FBI’s “Vault” Web Site Reveals Declassified Files on Hemingway, Einstein, Marilyn & Other Icons

fbi files

Yes­ter­day we fea­tured pages from Charles Bukowski’s FBI file and, along the way, men­tioned William T. Vollman’s. But the Fed­er­al Bureau of Inves­ti­ga­tion has kept tabs on a much wider vari­ety of cul­tur­al fig­ures than just writ­ers: musi­cians, come­di­ans, film­mak­ers, sci­en­tists, actors, and activists have also caught its much-see­ing eye. You can browse a great many of these files, now declas­si­fied, in The Vault, the FBI’s “new elec­tron­ic read­ing room, con­tain­ing 6,700 doc­u­ments and oth­er media that have been scanned from paper into dig­i­tal copies so you can read them in the com­fort of your home or office.” The FBI help­ful­ly breaks down the files into cat­e­gories, from anti-war (Abbie Hoff­man,Howard Zinn) to gang­ster era (Al CaponeJohn Dillinger) to unex­plained phe­nom­e­na (Roswell UFOextra-sen­so­ry per­cep­tion). But you, Open Cul­ture read­er, might find the most mate­r­i­al of inter­est in The Vault’s pop­u­lar cul­ture sec­tion.

There you’ll find mate­ri­als per­tain­ing to:

  • Ernest Hemingway’s “intel­li­gence work on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba between 1942 and 1944″
  • Orson Welles’ “poten­tial ties to com­mu­nist activ­i­ties in 1940s Hol­ly­wood”
  • Char­lie Chaplin’s ties to com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions (along with an inter­state pros­ti­tu­tion inves­ti­ga­tion)
  • John Lennon’s con­nec­tions to anti-war groups, which you’d expect, and an inves­ti­ga­tion of a threat made against him, which you may not
  • Mar­i­lyn Monroe’s con­nec­tions to com­mu­nism through her one­time hus­band Arthur Miller and oth­er­wise
  • Albert Einstein’s ”rad­i­cal back­ground”
  • Jef­fer­son Airplane’s “involve­ment in con­certs at demon­stra­tions such as one orga­nized by the Youth Inter­na­tion­al Par­ty [ … ] to impeach Pres­i­dent Nixon”
  • Helen Keller’s com­mu­nist sym­pa­thies
  • The Doors’ ”trash” music and its dis­sem­i­na­tion
  • The poten­tial obscen­i­ty of the Kingmen’s “Louie, Louie” (nobody could tell for sure)

If you dig into the Vault, you’ll see that not every FBI inves­ti­ga­tion begins with a sus­pi­cion that the lumi­nary in ques­tion is up to no good. In many cas­es, cul­tur­al fig­ures received threats (usu­al­ly extor­tion-relat­ed) from mys­te­ri­ous par­ties and called in the FBI to, well, inves­ti­gate. As with any tool in human hands, nations can use their inves­ti­ga­tion orga­ni­za­tions for good, or for, shall we say, more ambigu­ous pur­pos­es. What­ev­er their aims, they do pro­duce fas­ci­nat­ing read­ing.

Above you can find a mosa­ic of cul­tur­al fig­ures that were on the FBI radar. The image comes from decryptedmatrix.com.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Read 113 Pages of Charles Bukowski’s FBI File From 1968

How to Spot a Com­mu­nist Using Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism: A 1955 Man­u­al from the U.S. Mil­i­tary

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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