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

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9781596916616: 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 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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About 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.

From Booklist:

Shifting from a fine history of a painting (The Wreck of the Medusa, 2007), Miles depicts a high-profile publicist of the Communist Party line. Involved in books and movies in the 1930s and 1940s, Otto Katz also likely attempted to rub out former Russian spy Whittaker Chambers, but his Stalinist dedication was repaid in tragedy: after a show trial, Katz was executed in 1952 in Prague. Navigating in detail Katz’s many clandestine guises, Miles detects the multilingual Czech in Communist and literary circles in 1920s Berlin. Following apparent recruitment by Soviet intelligence, Katz operated from Paris with another Soviet-controlled propagandist known to students of this subject (The Red Millionaire: A Political Biography of Willi Münzenberg, 2003, by Sean McMeekin), pumping out anti-Fascist and pro–Popular Front tracts under a string of aliases. So debonair was Katz he swept through Hollywood posing as a refugee from Nazidom. Touching on famous stage names with which Katz’s agitprop career intersected (Noël Coward, Marlene Dietrich, Lillian Hellman), Miles’ book may appeal to culture mavens as well as those interested in espionage. --Gilbert Taylor

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