The series was loosely based on the life of Herbert Philbrick, a Boston advertising executive who infiltrated the U.S. Communist Party on behalf of the FBI in the 1940s and wrote a bestselling book on the topic, I Led Three Lives: Citizen, ‘Communist’, Counterspy (1952). The part of Philbrick was played by Richard Carlson. The “three lives” in the title are Philbrick’s outward life as a white-collar worker, his secret life as a Communist agent, and his even more secret life as an FBI operative helping to foil Communist plots.
I Led 3 Lives lasted 117 episodes. Philbrick served as a technical consultant, with Carlson narrating each episode. The episodes often had very little to do with the actual events of Philbrick’s life as related in his book—Philbrick is credited with only 5 of the 117 screenplays. Screenplays gradually became more and more outlandish, featuring, for example, such supposed “Communist plots” as the conversion of household vacuum cleaners (1942-1954 Electrolux) into tactical missile launchers with which the Communists intended to destroy America’s Nike anti-aircraft defensive missiles, and the manufacturing of untraceable “ghost guns” (unserialized Colt M1911) with which the Communists intended to assassinate their political enemies.
The series was honored by the Freedoms Foundation as the best television program of 1955, and was nominated for Best Mystery in the Primetime Emmy Awards of 1954 and 1955.