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For the Canadian singer, see Don Freed.

Donald Freed (born 1933) is a politically-engaged American playwright, novelist, screenwriter, and actor. He has a long association with writing programs at the University of Southern California, and was Artist in Residence at the Workshop Theatre, University of Leeds, UK (Fall 2006 – Spring 2008),[1] and Playwright in Residence at York Theatre Royal (Fall 2007 – Spring 2008), participating in a six-week Master Class in York in October and November 2007 ("Freed in Residence in York").[2] He has also been Playwright in Residence at Denison University, Ohio and taught at Loyola Marymount University.

His latest play, Patient #1 (draft posted on Another America), "set in 2009 at an elite psychiatric clinic in South Florida, imagines a heavily sedated President George W. Bush, after he has left the Oval Office" (Johnson). It was published in 2007 and is being staged at York Theatre Royal in early 2008 ("Donald Freed", Another America).[2]

Freed also was one of the few prominent outsiders to visit Jonestown before the tragedy there involving the mass suicide of over 900 members of the Peoples Temple. Freed's visit followed controversial political figure Jim Jones contacting Freed and Mark Lane to help uncover alleged plots by intelligence agencies against the Temple.


Personal history

He was born in Chicago to a Jewish family and raised in Alexandria, Louisiana (Johnson, Mikulan), "where he lived mostly with his mother and stepfather, a successful merchant selling clothing for a time, then military gear, and later soft drinks. His biological father was an attorney. After World War II, when the wartime boom deflated and prices soared, his stepfather’s business collapsed and he committed suicide" (Johnson). " 'We’ve all known a Willy Loman in our life,' Freed said, referring to Arthur Miller's classic play, 'Death of a Salesman,' [emended] in which the protagonist Willy Loman commits suicide hoping that in death he may provide for his family. Freed's mother, who sold insurance 'in the back roads of Louisiana,' supported the family until she died of cancer at 42" (Johnson).

He and his wife, Patricia Rae Freed, a former teacher who represents him, live in Los Angeles (Johnson, Mikulan, Another America). After his visiting appointment in Leeds and York, they returned to USC, where he has taught in the nation's first multidisciplinary master's program in creative writing for 22 years" ("Author Biography").

Work for the Peoples Temple and Jonestown Tragedy

In the summer of 1978, the Peoples Temple hired Mark Lane and Freed to help make the case of what it alleged to be a "grand conspiracy" by intelligence agencies against the Peoples Temple.[3] Temple member Edith Roller wrote in her journal that Freed said that a Temple defector pressing for a U.S. investigation of Jonestown "was a CIA agent before coming to the Temple."[4]

In August 1978, Freed visited Jonestown and encouraged Lane to visit.[5] Lane held press conferences with the results of the Lane and Freed visits to Jonestown, stating that "none of the charges" against the Temple "are accurate or true" and that there was a "massive conspiracy" against the Temple by "intelligence organizations," naming the CIA, FCC and even the U.S. Post Office.[3]

Regarding the effect of Freed's work upon Temple members, Temple member Annie Moore wrote that "Mom and Dad have probably shown you the latest about the conspiracy information that Mark Lane, the famous attorney in the ML King case and Don Freed the other famous author in the Kennedy case have come up with regarding activities planned against us--Peoples Temple." [6] Another Temple member, Carolyn Layton, wrote that Don Freed told them that "anything this drug out could be nothing less than conspiracy."[7]

A month after those letters, on November 18, 1978, over 900 Temple members committed mass suicide in Jonestown, while Congressman Leo Ryan, NBC reporter Don Harris and others were murdered at a nearby airstrip. For months before that tragedy, Jones frequently created fear among members by stating that the CIA and other intelligence agencies were conspiring with "capitalist pigs" to destroy Jonestown and harm its members.[8] This included mentions of CIA involvement in the address Jones gave the day before the arrival of Congressman Ryan.[9]

On a tape made while members committed suicide by ingesting cyanide poisoned punch, the reason given by Jones to commit suicide was consistent with Jones' previously stated conspiracy theories of intelligence organizations allegedly conspiring against the Temple, that men would "parachute in here on us", "shoot some of our innocent babies" and "they'll torture our children, they'll torture some of our people here, they'll torture our seniors."[10] Parroting Jones' prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to Fascism, one temple member states "the ones that they take captured, they're gonna just let them grow up and be dummies."[10]

Annie Moore and Carolyn Layton were among the 900 that died in the tragedy.

Selected writings

Non-fiction prose
  • The Killing of RFK. New York: Dell, 1975
  • Agony in New Haven: The Trial of Bobby Seale, Ericka Huggins, and the Black Panther Party. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1973. Rpt. Figueroa Press, forthcoming January 2008.
  • The Existentialism of Alberto Moravia (Co-author with Joan Ross). Carbonale: Southern Illinois UP, 1972. ISBN 0809305496.
  • In Search of Common Ground (Co-author with Erik Erikson, Kai Erikson, Huey P. Newton)
  • Death in Washington: The Murder of Orlando Letelier. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1980. ISBN 0882081241 (10). ISBN 978-0882081243 (13).
  • Killing Time: The First Full Investigation into the Unsolved Murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman (Co-author with Raymond P. Briggs). New York: Macmillan General Reference, 1996. ISBN 0028613406 (10). ISBN 978-0028613406 (13).
Prose fiction
  • The China Card (Arbor House, 1980)
  • The Spymaster (Arbor House, 1980)
  • Every Third House (Penmarin Books, 2005)



  • Three Rockefeller Foundation awards, including the Rockefeller Fellow in Residence, Bellagio Center, Italy.
  • Two Louis B. Mayer Awards
  • The Unicorn Prize
  • The Gold Medal Award
  • The Berlin Critics Award
  • The NEA Award for "Distinguished Writing"
  • Hollywood Critics Award.
  • PEN USA 2006 Literary Award for “Devil’s Advocate,” a play set on Christmas Eve 1989 during the U.S. invasion of Panama.

(As listed in Johnson, Mikulan, and "Donald Freed" in Another America)


  1. ^ "Note On Donald Freed"
  2. ^ a b "News" at York Theatre Royal,, September 28, 2007, accessed October 10, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Tim Reiterman (1982) "Raven: The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People" ISBN 0-525-24136-1 page 440
  4. ^ Roller, Edith Edith Roller Journals, August 1978, archived at Jonestown Institute at Sand Diego State University
  5. ^ Moore, Rebecca (2000). "American as Cherry Pie". Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases. Syracuse University Press. Retrieved 2007-05-21.  
  6. ^ Moore, Rebecca. A Sympathetic History of Jonestown. Lewiston: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0-8894-6860-5. p. 282.
  7. ^ Moore, Rebecca. A Sympathetic History of Jonestown. Lewiston: E. Mellen Press. ISBN 0-8894-6860-5. p. 272.
  8. ^ See, e.g., Jim Jones, Transcript of Recovered FBI tape Q 234, Q 322, Q 051
  9. ^ Jim Jones, Transcript of Recovered FBI tape Q 050
  10. ^ a b "Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project." Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. San Diego State University.


External links



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