‘get me the hell out of here,’ ‘beam me up, Scottie!’  Do you sympathize with Chambers, who wrote that “I felt somewhat like a broken-mouthed sheep whose jaws have been pried open and are being inspected by wary buyers at an auction”?  (Chambers at 606.)