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Ronald Reagan, Hollywood FBI Snitch (1985 SJ Mercury News Article)

Alex Constantine - November 25, 2010

" ... Reagan's file, released after nearly 40 years, indicates that the president was one of at least 18 informants used by the FBI to gauge Communist infiltration in the film industry. ... "

This story ran in the Mercury News on Aug. 25, 1985

'Reagan acted as informant for FBI'

By Scott Herhold

Ronald Reagan in Dark Victory trailer - Ronald Reagan, Hollywood FBI Snitch (1985 SJ Mercury News Article)As a budding politician in Hollywood's acting community after World War II, Ronald Reagan served as a confidential informant for the FBI, according to records released by the bureau.

The FBI documents, obtained by the Mercury News in a freedom- of-information request, show that Reagan -- identified as "T-10" -- kept agents informed about pro-Communist influences in the Screen Actors Guild and other Hollywood organizations.

The reports show that he and his first wife, actress Jane Wyman, provided the FBI with the names of actors whom they believed were members of a clique with a pro-Communist line.

Rusty Brashear, a White House spokesman, said FBI officials had told him that Reagan's involvement with the bureau was "very minor." "Apparently, it was little more than those people who had been contacted by HUAC. I'm not sure that this reference to confidential informant is quite what it sounds like."

The documents also reveal that Reagan, who was then president of the guild, disagreed with the tactics of the House Un- American Activities Committee (HUAC) in attempting to rid the movie industry of Communists.

In one interview with the FBI, the documents show, Reagan criticized the attempts of a committee of producers and actors to fire Communists from film work.

"Do they expect us to constitute ourselves as a little FBI of our own and determine just who is a commie and who isn't?" he asked an FBI agent.

Reagan's FBI file also describes the future president's brief involvement with the American Veterans' Committee and the Hollywood Independent Citizens' Committee of Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP), which the FBI considered Communist- front organizations.

The reports suggest that Reagan, who was then spending as much time on union activity as in acting, quit both groups because of his distrust of Communists. Ordinarily, the FBI does not release details about its confidential informants. But Reagan's file, released after nearly 40 years, indicates that the president was one of at least 18 informants used by the FBI to gauge Communist infiltration in the film industry.

An FBI press officer, William Carter, was unable to offer an immediate reason why Reagan's activities as an informant were disclosed.

Public status

Carter noted, however, that Reagan's public status permitted the bureau to release more information about him than about private citizens.

Because there are numerous blanked-out paragraphs and omitted pages in the file released publicly, it is impossible to know how fully the reports describe Reagan's contacts with the FBI. To protect "personal privacy, " the bureau deleted all mention of other actors and actresses, although the context of their discussions is described.

In early February, the FBI released a 28-page file on Reagan that described his involvement with the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy, one of several groups that were branded as a "Communist front" by the U.S. attorney general.

The latest release -- another 155 pages that include dozens of newspaper clippings and pages of congressional testimony -- show for the first time that Reagan had served as an FBI informant.

The first mention of Reagan in the documents comes on Sept. 17, 1941, when a Washington, D.C.-based FBI agent -- whose name was crossed out -- wrote a memorandum to Hugh Clegg, then the assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles division.

'Might be of assistance'

"As a result of my previous position as (blacked out), I became intimately acquainted with the following persons who might be of some assistance to the Bureau, " the memo read.

The writer said he would be "glad to contact" the people and give them the name of the special agent in charge. The only name not crossed out on his list was that of "Ronald Reagan, Warner Brothers studio, Hollywood."

The first record of an FBI agent interviewing Reagan came on Nov. 18, 1943, in connection with an FBI investigation of an unnamed German sympathizer. Reagan, then 32, was assigned to the Army Air Corps' motion picture unit at Camp Roach in Culver City. According to the FBI report, Reagan told of nearly "coming to blows" with the German sympathizer at a cocktail party because the latter made several anti-Semitic remarks.

"Due to the nature of the remarks made by subject, Reagan became highly incensed and withdrew from the conversation, " the FBI report said, ". . . although he emphasized that considerable drinking had been done by all persons involved."

Committee investigation

The next record of a Reagan interview with the FBI came on April 10, 1947, in connection with the FBI's investigation of the Hollywood Independent Citizens Committee of the Arts, Sciences and Professions (HICCASP). HICCASP was one of several groups Reagan quit after coming to believe they were controlled by Communists. Before quitting, Reagan attended a meeting of the group on July 11, 1946, a meeting under surveillance by the FBI.

An FBI summary of the interview with Reagan and his wife, Jane Wyman, gives some insight into the developing anti- communism -- and political instincts -- of the future president.

"Reagan stated that he was present and that this meeting was precipitated by the fact he and nine other members of HICCASP had attempted to create an issue to justify their resignations, " the FBI report said.

The report went on to say that Reagan's group advocated a resolution condemning communism as well as fascism, a proposal that faced heavy opposition.

"Reagan advised considerable discussion pro and con ensued and finally (blacked out) took the floor and stated positively and somewhat prolongedly, 'Regardless of how much discussion occurs here, I can tell you this much for certain: HICCASP will never pass any resolution condemning communism or condoning capitalism.' "

Resolution rejected

After the resolution was voted down by 60 to 10 at an ensuing meeting, the FBI report said, Reagan submitted his resignation by telegram the same night.

By far the longest excerpt in the FBI documents, however, dealt with Reagan's activities in the Screen Actors Guild and his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947.

In the same interview on April 10, 1947, in which he described the HICCASP meeting, the documents show, Reagan also outlined the workings of the Screen Actors Guild. He was elected president of the guild that same year. According to the report, Reagan and Wyman told the FBI that they had noticed two cliques within the guild that on all questions of policy "follow the Communist Party line."

While noting that the leaders of the two cliques did not appear to be particularly close, Reagan told the FBI, according to the report, that they united on electing individuals to office.

The FBI report then contained a list of actors and actresses named by Reagan and Wyman. Their names were blacked out, but the report shows that the Los Angeles FBI cross-referenced the names to determine which were known Communist Party members.

Known as 'T-10'

Reagan was explicitly identified as confidential informant "T-10" on the fortieth page of a lengthy bureau report on Dec. 19, 1947, titled "Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry."

While the names of the other 17 informants listed were blacked out, the report says that "T-9" was a "well-known actress." The report quotes her as saying that Reagan had "seen the light" and was sincere in his efforts to keep radical guild members out of power.

Other documents in Reagan's file depict the future president -- at the time a Democrat -- as disturbed by some of the government's tactics in attempting to root Communists out of the film industry. In particular, Reagan disagreed with the approach of the House Un-American Activities Committee under Rep. J. Parnell Thomas, a Republican of New Jersey. Reagan testified before the committee in Washington on Oct. 23, 1947.

The lengthy December FBI report quoted Reagan as saying that he regretted "the whole affair." The report said Reagan believed that the unfriendly witnesses before the committee -- the so-called "Hollywood Ten" -- should have been allowed to make their statements and discredit themselves.

Criticized investigator

The document also notes that Reagan criticized the committee's chief investigator, Robert Stripling, who visited Reagan's hotel room on the night of Oct. 22, 1947, to go over the testimony.

"T-10 advised that . . . Stribling (misspelled in copy) came to his hotel room and asked him numerous questions, some of which led T-10 into a 'pretty good defense of the motion picture industry, ' although by no means a defense of the Communist element, " the report said.

"However, the following day when he was on the stand Stribling (sic) failed to ask him any of these questions which would have enabled him to get in a good word for the motion picture industry as a whole, " the report said.

In fact, when Stripling asked Reagan in testimony whether he could identify any particular Communists in the film industry, Reagan answered: "No sir, I have no investigative force, or anything, and I do not know."

While conceding that there was a clique that "more or less" followed the Communist Party line within the guild, Reagan insisted that they were a tiny minority and that the best response lay in democratic trade unionism.

Behind the scenes, Reagan criticized a committee of producers -- a committee with which he negotiated as guild president -- that was established to drive Communists out of the film industry.

'Not in authority'

"He stated he did not feel it was within the authority or ability of any single man or group of men within the motion picture industry to be able to determine accurately and fairly who should be fired and who should not be fired, " the FBI report said.

The report left few doubts about Reagan's own anti-communism. The FBI quoted the future president as saying that Congress should outlaw the Communist Party as a foreign conspiracy and define what groups were Communist-controlled.

With Reagan in support, the Screen Actors Guild in November 1947 passed a resolution asking members to sign an affidavit saying that they were not Communists before they could be eligible for any guild office.

But Reagan's defense of the motion picture industry was not shared by the one man who received the entire report, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.

"It is outrageous that House Un-American Activities Committee got 'cold feet' and dropped Hollywood investigation, " Hoover scrawled on the bottom. "The picture industry still continues to be a stinking mess."


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