Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Sam Wanamaker and the MI5

I was somewhat appalled to learn that MI5 had spied on American actor and Director Sam Wanamaker, who came to these shores in 1951 to escape the fear and paranoia that had gripped his country thanks to the House Un-American Activities Committee. Led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, this congressional lynch mob with the force of the FBI behind them, baselessly accused and had brow beaten various Hollywood luminaries into confessing to being communists and providing names of other communists sympathizers.  

Fearing exile and imprisonment names were given, sometimes falsely with no definite proof sought or provided. Wanamaker however refused to co-operate with the committee and fled his home to the UK, which he deemed a land of tolerance and with the embodiment of “the true spirit of modern democracy”.

No doubt Wanamaker would have been disappointed to learn that his associations and activities were closely watched by MI5 and reported to the US embassy that had branded him a “concealed communist”. With the exception of having been a member of the Communist Party for two years in the 1940’s, there was no real evidence that Wanamaker was a spy, nor that he had been involved any propaganda for the Soviet Union. In fact the evidence against him, which justified such surveillance, was flimsy at best.

Reports recently released from the National Archives showed that his well-known influence of Stanislavsky – the Russian father of modern method acting, was deemed evidence of his Soviet subversive sympathies. Despite Wanamaker’s growing stature as an actor the home office considered acquiescing to US authorities requests for his stay in the UK to be revoked. US authorities even intended to rescind Wanamaker and his family’s passports, which meant they would have been made to leave. Luckily he received indefinite permission in 1957 to stay, and in 1993 he died a British Citizen. His daughter ZoĆ« (star of BBC sitcom My Family), has of course become one this nations finest and respected actors.

I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that our intelligence community, even at the height of the cold war, used the same flimsy justification as Joe McCarthy’s political rabble to spy on a man whose contribution to British theatre saw the re-establishment of the Globe Theatre in London and the New Shakespeare Theatre Club in Liverpool. Yet the latter was deemed by a Special Branch Operative as being the perfect platform to promote extreme left-wing propaganda, a “great asset to the Communist Party”.

Who would have thought that Macbeth was in fact a war cry for a communist take over of the Kingdoms of Glamis and Cawdor. So does this mean that Oberon and Puck are really communist double agents trying to poison the minds of freethinking westerners with the power of love to accept the Marxist doctrine?

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Image Credits J'Roo

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