FBI Activities in Hollywood

The FBI and Hollywood.

Shortly after WW1, and before he became the head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover spent some time in Hollywood, urging film makers to curtail certain kinds of film making which he felt did not serve the best interests of the country. In particular, Hoover did not like the films of Charles Spencer Chaplin which tended to show people in authority abusing their power, maltreating common people, and eventually being made to look ridiculous. It was a Chaplin trademark; one which Hoover felt fostered a disrespect for authority in the general population.

Chaplin not only ignored Hoover's entreaties, but made fun of him, and when Hoover ascended to the head of the FBI, he made Chaplin pay for his earlier insults, and was instrumental in having Charlie kicked out of the United States.

Hoover was also quite eager to use his new authority to bring Hollywood into line with what Hoover thought was their proper role in society (propaganda organ for the government) and while Senator McArthy grabbed the headlines, Hoover was busy behind the scenes recruiting various people to inform on each other and factionalizing the Hollywood community so that it could not resist him.

One interesting story from those days relates to famed animator Walt Disney who had earlier on asked for Hoover's help in locating his real birth parents, little realizing the price Hoover would make him pay later. During the McCarthy hysteria, Hoover asked Walt Disney to report on anyone that might be a communist. Walt actually did on so on at least one occasion, yielding to what must have been an overwelming temptation.

Years ealier, Walt Disney had been teamed up with another animator named Walter Lantz, and together they produced a cartoon named "Oswald The Rabbit", created by Disney. But when their partnership dissolved, somehow Walter Lantz retained ownership of Oswald. On the long train ride home, Walt Disney sketched himself a small rodent with big ears and rubber hose arms and legs and named him "Mortimer Mouse". Following a slight name change by Walt Disney's wife, the new Disney star was born, and Disney became a household name. Walter Lantz went on to create his own star, "Woody Woodpecker".

When Hoover approached Disney to be an informant, Walt was hardly sympathetic. His studio had been stiffed on the payment for several training films produced for the Army during WW2. But the opportunity to "get" the man who stole Oswald from him was too great, and Walt Disney named Walter Lantz to the House Committee on Un-American Activities. That was Walt Disney's fatal mistake.

From that day on, using the threat to expose what Walt Disney had done, Hoover was able to blackmail Walt Disney and then later the Disney company itself into cooperation with several FBI operations, including a phony riot at the Anaheim park staged to discredit the anti-Vietnam movement, carried out on orders from the Nixon White House and revealed during Congressional hearings into COINTELPRO in the 70s. Following that riot, Disney management, worried that word of their involvement might leak out and lead to attempts at retaliation, instituted a short hair hiring policy designed to keep "hippies" from seeking employment at the park. That short hair policy remained in effect until a lawsuit in the 1980s brought it to an end.

Hoover's interest (indeed obsession) with Hollywood remained in full force, and countless operations were undertaken to spy on, and in some cases to destroy, various Hollywood celebrities.

The FBI's Public Image

Hoover took great interest in just how the FBI was portrayed in the movies, and later in television. During the making of "The FBI Story" starring Jimmy Stewert, Hoover was on the set every day directing the director as to how to make the film. Despite such ham-handed interference, Jimmy Stewert turned in a marvelous performance in the small amount of room the character was allowed.

Even when not personally supervising films about the FBI, a close watch, and sometimes direct intervention was taken in any film that referenced the FBI, no matter how slight.

Returning to the Disney lot, the following two pages, courtesy of The Smoking Gun reveal FBI concern over the movie,"That Darned Cat" and it's portrayal of the FBI.

[That Darned Cat]Click for full sized page.

[That Darned Cat]Click for full sized page.

When Paramount Pictures produced,"Skidoo", starring Jacie Gleason, it featured a single scene in which Gleason's character is seen fleeing a building marked,"FBI" carrying a file cabinet on his back. That one single scene prompted the following four page memo.

[Skidoo page 1]Click for full sized page.

[Skidoo page 2]Click for full sized page.

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[Skidoo page 4]Click for full sized page.

The FBI's "Celebrity Watch".

When not actually interfering with movies, the FBI spied on celebrities.

Shortly before his untimely death, Elvis was still being spied upon by the FBI, who noted in the following memo that Elvis was using dangerous amounts of drugs. The FBI might have intervened to prevent Elvis's death, but chose not to do so.

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It was a surprise that Elvis was spied on. Evis was a big fan of the FBI and said so during his famous meeting with Richard Nixon.

[Elvis 1]

Elvis asked for an FBI badge for his badge collection.

Ten days after his meeting with Nixon, Elvis was given a tour of FBI headquarters.

As usual, there followed a report.

[Presley 1]Click for full sized page.

[Presley 2]Click for full sized page.

[Presley 3]Click for full sized page.

Finally, no single celebrity filled the government with more fear than did ex-Beatle John Lennon. Lennon's popularity, and hence his ability to influence popular opinion, coupled with his strong anti-war stance, made him a real threat in the event the United States decided it had to go to war. For this reason, Lennon was one of the most watched celebrities, and according to Lennon's youngest son, the victim of a government assassination plot.

[Lennon 1]Click for full sized page.

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[Lennon 5]Click for full sized page.

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[Lennon 7]Click for full sized page.

[Lennon 8]Click for full sized page.

[Lennon 9]Click for full sized page.

[Lennon 10]Click for full sized page.

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