5 Celebrities Who Were Secretly Spies While They Were Famous
Lots of us grew up thinking that, out of the blue, we'd someday get recruited into a globetrotting spy adventure. And you know what? That shit actually happens! Well, if you're famous, anyway. We've previously mentioned that, for instance, George Orwell was once recruited by the British government to infiltrate communist groups in his home country. But when it comes to famous people doing spy shit on the side, that's far from the weirdest example ...
The Producer Of Pretty Woman and Fight Club Was An Israeli Arms Runner
With more than 130 films to his credit -- including Pretty Woman, L.A. Confidential, Fight Club, 12 Years A Slave, and the highly esteemed Alvin And The Chipmunks series -- it's no surprise that big-time Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan has a net worth approaching six holy-shit billion dollars. What is surprising is that -- according to Milchan, at least -- not a single penny of that mad cash came from his time spent secretly brokering arms deals for the Israeli equivalent of the CIA.
Even as he was rubbing shoulders with the likes of Robert De Niro, Milchan was arranging big-ticket arms sales for Lakam -- AKA the Bureau Of Scientific Relations, the now-defunct Israeli agency that was top-secretly devoted to the science of relating to countries willing to sell them all the shit necessary to assemble nuclear weapons. Personally recruited in the mid-'70s by future prime minister Shimon Peres, at the height of his career Milchan operated 30 different companies in 17 countries and regularly oversaw nine-figure deals to greatly expand the nation's global outreach (expand it explosively, one might say). Israel's press labeled this then-mysterious figure the "Chuck Norris Of The Lakam," presumably because he signed off on every deal with a sweet-ass spin kick.
"Who needs leg kicks when you have nuclear arms."
It wasn't all fun and games and "James Bond" levels of excitement (as Milchan put it). There's the fact that he helped South Africa put a positive public-relations spin on its appalling apartheid system, all in exchange for some aftermarket uranium (obviously, Milchan was not a producer on Back To The Future). Then there was the time in 1985 when, as Milchan was struggling to keep the production of a little flick known as Brazil afloat, he suddenly found himself under fire of the legal variety when it was discovered that one of his companies had smuggled nuclear triggers -- AKA krytrons, AKA the things that make nuclear goddamned weapons go boom -- to Israel.
"Maybe no one will notice."
Luckily for your iTunes library, blame for the sizable snafu was placed squarely on the shoulders of aerospace executive Richard Kelly Smyth. All charges against Milchan himself were dropped by the Reagan administration, possibly because Brazil is just so damn good, you guys.
John Steinbeck Spied For The CIA While Touring Europe
John Steinbeck is best known as the great American novelist who used his unassuming prose to beguile generations of English teachers into making droves upon droves of kids read a book in which a woman forcibly breastfeeds a grown-ass man.
There are entire subreddits dedicated to this scene.
Given the fact that he made his living writing about mice and grapes and dust, you probably would have pegged Steinbeck at the very bottom on a scale from zero to Ian Fleming in terms of "authors likely to have participated in actual espionage." Thanks to documents recently released under the Freedom Of Information Act, however, it's clear that America's favorite mouse-squisher possessed heretofore unknown aspirations of the cloak-and-dagger variety.
In 1952, just as the Cold War was becoming nice and frosty around the edges, Steinbeck was commissioned by Collier's Magazine to travel around the Mediterranean and put together a series of articles on subjects ranging from "whatever he wanted" to "whatever the hell he wanted" (he was John Steinbeck, remember). Obviously, this offered a unique opportunity to spy on some filthy commies, and Steinbeck penned a letter to the then-head of the Central Intelligence Agency, Walter Bedell "Beetle" Smith, telling him as much.
Surprisingly, Smith immediately took the author up on his "peculiar" offer, and arranged a meeting in Washington at which he handed the eager new operative his marching orders and (ostensibly) his CIA standard-issue trench coat.
Steinbeck or Bogart? We can't tell!
Sadly, we may never know exactly what was said at that clandestine meeting. What we do know is that, during his trips abroad, every Thursday like clockwork Steinbeck got "lost in and around Paris," an activity that his youngest son believes may have been cover for shady meetings with other operatives. But while we may never know the full extent of the esteemed author's Cold War spying activities, that doesn't mean you can't read a 354-page book on the subject -- because apparently Steinbeck didn't hold any sort of monopoly on stretching a minimal plot into a preposterous amount of pages to read by Thursday.
Coco Chanel Was In Bed With The Nazis (Literally)
Today Coco Chanel is a household name, thanks to said name being plastered all over clothes you can't afford as well as a perfume formula that took five tries to perfectly sear the flesh from your nostrils. But amidst all the celebrity fashion spreads and the stores in the fancy part of town that stock two pocketbooks and a single size-five shoe, we tend to forget the other thing Chanel did so famously: fuckin' Nazis.
That wasn't an adjective. See, when the Third Reich occupied her native France while her fashion career was in full bloom, Chanel simply buckled down and invited German intelligence officer Hans Gunther von Dincklage to lead the Nazi occupation of her pants.
"He can blitzkrieg me on every front." - Coco Chanel, probably.
It turned out Chanel and the Nazis had more than a keen fashion sense in common -- namely, their disdain for Jews. For Chanel, the occupation was a golden opportunity to leverage Nazi laws banning Jews from owning businesses to wrestle her namesake back from the Wertheimer brothers, who'd purchased a majority stake in the company decades earlier.
Also, she posed nude for a comic that depicted Hitler rescuing France from rapey Jews.
It didn't work -- the Wertheimer family still owns the Chanel brand to this day. That didn't dampen Coco's enthusiasm for the Reich, however, and along with her beau The Dinck she traveled throughout Europe recruiting new agents to the Nazi cause. She even had her very own code name: "Westminster," so named for her famous ex, the Duke of Westminster. Yeah, we're guessing von Dincklage didn't come up with it.
Chanel's spying career came to an end in 1943, when she attempted on behalf of the one and only Heinrich Himmler to broker a peace deal with Winston Churchill -- a last-ditch effort by the Nazis to avoid being trampled to a fine paste beneath the too-thin soles of the Red Army. Churchill refused to see her (he had quite enough shoes, thank you very much, and a Nazi rectum up which to firmly plant every last one of them), but he did see to it that Chanel and her Nazi lover fucked off scot-free to Switzerland. To reiterate: In punishment for their faithful service to the evilest of empires, Chanel and von Dincklage were forced to live in the happiest country on earth.
Gloria Steinem Worked For The CIA In Exchange For Sizable Sums Of Cash
You'd be hard pressed to find a name as singularly important to modern human rights activism and feminism as Gloria Steinem's. A retrospect of her career shows her protesting the Vietnam War, raising awareness of female genital mutilation, and campaigning for the rights of the LGBTQ community, to name but a few of the causes she's championed. Also, she was once a self-confessed CIA agent.
Who better to prove once and for all that THE Man doesn't necessarily have to be A man.
In the early days of the Cold War, the CIA established covert ties with an organization known as the National Student Association, or NSA. If this sounds a bit too much like the Hitler Youth or the Soviet front organization known as the World Federation Of Democratic Youth, that's probably for good reason -- the association was created specifically to counteract such organizations via a massive influx of capitalism and apple pie. Since this isn't completely confusing yet, existing as a sub-front of this front organization was the Independent Research Service, or IRS, because if acronyms had genitals the government would make sweet, sweet love to them.
Anyway, heading up the Independent Research Service was none other than not-yet-totally-famous feminist Gloria Steinem, who was tasked with traveling to the Soviet-controlled World Youth Festivals in Vienna and Helsinki and tossing a bald-eagle-shaped wrench into the gears of the proceedings. She accomplished this by inserting sufficiently smart, left-leaning capitalist debaters to tip the overwhelmingly communist vibe of the proceedings. But why would she sign up to become a roundabout CIA spook? Because activism ain't cheap, and the CIA was throwing around "free" money as if it were raining the stuff. But don't take our word for it; here she is saying so herself:
While cozying up to the CIA seems to go directly against her "down with The Man" Vietnam-era persona, Steinem justified her actions by saying that she was "happy to find some liberals in government in those days who were farsighted and cared enough to get Americans of all political views to the festival." Furthermore, she claimed that the CIA of the late '50s/early '60s was comprised of "enlightened, liberal, non-partisan activists of the sort who characterized the Kennedy administration." Yeah, we're thinking at the very least Oliver Stone would disagree with you on that one.
Adolf Hitler Spied On The Nazi Party (Yes, That Adolf Hitler)
How's this for a curveball to end the article? In a turn of events that we swear isn't the plot of some alternate timeline Twilight Zone episode, young Adolf Hitler was a spy tasked with infiltrating the damned Nazis.
Well, mission accomplished.
As a young whippersnapper fresh out of World War I, Hitler's commanders in the Second Infantry Regiment sent him to do some reconnaissance on the nascent German Workers' Party -- because if there's one thing a nation that just got its ass collectively handed to it by the rest of the world doesn't need, it's the working class getting all riled up.
So Hitler snuck into the back of a Munich beer hall and was less than impressed by what he saw: a measly 25 Socialists (a good third of whom were probably only there for the beer), sharing their ideas for how to transform the politically shredded Germany into a "worker's paradise."
Mission ... less accomplished.
Hitler headed for the door to report back on what was sure to be a short-lived movement, but he froze in his jackboots the moment someone suggested that Germany was a lost cause and that Bavaria should secede to Austria. He stomped straight to the front of the room and gave a chillingly portentous speech about how the only way to rekindle Germany was to build a greater Germany. Note that he gave said speech to the very people he was supposed to be spying on. It's safe to say that Hitler was officially history's shittiest spy.
Party secretary Anton Drexler, impressed by Hitler's showmanship, gave him a copy of a book he'd written: My Political Awakening: From The Diary Of A German Socialist Worker. As Hitler sleeplessly read it in his room that night, a cartoon light bulb appeared above his angular little head. All this equal-pay-for-workers bullshit didn't appeal to him ... but blaming everything shitty in the world on the Jews? Now that was something he could get behind.
Another thing Hitler and Drexler could agree upon? Stupid fucking mustaches.
You know the rest of the story. Hitler gave ever more (and ever more impassioned) speeches, and the German Workers' Party rapidly and horrifically mutated into the National Socialist German Workers' Party, better known to us non-pretenders as the goddamned Nazis.
Though that dude on the lower right was still only there for the beer.
While getting overly caught up in the mindset of the group you're supposed to be infiltrating might sound like it goes against every rule of successful espionage, you can't deny that Hitler eventually succeeded in destroying the group from the inside. He did personally assassinate its leader, after all.
Mark Oliver's writing has appeared everywhere from The Onion's StarWipe to Listverse to Fatherly. His website is regularly updated with everything he writes.
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