Rick Winston: Man behind the research

Rick Winston PHOTO BY JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR

Rick Winston moved t o central Vermont in 1970, intending to take a job as a teaching assistant at Goddard College. When the job fell through, he decided to remain here and the rest, as they say, is history.

His new book, a chronicle of the red scare in 1950s Vermont, recounts a dark era in the mid 20th century — an era where government paranoia and overreach ruined some lives and altered the course of many more forever. While “Red Scare in the Green Mountains” examines the era of McCarthyism in Vermont, Winston’s own life was also affected by these turbulent times.

As a boy in New York City, he witnessed suspicion and harassment first-hand. His father, a public school teacher, lost his job due to his political affiliations and his mother was pressured to “name names” in a practice that may, with historical accuracy, be described as a witch hunt. Furthermore, Winston grew up in a neighborhood where his childhood playmates were the orphaned sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

While his political bona fides come to him naturally, so does his love of cinema. His father was a devoted film buff. Recalls Winston, “not only could he recall the plots, actors and director of every movie he ever saw, he also remembered where and under what circumstances he saw each film.”

With his job prospects dimmed and time on his hands, Winston launched the Lightning Ridge Film Society, where city folks new to the area could enjoy the offerings of art cinema. Classic movies were screened in the Pavilion Auditorium, and a critical mass of cineastes was nurtured in the towns around Montpelier. It was a logical step from the Society to the Savoy Theater, which he instituted in the old building on Main Street that his brother had recently purchased. Later, he founded the Green Mountain Film Festival, an annual cultural event in central Vermont.

A trained musician, Winston also performed concerts of classic ragtime compositions during the heyday of the revival of that musical genre during the 1970s. His other forays into the area’s cultural zeitgeist include playing accordion with a klezmer band, contriving acrostic puzzles (for this publication) and, now, writing a history of the red scare in Vermont. As the Cold War chilled political discourse nationally, its effects were felt in many areas of Vermont.

Winston’s first venture into this bleak chapter of modern history was to help organize a statewide conference in 1988. The first essay, an account of his personal history, was prepared for this symposium, “Vermont in the McCarthy Era.” Over the intervening years, other pieces were published and now, 30 years later, he has seen three decades of thought and work reach fruition with the publication of “Red Scare in the Green Mountains.”

Published by Rootstock Publishing, the 156-page volume is available for $14.95 at local bookstores and Amazon.com.

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