The Dangerous Otto Katz: The Many Lives of a Soviet Spy

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The FBI's file on the Soviet spy Otto Katz (1893-1952) called him "an extremely dangerous man." This label doesn't even begin to tell the story.

Katz, a daring and treacherous Soviet spy, seemed perpetually to beat the center of crucial historical moments. A deft writer and litt?rateur, he talked Arthur Koestler out of a life-threatening but ultimately useless mission in the Spanish Civil War, and persuaded Hollywood's gentry to donate to the Hollywood Anti Nazi League, a cover ...

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Overview

The FBI's file on the Soviet spy Otto Katz (1893-1952) called him "an extremely dangerous man." This label doesn't even begin to tell the story.

Katz, a daring and treacherous Soviet spy, seemed perpetually to beat the center of crucial historical moments. A deft writer and littérateur, he talked Arthur Koestler out of a life-threatening but ultimately useless mission in the Spanish Civil War, and persuaded Hollywood's gentry to donate to the Hollywood Anti Nazi League, a cover organization that fed money into Soviet coffers. He traveled to Weimar Berlin, Moscow, Mexico City, Prague, New York, and London, and may even have married the film star Marlene Dietrich. His best-known alter ego, a debonair character known as Rudolf Brea, was the inspiration for numerous film heroes, including Casablanca's Victor Laszlo.

In the hands of the hugely talented Jonathan Miles, this story is more than a biography; we also see this tumultuous period through Katz's unflinching eyes. His activities take us from the Spanish Civil War to Stalin's secret meetings, from Trotsky's murder to the hidden lives of major Western celebrities. He takes us to the precipice of war and, more than a few times, over it. Through Katz's quests for fame, fortune, glory, and power, Miles uncovers the shadowy side of a critical period in world history.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Miles (Dear American Airlines) tackles the life of Otto Katz, a Soviet spy, rampant anti-Nazi, and inspiration for Casablanca's Victor Laszlo. Katz was the consummate deceiver, propagandist, and master of disinformation. He traveled the world in support of Stalin's regime and opposing Hitler's, involving himself in intrigues in Mexico, Hollywood, and Spain to name just a few, was finally arrested for treason by the Stalinist government, and executed in Prague. Ironically, Katz was accused of espionage against the Communists, perhaps the one charge he was not guilty of. Miles successfully brings readers into Katz's complex world of espionage and disinformation. While Katz was a Communist and a spy for the Soviets, he never loses the reader's sympathy; he worked primarily in propaganda and not violent crime. Instead of despising him, readers get to know a man dedicated to a belief system that tragically betrayed him. Miles's tale is somewhat meandering, but his look at the Communist side of the years from the 1930s to the 1950s will intrigue readers interested in history or politics. Photos. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
“An intriguing spy biography that ably demonstrates how fierce adherence to an ideology can lead to human suffering on terms both intimate and global.” – Kirkus
Library Journal
Imagine a character who encompasses the quintessential spy: charming, ruthless, and able to blend into any culture. Set the scene in the first half of the 20th century. Conclude with the character being hanged for betraying the cause to which he gave his soul. This isn't the plot of a novel or movie, but the story of real-life spy Otto Katz. A Czech bourgeois, Katz became a strict adherent of Soviet-style communism. His many incarnations included life as a well-known journalist, a rabid antifascist, a Hollywood fund-raiser hobnobbing with Marlene Dietrich and Lillian Hellman, a manipulator of opinion during the Spanish civil war, a fomenter of communism in Latin America, and an inspiration for characters in the 1940s films Watch on the Rhine and Casablanca. Cultural scholar Miles (The Wreck of the Medusa) excels at illustrating Katz's influence at many junctures of history while trying to unravel the enigma. Yet the mark of a good spy is that you can never really know the true man. VERDICT This look at a person who lived dangerously through some of the last century's most tumultuous times is recommended to serious readers in historical espionage studies, alongside books on spies such as Alger Hiss and Kim Philby.—Maria Bagshaw, Ecolab, St. Paul, MN
Kirkus Reviews

A talented and seductive spy pops up in places as diverse as Hollywood, Prague, Paris and Mexico City, organizing anti-Nazi, pro-Communist propaganda before dangling at the end of a hangman's noose in 1952.

Miles (The Wreck of the Medusa: The Most Famous Sea Disaster of the Nineteenth Century, 2007, etc.) presents a complicated tale of espionage, human cruelty, war and retribution. The author begins in 1952 when Noël Coward, one of Katz's numerous celebrity acquaintances, discovered that Katz, having outlived his usefulness, was on trial for treason in Prague. After dealing swiftly with this classic Communist-era show trial, Miles returns to 1895 and the birth of the Jewish Katz in southern Bohemia. The author digs up what he can (not much) on Katz's boyhood and education, showing how he fell in love with socialism in his mid-teens, got caught up in Prague's theater and art world, met Kafka and began to come of age. A handsome, slick operator, he was soon at work in publications and propaganda. Along the way he associated with some of the era's most notable writers, artists and actors, including Dietrich, Koestler, Dos Passos, Hemingway and many others. Security services in France, England and the United States were watching him, though never very efficiently. His multiple aliases, smooth demeanor and celebrity connections seemed to shield him from surveillance. Miles properly credits him for exposing the cruelties of the Nazis, and he also charts Katz's growing discomfort with the brutalities of Stalin—though he stayed ever loyal to the Communist Party. The author also suggests that the Kennedy assassination was a conspiracy and that Britain's MI5 comprised a collection of bungling boobs.

An intriguing spy biography that ably demonstrates how fierce adherence to an ideology can lead to human suffering on terms both intimate and global.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596916616
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 9.84 (w) x 11.30 (h) x 1.27 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Miles grew up in America, Canada, and the UK and has degrees from University College and Jesus College. He has written, lectured and broadcast on cultural history all over the world, travelled extensively and is a serious cook. He is the author of two other books, The Wreck of the Medusa and The Maker Unmade. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

The Secret Services

The Many Names of Otto Katz

1 Mr Coward and Mr Katz 1

2 Incarceration 10

3 The Spoilt Bohemian 24

4 Marlene and the 'Red Millionaire' 34

5 Moscow 61

6 Red Sky at Night 70

7 A Verdict before the Trial 101

8 Where the Trouble Takes Him 117

9 A Red Star in Hollywood 149

10 Death and Duchesses in Spain 166

11 Tangled and Dangerous Times 200

12 Old Friends and New Enemies 233

13 Red Prague 266

14 The Trial 274

15 Death and Resurrection 298

Notes 307

Bibliography 343

Picture Acknowledgements 355

Index 357

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