April 19

This Day in History

Cold War

Apr 19, 1949:

Soviet clowns lampoon U.S. foreign policy

At the opening night of the spring edition of the famous Moscow Circus, clowns and magicians fire salvos of jokes aimed at the United States. Although a relatively minor aspect of the total Cold War, the night was evidence that even humor played a role in the battle between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Most of the barbs thrown during the opening night of the circus came from one of the most famous Russian clowns, Konstantin Berman. He began his act by tossing a boomerang, which he likened to the workings of the U.S. Marshall Plan (an economic recovery plan designed to pump billions of dollars into the economies of Western Europe). "American aid to Europe," Berman announced. "Here is the dollar." The crowd roared its approval as the boomerang "dollar" returned directly to his hand. He then produced a radio. First, all that could be heard were barking dogs. "That's the Voice of America." Berman then made room for a magician. His most popular trick began when workers brought out an iron cage and an individual made up to look like Hitler was placed inside. The magician then pulled a curtain—"not an iron curtain, just a silken one"—over the cage and surrounding area. When the curtain was lifted, Hitler was outside the cage and the workers were trapped within. Two other individuals, one impersonating Churchill and another dressed like a typical American "capitalist," came out and shook Hitler's hand. The magician then intoned, "How much longer is this going on? Until the people's patience bursts, then it will end." He replaced the curtain, removed it again, and the delighted audience discovered that Hitler, Churchill, and the capitalist had been caged and the workers freed. "That's how it will be," the magician announced, "and forever, too."

On the other side of the Atlantic, American comics and entertainers were just as busily poking fun at the Soviets and communism, indicated that laughter was universally welcomed in a period when the threats of massive new world wars and nuclear holocaust hung heavy in the air.

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