Hollywood has a long history of famous names who did espionage work on the side, ranging from big screen superstars like Greta Garbo to television chef Julia Child. Now a new tale of international intrigue is coming to light, this one about film producer Arnon Milchan. His double life was a not-so-closely held secret for decades.
Milchan was the driving force behind dozens of box office blockbusters, like "Fight Club" and "Pretty Woman,” but behind the scenes the Israeli-born Hollywood producer was also becoming one of his country's largest weapons dealers.
In a recent interview for an Israeli documentary, Milchan confirmed what had been rumored for years; he was working for Israel’s top spy agency all along. He even shared that with famous friends.“I remember some point I had asked Arnon about that. Being friends, I was curious but not in an accusatory way. I just wanted to know, and he said, ‘Yeah, I did. I'm Israeli. That's my country,’” said actor Robert De Niro.
Mier Doron spent months interviewing Milchan for a book he co-wrote two years ago about the producer's secret life. Doron told CBS News’ Carter Evans that Milchan admitted to him that he was a spy.
“He basically told us about, like, secretive operations that he did for the state of Israel, especially in order to get material, information, equipment for the Israeli nuclear program,” Doron said.
Milchan declined to authorize the book when it was published, but it wasn't the first time he answered questions about his past.
In 2000, Milchan told “60 Minutes” how he used dozens of his companies around the world to facilitate sales of hundreds of millions of dollars of missiles and other weapons to Israel, but he hated being called an arms dealer.
“In my language, the word 'arms dealer' is somebody who sells arms to all kind of shady countries to make money or to start revolutions and make a buck out of it. This is clearly what I was not,” said Milchan during that interview.
He also denied working for the Israeli government.
"Was I a spy? No, I was not a spy," he said.
Milchan now says he was integral to developing Israel’s nuclear program. In the Israeli documentary he claims he even attempted to recruit a senior U.S. nuclear scientist by inviting him to meet actor Richard Dreyfus at his home.
“Israel basically built all her centrifuges to enrich uranium based on information that Milchan collected for them,” said Doron.
Milchan told both Doron and said in the new documentary that he never broke any laws and he doesn't fear prosecution by the United States, even though one of his associates was convicted of illegally exporting nuclear triggers to Israel. As for his reputation in Hollywood, he had a simple answer.
"'Hollywood,' that's what he told me, ‘Hollywood looks for hits. If I will be able to provide hits, they will work with me,'" said Doron.
Now he has that hit. He's a producer on the Oscar favorite "12 Years a Slave," putting him on course for a walk down another red carpet in March.
Doron said that an Oscar is Milchan’s “ultimate dream.”