More than 60 years after a congressional Committee on Un-American Activities held hearings aimed at rooting out communist spies from Hollywood, a Hollywood producer has proudly revealed his own clandestine efforts on behalf of Israel.
Arnon Milchan, the Israeli-born businessman who owns New Regency Films, has been part of an array of blockbusters, including Pretty Woman, Fight Cluband the spy thriller Mr. and Mrs. Smith. In an interview Monday with Israel’s popular show Uvda, Milchan detailed his real-life, cloak-and-dagger work on numerous operations, including the purchase of technology needed to operate nuclear weapons.
“I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,” Milchan said.
You don’t have to go to the movies to find TV and film stars with true spy stories to tell.
• Before California-native Julia Child became The French Chef she worked for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, a Washington-based intelligence agency. She moved scores of top secret documents to and from U.S. spies — and worked on shark repellent used for downed flight crews.
• Swedish-born Greta Garbo, who took Hollywood by storm in the silent film era, identified important Nazi collaborators in Stockholm to Allied agents there. Garbo, who once received a fan letter from Adolf Hitler, reportedly served as go-between for Allied forces and members of the Swedish royal family.
• Chuck Barris, who gained fame hosting The Gong Show, has claimed to have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency as an assassin in the 1960s and the 1970s. The CIA denies it.
• FBI documents reveal that Ronald Reagan, whose modest acting career including a stint as president of the Screen Actors Guild, secretly reported to the FBI on people he suspected of communist activity.
Milchan was recruited by Shimon Peres, now Israel’s president, into an intelligence bureau decades ago when Milchan owned a fertilizer business in Israel. When he began working on films in the 1970s, Milchan said his work as a producer initially monopolized his time and effort. But he began working for Israel again, and Milchan said other big Hollywood names were connected to his covert affairs.
“When I came to Hollywood I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted — filmmaking,” he said. “(But) sometimes it gets mixed up.”
Even before his chat with Uvda, Milchan had a shadowy reputation as an arms dealer, a task he says he took on for his country.
“I remember asking Arnon something about that, being friends,” actor Robert DeNiro told Uvda. “I was curious, not in an accusatory way, I just wanted to know, and he said, ‘Yes, I’m Israeli, that’s my country.’”
“I had heard but I wasn’t sure,” Robert De Niro said of Milchan’s activities. “I did ask him once and he told me that he was an Israeli and of course he would do these things for his country.”
Hollywood’s spying history is almost as rich as Hollywood’s history of spy movies. The biggest splash came during the post-World War II era of McCarthyism and the blacklist of the so-called Hollywood Ten for their alleged links to communism.
The blacklist was instituted in 1947, the day after 10 writers and directors were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Among the 10 was Ring Lardner Jr., whose screenwriting credits would go on to include, among others, the 1970 hit MASH that took a humorous but anti-war view of the Korean conflict. The blacklist grew, and it took more than a decade for its grip to be broken.
Milchan said it was a challenge to overcome the whispers about him in Hollywood — many of which, it turns out, were true. He said he has no regrets.
“If people knew how many times I risked my life, back and forth, again and again, for my country,” he said.
Courtesy of USA Today