Actor Sam Wanamaker Was Watched By Feds

Director Sam Wanamaker, right, makes a point to series star William Shatner as they prepare for an important scene for Part II of the drama, "Act of Violence," on "For the People" on CBS-TV on Feb. 28, 1965.
AP Photo
When American actor and director Sam Wanamaker moved to Britain in the 1950s after learning he was blacklisted after the McCarthy hearings in the U.S., he was paranoid about drawing the attention of the authorities.

Documents released by the National Archives on Tuesday show he was right to be wary. Britain's security services and the U.S. Embassy in London kept a close eye on Wanamaker when he arrived with his family in Britain in 1952. Wanamaker had briefly belonged to the Communist party in the U.S., and the American embassy asked British authorities to watch him. Wanamaker by then was already a successful actor who had appeared in several Broadway plays, and was warmly received by London's theatrical society.

Wanamaker, who later played a pivotal role in rebuilding Shakespeare's Globe Theatre on the banks of the River Thames, was aware that he may be watched. In a note to a hostess who invited him to a party in May 1952, he wrote: "You must understand that being an American in Britain one must tread with careful precision on matters involving peace which has now become a highly political and controversial subject. Therefore you see I must be extremely careful about protecting that position and not doing anything which will give them (the U.S. State Department) cause, just or not, for any action."

British authorities continued to carefully document his movements, and keep careful note of his theater appearances, even though notes acknowledge there is "no evidence to show that he is a member of the Communist party."

In 1957 Britain's Home Office removed all restrictions on Wanamaker's employment, granted him and his family permission to remain in Britain and lost interest in him as a possible security threat.

By the time Wanamaker died in 1993, before achieving his longtime ambition of seeing the rebuilt Globe Theatre, he had become a much loved and respected part of Britain's acting community. Professor Christopher Andrew, who has written the official history of Britain's security services, said the files on Wanamaker provide a valuable insight into his early career.

"Cases like Sam Wanamaker's show just how security services often record details of an individual's private life that turn out to be useless for them, but invaluable to biographers and historians," he said. "There's a wealth of detail there that is rarely saved."