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Blacklist? Bean there, done that


HUMORIST Orson Bean blithely notes that being blacklisted back in the 1950s had less to with politics and more to do with trying to get lucky.

"I was pro-union, so I was interested in organizing unions, but the reason why I attended two communist meetings, which ultimately led to me being blacklisted, was because of a pretty girl," Bean says. "I sure hope it was worth it, but it was so long ago, I've forgotten."

Perhaps because he was dubbed a communist sympathizer during the McCarthy hearings, the veteran stage and screen actor was chosen for a role on "Cold Case" at 8 tonight on CBS-Channel 5. The team investigates an unsolved murder from 1953 linked to the communist witch hunts. Bean stars as the man suspected of being involved with the Communist Party.

But he won't be watching his performance tonight. Instead, he'll be in New York with his old pal Kitty Carlisle, who is celebrating a new postage stamp bearing the image of her late husband, Moss Hart.

"It would have been hard trying to decide between watching me and my favorite show, 'The Simpsons,' anyway," he teases.

Bean, who lives in Venice with wife Alley Mills ("The Wonder Years"), says he often comes up to the Bay Area to visit his brother-in-law, Tony Mills. Mills owns Spark sound studio in Emeryville.

"I'm really blessed," says Bean during a phone interview. "My children range in age from 40 to 33. My oldest daughter is married to a liberal Frenchman and they live next door. My other daughter is married to a right winger who runs the Web site the Drudge Report."

So, how does a formerly blacklisted actor feel about the conservatives -- and vice versa?

"I think each generation is humiliated by the generation that preceded it. Whatever I did was my own fault. I end up on a blacklist for going to two meetings in the hopes of getting laid," Bean says.

"Now Andrew, who is this good conservative, recently took me to a meeting of the Young Republicans of UCLA. I couldn't help but think that they were going to these meetings for the same reason why I went to the communist meetings."

Bean says he sees the political pendulum swinging and "it's all like a big epic movie and I'm just a supporting player."

But he says he did feel a bit noble when he was blacklisted.

"I just didn't know enough to think it would hurt me. I got a Broadway play for the year I was blacklisted, and we were victorious with the union," Bean says. "The blacklist was a pain for us all. It was really just a protection racket. The people on the committee would charge the studios 50 bucks to take an actor off the blacklist so he could get cleared to work."

So what does he think of today's claims that the world is coming to an end with the re-election of President Bush?

"Well, those people complaining the loudest are the professional outraged class. I've been on a lot of TV shows, and most of the people behind the camera are conservatives and most of the people in front are liberals," Bean says.

"But I believe we are a centrist country, and it's all healthy to allow people to rant and rave. I've lived long enough to know that the pendulum swings back and forth, but always fairly close to the center."