Orson Welles and Erika Cheetham as Kremlin Agents

In writing a revision of a paper, I am forced to cut a big section. However, I think it is good enough to post here. This is an expansion of sorts of the biography of Orson Welles and Erika Cheetham I did in the paper “Russian Active Measures and September 11 2001: Nostradamus Themed Disinformation”.  There is quite a bit I could add to this, such as my recent blog on “F for Fake”, or that the huge 1982 anti-nuclear peace rally which Welles was a prominent guest at was clearly inspired by the pioneering 1930’s era peace rallies organized by his political mentor Louis Dolivet. Dolivet had been an inspiration of other prominent figures from the rally, such as Lord Philip Noel-Baker. 1983 FBI reports suggested the rally had been influenced by Soviet active measures at the “highest levels“.

To me, given the Soviet infiltration of the peace movement, and his proximity to multiple “cells” of Russian spies (including peace movement figures), this is all pretty compelling evidence of Orson Welles being a Russian influence asset over time (less so for Cheetham to be honest). But maybe you have a different idea?

w00t. Poster for Russian release of Orson Welles US-market comeback film ‘Touch of Evil’ (1958)

Orson Welles: WWII-Era Propagandist

Before WWII, Orson Welles was involved in propaganda, a fact which he was conscious of, and of the difference between propaganda and art (Wollaeger 2006). Welles’ first foray into propaganda seems to be as the original narrator in the Communist-inspired Joris Iven’s film The Spanish Earth (1936) which was an antifascist film about the Spanish Civil War written by Ernest Hemingway (identified as a Soviet asset by the Vassiliev notebooks) (Haynes 2014). Later, Welles made antifascist interpretations of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (1937), and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1939). Citizen Kane (1941) was deemed communist propaganda by the FBI and Welles likely portrayed William Randolph Hearst in a fascist light via the Kane character. Welles carried the antifascist theme into the post-war years with The Stranger (1946) (Denning 1998).

Welles had also been commissioned to make antifascist propaganda for the U.S. during WWII. His (officially unreleased) documentary film It’s all True (shot over 1941-1942) was for the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs and intended to resist Nazi efforts in South and Central America (Wollaeger 2006). Welles may have even been enlisted directly by Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to make a documentary about the atomic bomb, though such footage has never surfaced (McBride 2013).

Compromised Backgrounds?

Out of concern about Communist intentions in Citizen Kane, the FBI opened a file on Welles, eventually linking him to multiple fronts of the Communist Party (CPUSA) via his involvement in the Hollywood ‘Popular Front’ (Denning 1998). Welles appeared as a speaker at CPUSA events with figures like I.F. Stone (also identified as a Soviet asset by the Vassiliev notebooks) (Haynes 2014).

Welles’ “political mentor” in the early 1940’s was Louis Dolivet (aliases Ludovici Udeanu and Ludwig Brecher; b.1908-d.1989) (Leaming 1995). Dolivet was a close associate of Willi Munzenberg, Otto Katz, and Pierre Cot and was identified in the Vassiliev notebooks as a Soviet agent (Haynes 2014). During the 1930’s Dolivet was active in leading NKVD and Comintern antifascist agents in France (Marnham 2015). Dolivet produced the magazine Free World and was married to the heiress Beatrice Straight, sister of Michael Straight: the only American member of the ‘Cambridge Five’ spy ring. Dolivet introduced Welles to Michael Straight during this time (Denning 1998, Perry 2005).

Dolivet had goals to make Welles into either a UN official or a politician, and through Dolivet’s connections in 1944 Welles campaigned for FDR and (CPUSA-compromised) Henry Wallace (later editor of Michael Straight’s New Republic) (Leaming 1995). FDR had welcomed the efforts of foreign antifascist propagandists supporting U.S. entry into WWII. Dolivet’s Free World Association had connections to the British Security Coordination (BSC) as well as the Office of Strategic Services. Despite his proximity to the FDR-Wallace administration, following FDR’s death, Welles left for Europe in 1947 seemingly due to pressure from authorities for his political views and CPUSA connections.

Though unable to prove he was communist, the FBI listed him as a national security risk in this period and he was named to the Red Channels list in 1950 (Mcbride 2013). During his blacklisting, one of Welles’ first roles was to play Harry Lime in Sir Alexander Korda’s production of screenwriter Graham Greene’s The Third Man (1949). The Third Man was based on the exploits of Kim Philby and H.P. Smolka (main alias Peter Smollett), members of the Cambridge Five. Prior to scriptwriting for Korda, Greene worked directly for Philby in the intelligence services, and many of the ideas for the criminal rackets in the film (and Welles’ character) came from Smolka’s input (Foges 2016). (Both Welles and Smolka were on George Orwell’s list of crypto-communists. Greene had for a short while been a registered member of the Communist Party in Britain, which caused him to be denied entry to the U.S. in 1952.)

Korda’s studio was described by BSC operative H. Montgomery Hyde as a “clearinghouse for British Intelligence” (Hyde 1982, pp. 162). Korda had connections to Russian espionage and a history of producing antifascist cinema. He was the employer of the Soviet spy Moura Budberg during the 1930-40’s. She had met Lenin, appeared publicly at the side of Stalin, and been the lover of both Maxim Gorky and H.G. Wells. She facilitated the prior work between H.G. Wells and Korda to develop the propaganda film Things to Come (1936). This was around the time she was under the control of NKVD leader Genrikh Yagoda (Day 2014). When questioned by British intelligence over her espionage connections in 1951, Budberg provided information implicating Cambridge Five members Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt (Tweedie & Day 2002).

In the early to mid-1950’s Welles became dependent on financing from Dolivet. Welles also relied on another producer who was a suspected former Soviet GPU/OGPU intelligence asset: Michael Olian (aliases Michel Olian, Michel Oliansky, Michel Holianski; b.8/1897-d.1967) (Callow 2016, Wisner 1953). Welles’ concept for Confidential Report: Mr. Arkadin (released 1955) was developed in 1951 and inspired by Olian and Josef Stalin (Callow 2016). According to a CIA informant, at this time Olian was rumoured to be handling “large sums of money for the Soviet Union” and “dealing in war materials on a large scale” (Wisner 1953). Olian not only provided Welles with shelter and inspiration, but contributed $200,000 to Welles’ struggling production of Shakespeare’s Othello (1951) (Callow 2016). Dolivet later produced and bankrolled Mr. Arkadin (Gear 2016).

Welles’ projects close to 1981 aligned with Soviet disinformation themes. In 1975, Welles assumed creative control of the film Sirhan Sirhan or RFK Must Die (unreleased), which he co-wrote with “left wing activist” Donald Freed. Freed had been a co-writer of the 1973 conspiracy thriller Executive Action with Dalton Trumbo (Gear 2015). The scripts implied U.S. intelligence agency involvement in the Kennedy assassinations. This is a theme uncovered in the Mitrokhin Archive – at least in the case of John F. Kennedy – to be Soviet disinformation (Andrew 2000). The script for Sirhan Sirhan was about a mind-control plot causing the Robert F. Kennedy assassination. The script portrays the assassin sympathetically and equates U.S. intelligence with Nazis”, suggesting involvement of the “New Orleans Mafia and the CIA” in the assassination (Gear 2015).

Welles was a prominent speaker at the massive peace rally that accompanied the June 12, 1982 United Nations Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD-II) in New York, an event which contemporary FBI reports stated “Soviet-controlled organizations participated at the highest levels” and “nearly every instrument of Soviet active measures was directed towards infiltrating and influencing” (Congressional 1983, Rhodes 1982). (Welles also had told acquaintances in 1983 of a KGB attempt to assassinate John Wayne (Munn 2005).)

Erika Cheetham’s background is less clearly tied to Russian espionage/propaganda. However, she was known by a future British Secret Intelligence Service agent at Oxford as a leftist and she associated with students (known to one another as “comrades”) that included James Greene (nephew of Graham Greene), Kingsley Shorter (a future Russian interpreter at the UN), Perry Anderson, and Quintin Hoare (who both went on to become editors of the ‘Western Marxist’ New Left Review journal) (Hagger 2015).

Apparent claims of Cheetham’s books in the 1980s and 1990s (with no need to read the book itself, only examine the cover) suggested that Nostradamus had predicted the deaths of JFK and RFK, the rise of Middle Eastern terrorist figures, nuclear war/third world war, the AIDS epidemic, a rise in earthquakes, as well as “the rise and fall of the Third Reich” (Cheetham 1983, Cheetham 1989, Cheetham 1991). Many of these themes have close parallels with concepts suggested as Soviet “active measures” in the Mitrokhin Archive, exposes of the World Peace Council, as well as parallels with WWII antifascist propaganda (Andrew 2000). The film even considers the Spanish Civil war in an anti-fascist context.

A 1989 Australian TV version of The Man Who Saw Tomorrow titled Nostradamus: The Final Chapter implied that the CIA was involved in the JFK assassination which was not clearly illustrated in the 1981 version (Drane 1989). Both versions discussed “grassy knoll” conspiracy theories; suggesting Lee Harvey Oswald in the words of Nostradamus is “innocent of the deed” and that the Warren Report was dubious/faulty (Orson Welles did not narrate Australian edition, but much of footage, including the voice of Nostradamus is the same, and Cheetham appears in this version).


Andrew, C 2000, The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB, Basic Books, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Callow, S 2016, Orson Welles, Volume 3: One-Man Band, Penguin, London, U.K.

Cheetham, E 1983, The Man Who Saw Tomorrow: The Prophecies of Nostradamus, Berkley, New York, NY, U.S.A.

——1989, The Final Prophecies of Nostradamus, Perigee Books, London, U.K.

——1991, The Final Prophecies of Nostradamus (reissue), Time Warner Paperbacks, London, U.K.

Congressional Record 1983, Proceedings and Debates of the 98th Congress, First Session, March 24, 1983, Vol. 129, No. 39-Part II, pp. 1-10., Washington, DC, U.S.A.

Day, P 2014, Klop: Britain’s Most Ingenious Secret Agent, Biteback Publishing, London, U.K.

Denning, M 1998, The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century, Verso, London, U.K.

Drane et. al 1989, [film], The Prophecies of Nostradamus: The Final Chapter, Channel 7, Australia.

Foges, P.  2016, My Spy: The story of H.P. Smolka, Soviet spy and inspiration for “The Third Man”. Lapham’s Quarterly. January 14, viewed 5 August 2017, . <http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/roundtable/my-spy>.

Gear, M.A. 2015, ‘Orson Welles and the Death of Sirhan Sirhan: Part I: The Conspirators’, Bright Lights Film Journal, 20 Feb., viewed 5 August 2017, <http://brightlightsfilm.com/orson-welles-and-the-death-of-sirhan-sirhan-part-i-the-conspirators/>.

Gear, M.A. 2016, At the End of the Street in the Shadow: Orson Welles and the City, Columbia University Press, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Hagger, N 2015, My Double Life 2: A Rainbow Over the Hills, John Hunt Publishing, London, U.K.

Haynes, J.E. 2014, ‘Index and Concordance to Alexander Vassiliev’s Notebooks and Soviet Cables Deciphered by the National Security Agency’s Venona Project [Revised 11/1/2014]’, Wilson Center, viewed 5 August 2017, <https://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/Vassiliev-Notebooks-and-Venona-Index-Concordance_update-2014-11-01.pdf>.

Hyde, H.M. 1982, Secret Intelligence Agent: British Espionage in America and the Creation of the OSS. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Leaming, B 1995, Orson Welles: A Biography, Viking Penguin, New York, NY, U.S.A.

Marnham, P 2015, Army of the Night: The Life and Death of Jean Moulin, I.B. Tauris, London, U.K.

McBride, J. 2013. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?:A Portrait of an Independent Career. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, U.S.A.

Noble, H 1998, ‘Erika Cheetham Dies at 58; An Expert on Nostradamus’, New York Times, 8 June, viewed 5 August 2017,  <http://www.nytimes.com/1998/06/08/arts/erika-cheetham-dies-at-58-an-expert-on-nostradamus.html>.

Rhodes, J.F 1982, ‘Children Plea for Peace’, United Press International, 8 June, viewed 5 August 2017, <http://www.upi.com/Archives/1982/06/08/Children-plea-for-peace/7744392356800/>.

Tweedie, N and Day, P 2002, ‘Baroness warned MI-5 about Blunt in 1951’, The Telegraph, 28 Nov., viewed 5 August 2017, < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1414571/Baroness-warned-MI5-about-Blunt-in-1951.html>.

Wilson, I., 2007. Nostradamus: The Man Behind the Prophecies. Macmillan.

Wisner, F 1953, [CIA Memo] ‘Michael Olian’, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), viewed 5 August 2017, <https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/OLIAN%2C MICHAEL_0075.pdf>.

Wollaeger, M, Modernism, Media, and Propaganda:British Narrative from 1900 to 1945, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, U.S.A.