The Fascinating FBI Files of 10 Cultural Icons

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The Internet is a surveillance state. We’re steadily finding out that there are more people tracking our whereabouts than we ever thought possible. For celebrities and cultural icons, this invasion of privacy isn’t anything new. The FBI has investigated the lives of popular personalities and great thinkers for decades, often without reason — as in the case of Charles Bukowski, which Open Culture discovered this week. These famous files are filled with intimate and absurd details that often read like the headlines of a gossip column. See what dirt the Bureau has dished up over the years, below.

Andy Warhol

“All of the male individuals had long hair,” reads a page from Andy Warhol’s FBI file, dated 1968. The feds were tracking the pop artist during the filming of his “hippy western,” Lonesome Cowboys. Agents were sent to the set for an “interstate transportation of obscene matter investigation,” but walked away seeing nothing other than a naked Viva (former Factory girl). The FBI missed their mark, because several months later Valerie Solanas shot and almost killed Warhol at his studio.

John Lennon

The FBI fought to withhold John Lennon’s files from the public for 14 years, but they were published in the 2000 book Gimme Some Truth. The documents revealed a prolonged attempt by President Nixon to have the outspoken Beatle deported in order to silence his protest efforts against the war in Vietnam. Nixon didn’t want his re-election campaign spoiled. (Lennon later responded to Nixon’s victory over George McGovern by attending a “wake” hosted by Jerry Rubin, pictured above at right, so the venomous feelings were mutual.) Lennon’s political activism and affiliation with related groups was the FBI’s main concern, but it was also revealed there was a call to have Lennon arrested on drug charges.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney’s relationship with the bureau lasted almost 30 years. Initially, the mouse house creator informed on people in Hollywood he believed to be communists, including the animators who worked for him. Disney’s nearly 600-page FBI document also reveals that in return for his services, the FBI allowed Disney to film their headquarters. He wanted to create a newsreel for children that depicted FBI agents as heroic for an episode of the Mickey Mouse Club. The animation magnate gave the FBI official and recreational access to Disneyland, and handed Hoover and company several of his scripts for their seal of approval. Some edits were encouraged, but it seems they were for minor projects. Disney was eventually made a “full Special Agent in Charge Contact.”

Marilyn Monroe

Arthur Miller features prominently in Monroe’s FBI file, because of his communist associations during the 1940s. After her divorce from Miller, the actress was watched by the government due to her budding relationship with Frederick Vanderbilt Field. Monroe’s file indicates that she “became infatuated with the subject” during a trip to Mexico City. The famously wealthy Vanderbilt family disinherited Frederick for his political views, which made him a target of the FBI during the height of McCarthyism. Monroe’s file closes with theories about her death in 1962, including accusations from Normal Mailer against the FBI and CIA, and a theory about a married man Monroe was romantically linked to.

Steve Jobs

The Apple co-founder’s nearly 200-page report was compiled during a background check when Jobs was being considered for a spot on the President’s Export Council during the George Bush Sr. administration. Some of the people interviewed during the investigation had less than flattering things to say about the tech entrepreneur. “Several individuals questioned Mr. Jobs’ honesty stating that Mr. Jobs will twist the truth and distort reality in order to achieve his goals,” one statement reads. Another suggested that Jobs “possesses integrity as long as he gets his way” and that he “alienated a lot of people at ACI [Apple Computer, Inc.] as a result of his ambition.” There were also a few digs at his relationship (or lack thereof) with his daughter. Biggest non-shocker: during the early 1970s Jobs experimented with drugs.

Bettie Page

We’re sure the FBI had a tremendously difficult time investigating the obscenity charges that pin-up queen Bettie Page was associated with between 1947 and 1957. It must have been absolutely taxing to confiscate magazines with names like: Panty Raiders, So Firm and So Fully Packed, Lace Me Tighter, Pin Down Girls, Mayhem in Mud, and American Sunbather. We especially love the section of Page’s file where the investigator requested that the “FBI Laboratory make 3 by 5 enlargements of each of the photographs of named models found in the above listed exhibits in order that the subject [who did six months of jail time for his ‘crimes’] can later be interrogated.” Uh-huh.

Henry Miller

In 1945, Henry Miller gave a talk at Dartmouth College, which prompted an FBI investigation and 10-page report about the author. While speaking to students during a comparative literature class, Miller was harassed by Albert Khan — who turned out to be a journalist. Shortly after Miller’s appearance, Khan published an article accusing the writer of being a Nazi sympathizer, among other things. The FBI determined that the charges of sedition were unfounded, but there are a few humorous lines about Miller’s character in the report. “The Subject is strictly an artist type and could very easily be called ‘screwball’ by people who didn’t understand or appreciate his writing,” one passage reads. It continues: “The Subject apparently has no substantial source of income, his chief income being obtained from gifts from several of his followers who have considerable wealth.” Another gem: “The writer seemed to have absolutely no morals governing the choice of words that he used.”

Marlene Dietrich

If TMZ existed in the 1940s, it would sound a hell of a lot like Marlene Dietrich’s FBI file. Although the German-born actress was described as “too stupid to be a spy” in the government report, her involvement with French actor Jean Gabin sparked an investigation after she acquired a visa for him. Her flings with “notorious lesbians” are also detailed, and it was noted that she had “never been able to ‘hold a man.’ She [got] them and [lost] them in ‘affairs’ ranging from one day to approximately six months.” Dietrich apparently indicated that Hitler had a “tick” for her and wanted the film star to return to Germany to make another movie. The Blue Angel seriously considered his offer, but only because she planned on killing him. For more juicy details (many, many more), read the full report.

Albert Einstein

Einstein’s 1,800-page dossier doesn’t hold back: “In view of his radical background, this office would not recommend the employment of Dr. Einstein on matters of a secret nature, without a very careful investigation, as it seems unlikely that a man of his background could, in such a short time, become a loyal American citizen.” Science is dangerous, you guys. Einstein’s report reads like a spy thriller, especially where the above quote is concerned (related to the Manhattan Project in 1939). Indeed, Einstein was suspected to be a German spy, and the Bureau was ready to deport him and his magnificent brain.

KISS

Remember when KISS still seemed dangerous? Yeah, we don’t either — but back in 1979 and 1980 it was a thing. The rock band was stalked by the FBI for a short time after several reports of civil unrest and police attacks. KISS also pissed off religious groups when they opened several concerts on a Sunday night, which prompted them to inform the media that KISS really stood for “Knights in Search of Satan.”