PHILBRICK - Mr. Herbert A. of 15 Chapel Road,
Little Boars Head, North Hampton, NH, died August 16, 1993. Funeral Services at
the Rye Bethany Congregational Christian Church, Thurs. 11:00 a.m. Friends
invited. Visiting hours at Buckminster Chapel, 84 Broad St., Portsmouth, NH,
Wed. 7-9 p.m. Masonic services will be held at the Chapel Wed. 6:45 p.m. by St.
James Lodge #102 F&AM of Hampton, NH. Donations in memory of Mr. Philbrick may
be made to Srceven Memorial Baptist Church, 397 Lafayette Rd, Portsmouth, NH
03801. Arrangements by J. Verne Wood Funeral Home, Portsmouth, NH.
HERBERT PHILBRICK, EX-FBI SPY; LIFE INSPIRED BOOK, '50s TV SHOW
By Tom Long, Globe Staff
Herbert Philbrick, the FBI counterspy whose undercover exploits inspired the 1950s TV series "I Led Three Lives," died Monday in his home in North Hampton, N.H. He was 78.
Mr. Philbrick infiltrated the communist underground for the FBI during the 1940s.
His dramatic testimony at a highly-publicized New york City trial in 1949 made him one of the first stars of the Cold War and led to his best-selling book "I Led Three Lives," which was later dramatized in a hit TV series that ran from 1953 to 1956.
Mr. Philbrick was born in Rye, N.H. He moved to Somerville, when his father, a conductor, was transferred by the Boston & Maine railroad. He studied civil engineering at Northeastern University night school and graduated with a degree in engineering in 1938.
As recounted in his book, Mr. Philbrick joined the Cambridge Youth Council in the 1940s as a 26-year-old advertising salesman eager to join the pacifist movement and keep the United States out of World War II. He later described the group as a "communist front" organization.
His membership introduced him to communist leaders who, he wrote, operated "front" organizations all over New England.
Mr. Philbrick approach the FBI and, at its urging, began the three lives he detailed in his book: citizen, communist and counterspy.
His secret life was unveiled in 1949, when he became the star witness at the New York City trial of the alleged top leaders of the Communist Party in the United States.
While spying, he became familiar with people who he said were communist leaders plotting the violent overthrow of the US government.
Those relationships led him to see Marxism-Leninism as a criminal conspiracy that set its sights on world domination.
In a 1981 interview with the Globe, he said: "I used to sit next to these people in these meetings and try to figure out why, why were they doing it? I don't know. All I can say is the communist mind is definitely a criminal mind.
"They seem to get a big thrill out of being part of this conspiracy, out of putting it over on people. 'We're the smart ones and they're the stupid ones.' Intellectual arrogance is definitely a part of it."
Mr. Philbrick said he read the Bible every night to avoid succumbing to communist propaganda.
"I was sitting in cell meetings night after night, listening to stuff that was absolutely false but pretty powerful," he said. "But the contrast was the message of the Bible, which is absolutely at the opposite end. So I was able to see the difference between right and wrong and good and evil."
After his well-publicized testimony and best-selling book, Mr. Philbrick continued his personal crusade against communism as a columnist for the New York Herald and then as the operator of his own press agency that sent free editorials to small weekly newspapers during the 1960s and '70s.
For a time, he ran a country store in Rye, N.H., but sold it around 1965.
Although a staunch anti-communist, Mr. Philbrick turned down several invitations to testify before Sen. Joseph McCarthy's hearings.
"I'm no McCarthyite," he told the Globe. "He [McCarthy] harmed the cause of anti-communism more than anybody I know."
After selling the store, Mr. Philbrick retired as a court reporter for the Rockingham County Newspapers.
Four decades after his undercover work, Mr. Philbrick still seemed obsessed with the experience. Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, he still feared retribution, keeping an unlisted phone number and post office box.
"I always leave my back to the wall and one eye on the door, he said in a Look Magazine article in 1992.
He leaves his wife, Shirley, of North Hampton.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Bethany Congregational Christian Church in Rye, N.H. Burial will follow in Central Cemetery in Rye.