Tuesday, April 28, 2015
10 Celebrities You Didn't Know Was Spies
The singer and actress famous for her scandalous banana-skirted dance was the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture, but she didn't stop making history after that. When World War II broke out, Baker was recruited by the French intelligence services to leverage her fame as a tool to gather information. Using her massive celebrity, Baker got in close with Japanese and Italian businessmen, ambassadors and other high-ranking figures, and everything she found out in conversation with them was given back to the French resistance. When she toured, Baker would also smuggle information about troop movements written in invisible ink on her sheet music.
The writer of dozens of classics of children’s literature including James and the Giant Peach and Matilda, Roald Dahl was a complex and fascinating figure. Before starting his writing career, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force, where he flew in multiple missions. Headaches grounded him and he was returned to England and then appointed to a post in Washington, D.C. While there, his superiors discovered his knack for language and started him writing propaganda. It wasn't long before the intelligence services had Dahl running information about American activities – including the non-interventionist “America First” movement – back to the home office.
One of the most iconic horror actors of all time, Christopher Lee’s career has spanned almost six decades. His first breakthrough came as Count Dracula in the British horror films made by Hammer Productions. During World War II, he joined the Air Force but was told that a failure in his optic nerve would never allow him to become a pilot. Undeterred, Lee turned his skills to intelligence, and he was soon recruited to the Special Operations Executive, a top-secret group organized to conduct sabotage and espionage actions in occupied Europe. The details of Lee’s missions during this time are still classified, and like a good soldier he’s never spilled as to exactly what he did during that time.
One of the most enduring mysteries in Hollywood is Greta Garbo’s retirement from acting in 1941. The notoriously reclusive star was one of the few actresses to make the transition to “talkies” successfully, but during the mid-30's she began taking less roles and mysteriously disappearing for months on end. During those times, Garbo was working with producer Alexander Korba and MI6 on a number of top secret intelligence missions. Her first task was to collect information on Swiss industrialist Axel Wenner-Gren, and she continued to work for the agency throughout the decade, reporting back on potential Nazi sympathizers and agents. Some say her work in Denmark was responsible for the survival of legendary physicist Niels Bohr.
Ol’ Blue Eyes was a singer with a good deal of pull on both sides of the law. His connections to the Mafia have been well-documented, but the CIA also saw some good in Frank Sinatra. The intelligence agency allegedly made a deal with Sinatra to gloss over his Mob buddies’ illegal activities in exchange for Frank serving as a courier. On cross-country or transatlantic flights, Sinatra would often bring documents or diplomats for delivery on his private jet, which could pass through customs much easier than official transports.
The 6’2” cookbook author with the booming voice probably wasn’t the most inconspicuous person in the room, but Julia Child stumbled into espionage for that exact reason. At her height, she was too tall for the Women’s Army Corps, but still wanted to serve her country. Child was assigned to the laboratory of the Office of Strategic Services, where she worked to assist in the development of a shark repellent to keep undersea predators away from explosives. From there, she was posted abroad in Ceylon and China, where she transcribed and classified massive amounts of confidential communications from listening posts. After the war, she and husband Paul Child were transferred to Paris, where Julia got her first taste of French food and sparked a lifelong love affair with the cuisine.
Athletes make exceptional intelligence operatives, because they have to travel frequently for work. Baseball player Moe Berg had that going for him and a lot more. Berg was a graduate of Princeton who spoke twelve languages, and in the offseason studied philosophy and got his law degree from Columbia. When he was traded to the Washington Senators, it wasn’t long before the diplomatic corps had brought Berg in to gather information on overseas tours. In 1934, while touring Japan with the All-Star team, he took video footage of Tokyo’s harbor and industrial areas, and was sent on multiple missions in Germany as well before the outbreak of open hostilities between the Axis powers and the United States.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano
Not all of the people on this list got into spying for love of God and country. Charles “Lucky” Luciano was the head of the powerful Genovese family, and his only goal was consolidating his power over the East Coast’s rackets. But after he was busted in 1936 for prostitution and thrown behind bars for 30 to 50 years, Lucky was desperate to shave down his sentence. He got the chance when Nazi saboteurs sank a French ocean liner that was being converted into a troop transport at the New York docks. Luciano’s mob controlled those docks, so he offered himself up as a conduit for information. He continued to help the Allies throughout the war and was released after serving just 10 years of his sentence.
One of the most famous sex symbols in cinema history seems like an odd choice to be a spy, but somehow Cary Grant managed to pull it off. During World War II, one of the biggest concerns in America was the existence of Axis sympathizers on home soil, especially in positions of influence. So British agency MI6 reached out to some of Hollywood’s top producers and asked them to pick out an inside man to keep an ear to the ground in the movie industry. They chose Cary Grant, who spent the next few years digging for information. Grant’s most notorious success? Revealing that fellow heartthrob Errol Flynn was writing letters in support of Hitler and aiding German agent Hermann Erben.
BY THOR JENSEN
We guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the creator of one of the most famous fictional spies of all time had a background in intelligence himself. Ian Fleming didn’t start writing until he was 43 years old, but he packed his early life with plenty of living. As a child, he was sent to an Austrian private school run by former spy Ernan Forbes Dennis, and his tutelage helped Fleming in his Royal Navy career. He started out as a personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Intelligence, and immediately began thinking up plans to foil the Axis. In 1942, he was put in charge of a commando group called 30 Assault Unit, who would accompany infantry advances to seize documents from enemy headquarters. After World War II ended, Fleming would use many elements of his service as inspiration for James Bond’s adventures.