Title: I Led 3 Lives
Author: Herbert A. Philbrick
Philbrick, Herbert A. (1952). I Led 3 Lives: Citizen “Communist” Counterspy. New York: McGraw-Hill
Date Updated: January 26, 2017
Herbert Arthur Philbrick (May 11, 1915 – August 16, 1993) was a Boston area advertising employee who became famous for having infiltrated various Communist and Communist-leaning organizations during the 1940s as a spy for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He lived with his family in Wakefield from 1942 to 1944.
Born in Rye Beach, New Hampshire, Philbrick received most of his education in Somerville, Massachusetts. On September 3, 1939, he married Eva Luscombe, a girl he had met in the young people’s society of the Somerville Grace Baptist Church. He was an assistant advertising director for the M. & P. Theatre cinema chain. The couple lived in Cambridge near Harvard Square for a while before moving to a large house at 8 Park Streetin Wakefield in 1942. The third of their six children, a daughter named Dale, was born a couple of months after they moved to Wakefield.
Philbrick’s involvement in Communist activities began when he joined the Cambridge Youth Council, a Communist front group in Cambridge. His advertising and publicity skills were useful to the group and he used them effectively over the years as he became more involved with different aspects of the party organization. His early discomfort with the positions and tactics of the group led him to contact the FBI, who convinced him to remain connected to the party and act as a counterspy, providing information and documentation on the activities, internal organization, and people involved. During the 1940s he infiltrated several Communist Party organizations in the Boston area, including cells in Wakefield and later Malden. His activities were kept secret from all except his wife, Eva, and the two agents he worked with over the nine year period from 1940 to 1949.
While in Wakefield, living at 8 Park Street, he filed his FBI reports from a hidden room behind the false wall of a cedar closet in the unfinished attic, where he kept a typewriter, dictating and photographic equipment. He was also involved with the First Baptist Church of Wakefield, just across the Common from his house near the corner of Park and Main Streets. He edited the church newsletter, known as the “Tall Spire”, and he and his wife were president and vice-president of the church’s “Mr. and Mrs. Club”. In mid-1944 the family moved to 248 Tremont Street, Melrose.
Eventually the U.S. Justice Department asked him to be a surprise witness in the New York trial of U.S. v. William Z. Foster, et al., in which twelve Communist Party leaders (later, eleven, as Chairman Foster was excused due to illness) were prosecuted under the 1940 Smith Act for conspiracy to overthrow the U.S. government. The trial started in January of 1949, and Philbrick’s testimony began on Wednesday April 6, 1949, and continued through Friday of that week. The eleven remaining defendants were eventually convicted.
Philbrick later wrote this autobiographical book about his experiences. The book was made into a movie as well as a half-hour prime time syndicated television series which ran for 117 episodes between September 1953 and 1956. Philbrick himself narrated the show, which was loosely based on his own experiences. J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI approved of the program, and approved all scripts. Philbrick was played in the series by actor Richard Carlson.
Philbrick eventually retired back to Rye Beach, New Hampshire, writing and lecturing on political involvement and the threat of Communism, and later owned and ran a variety store in North Hampton, New Hampshire. He died on August 16, 1993.
Reviewed by Paul W. Blackstock and Frank L. Schaf
The memoirs of a Boston advertising salesman who in 1940 organized a youth group only to find it was secretly controlled by young Communists. After discussions with the FBI, he continued to uncover Communist front organizations and maneuvers until 1949 when he appeared in the open as a government witness to testify against eleven alleged party conspirators, four of wham knew Philbrick as a dedicated member of the Communist inner circle.
 Blackstock, Paul W. (1978) and Frank L. Schaf, Jr. Intelligence, Espionage, Counterespionage, And Covert Operations: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale Research Co., p. 184