“The Beverly Hills Spy” – with The Hollywood Reporter’s Seth Abramovitch
Andrew Hammond: Hi and welcome to "SpyCast." I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, historian and curator here at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. "SpyCast's" sole purpose is to educate our listeners about the past, present and future of intelligence and espionage. Every week, through engaging conversations, we explore some aspect of a vast ecosystem that looms beneath the surface of everyday life. We talk to spies, operators, mole hunters, defectors, analysts and authors to explore the stories and secrets, tradecraft and technology of the secret world. We are "SpyCast." Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
Andrew Hammond: This week's episode underlines why I love the material that we work with here at the International Spy Museum so much. Only in the factual history of intelligence and espionage can you come across stories that would be disbelieved as works of fiction. Imagine this - a dashing, debonair World War I war hero and aviation pioneer, Squadron Leader Frederick Rutland, AM, DSC & Bar, the first person to fly a seaplane from a ship in history, the man who first spots the German fleet in his plane, thereby precipitating the largest naval battle of the First World War, the Battle of Jutland. He then goes on to leave the service in disgrace after having an affair with a fellow officer's wife. He then tries to live an ordinary, vanilla life. But I guess once you've flown a rickety, 25-horsepower plane off of a large board placed on a battle cruiser turret, well, a life as a quiet salesman just doesn't cut it anymore. He's approached by the Japanese to teach aviation and to spy on their behalf. This leads to him moving to the then rapidly growing and booming city of Los Angeles during the golden age of Hollywood.
Andrew Hammond: I don't want to give any more of the game away, but the story also involves Charlie Chaplin, Boris Karloff and Yoko Ono's father. Now, if that hasn't whetted your appetite, then nothing will. To discuss the Beverly Hills Spy, I am joined by Seth Abramovitch from The Hollywood Reporter, i.e. the definitive interpretive voice of the entertainment industry, with whom Seth has been for 10 years. Along the way, we discuss the rollicking raid that was Rutland's life where he embraced action above all else, how he worked both the motion picture and industrial crowd who are putting Los Angeles on the map, how his life came tumbling down around him, which led to his tragic end. I have only one thing to say, "SpyCast" listeners - tally bally ho.
Andrew Hammond: Let's get going. So I'm really pleased to speak to you about this because you're there in Hollywood. You work for The Hollywood Reporter, and this guy's life is basically like a movie script, right?
Seth Abramovitch: It definitely is like a James Bond movie, and making it even better is that a lot of it was set inside Hollywood. So it's, like, a looking glass kind of James Bond film. And I was instantly drawn to it because it had so many fun twists and turns to it.
Andrew Hammond: And full disclosure, have you been approached by anybody to turn it into a movie or any rumors about the potential of becoming a movie? - because to me, it's got all the trappings of it.
Seth Abramovitch: Definitely. And after the article came out, I know of at least three parties that were - approached us about the rights to it, and it doesn't seem like any of the three ended up selling. So it's still available, but there was interest. Other people appreciated the epic adventure scope of the story.
Andrew Hammond: If any of the "SpyCast" listeners want to finance it, they can get in touch with you via me. So maybe you'll get some offers. OK. So this guy, Frederick Rutland - even the name sounds quintessentially English - but he had this...
Seth Abramovitch: I mean, right?
Andrew Hammond: ...Double life, right? Frederick Rutland, aka Agent Shinkawa, it's quite the story, as we just said. So, you know, just to really briefly summarize, we've got this dashing, leading man who's involved in all of these travails in which he wins glory. Then he gets undone, and then there's a really sad ending. So let's just walk our listeners through each stage of the story. So set the background for us, Seth. Who was this gentleman, Frederick Rutland?
Seth Abramovitch: So he was a British naval officer born from a very modest family, but he rose to great heights within the Navy, and he became a World War I hero - an early, you know, air battle hero. And his big claim to fame was that he took off in - on a bi-wing plane in World War I from the deck of a battleship - first time that had ever happened in war. And he earned a medal for that. And he also saved the life of another drowning sailor, and he earned another medal for that. And he was quite the celebrity for his heroics, and very dashing, good looking and personable. Everyone liked him. And so he really should have continued down that sort of military path. But he had an affair with another officer's wife. While that doesn't seem like such a big deal today, at the time, it was considered a big scandal, and it tarnished his reputation. And so he started looking for other ways to make money and, you know, make something of himself.
Andrew Hammond: And let's just put a pin in that part, there, and then we'll pick the rest of the narrative up. I just want to go into some of those things that you discussed. So the action in World War I?
Seth Abramovitch: Yeah, he won - it was the 1916 Battle of Jutland, and the name of the ship was the HMS Engadine. They jury-rigged this deck to be able to launch a seaplane off of it, and that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.
Andrew Hammond: And just for context for our listeners, the Battle of Jutland is the biggest naval engagement of the First World War. And then he's also, I believe, the first person to say the German cruiser was coming for the Battle of Jutland. So he's not just done this first, but you could argue in some ways that he's the beginning of the actual engagement because he's the first person to lay eyes on them and then relate that back to the British commander. So couldn't make this stuff up, could you? He's just there at the right place at the right time.
Seth Abramovitch: Yeah, and always fearless - always running into the action and into danger, not avoiding it - and, like you say, an innovator, I think. I think he was at the cutting edge of war technology and espionage and a very bright guy.
Andrew Hammond: And the other action of heroism that you mentioned - that's really fascinating as well. He ties a rope around himself, jumps into the sea and saves a sailor who's caught adrift between two boats. Again, you just couldn't make this stuff up. The guy just seems to be completely fearless.
Seth Abramovitch: (Laughter) Yeah, yeah. And he won the gold Albert Medal, First Class, for that - for extreme and heroic daring and saving the lives of others.
Andrew Hammond: And that goes on to be the George Cross, which is the highest civilian award in the United Kingdom. So he's already picked up two awards. He comes out of the war. He's well known. He's claiming he's every inch the dashing, slightly eccentric military officer, but then he has this affair. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? In your article in The Hollywood Reporter, you touch on this a little bit, but tells us a little bit more about some of the details. Who was the affair with? Why did it sink his very promising career? Yeah, just give us a bit more context, please, Seth.
Seth Abramovitch: I didn't go too deeply into that chapter because I had my story to tell. But as far as I understood, there was another officer who was about the same rank as his, and they each had wives. And he - there's some sort of swap thing going on. So I don't know if they were - everyone was in on it, or one had the affair first with one wife, and then they reciprocated. But whatever it was, it was not considered the behavior of a gentleman and an officer. Word gets around very quickly, and he finds that it's hampering his reputation and his ability to advance within the military. And he doesn't like that because he likes the glory, so he starts looking elsewhere.
Andrew Hammond: And that brings us up to one of the great quotes in your piece, which is a quote from one of your sources. Presumably, once you have flown a rickety, 25-horsepower plane off a large boat placed on a battlecruiser turret, a quiet life as a salesman doesn't appeal. So he tries to settle into a little bit more of a vanilla lifestyle, but it doesn't quite work out for him, right?
Seth Abramovitch: That's right, yeah. He was living in London at the time. It was 1928. The only work he could find was at his brother-in-law's company, and his brother would make trucks. So he was very bored sitting at the desk there. And that quote comes from Ron Drabkin, who's writing a book about this - same title as my article, "Beverly Hills Spy". And he's the one who unearthed a lot of the documents that were the source material for the article. But, yeah, he lived like a movie's, you know, adventure hero. And then suddenly he was sitting at a desk, and that just did not sit with him. He was much too anxious and wanting to get back out there.
Andrew Hammond: So he's Frederick Rutland, who's this important figure in the Battle of Jutland, and he picks up this name, Rutland of Jutland, after the war, I believe, which is quite interesting. Then he has this affair, is - he's down on his luck. So, tell us how he gets recruited or wooed into becoming Agent Shinkawa.
Seth Abramovitch: So, he gets approached in London by an attache to the Japanese Navy named Shiro Takasu. He gives him a job offer, and he says, why don't you come to Japan? We work with Mitsubishi - which is associated with electronics now, but then was a huge naval military industrial complex company - and why don't you teach some of our pilots how you did that on the boat and landed the plane, and maybe bring some of your cutting-edge warfare prowess to Japan. You'll be well paid for that. And he said, oh, that sounds fun. So he did that. He went to Japan and started working at Mitsubishi, teaching them how to be a pilot.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. So he goes to Japan, he does this work, but when does he consent to becoming a spy?
Seth Abramovitch: So it's a very kind of drip, drip thing, and it's not 100% sure when he defected or turned on his native U.K. government. And he would say to his - to the end that he was never a spy. But, basically, the second he gets to Japan, he gets very cozy with the Japanese government. At that time, Japan and England had good relations, but even his fellow officers, when visiting him in Japan, were taken aback by the fact that he was sitting next to the head of Japan at a military parade and was just generally very cozy with them - so much so that they opened up a sort of investigation into his Japanese affairs at that time. This was, of course, before the war.
Seth Abramovitch: And then, as the years went on, he was again approached by the same attache, asked if he would like to relocate to Los Angeles. And at this point, I think most people would say that's when he agreed to become a spy for Japan. You know, they were not enemies yet with U.S. or England, but the winds of war were beginning to kick up, and they wanted someone on the very strategic outpost - Pacific outpost of Los Angeles on the ground, able to send back information and, you know, be their man on the ground. And it was very appealing to him. He was a Japanophile. He felt very comfortable with the Japanese and the Japanese navy, and it sounded, also, very glamorous - wow, Hollywood. So he agreed to their offer.
Andrew Hammond: And just to put it in context - at this point, Los Angeles is really taking off. In that period leading up to the Second World War, there was a huge influx of people, and the industrial base has grown quite significantly. There was just a lot going on in Los Angeles at this time, including, of course, the golden age of Hollywood. It's quite an interesting time period when he turns up in Los Angeles, right?
Seth Abramovitch: Yes, it's the early '30s. And, like you said, the golden age of Hollywood is kicking in, and it's becoming a thriving metropolis. And people are flooding here, both to get a piece of the Hollywood dream and because it's an amazing place to live, with amazing weather, and the city is really growing around this time. And art deco architecture is taking off, and it's an exciting time to be here. And so he hit - he kind of hit pay dirt with this offer.
Andrew Hammond: And with the - and just in the context of the time as well - so, we've got the '30s. And if we just go back a bit further, we've got 1905 - Roosevelt gets the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to the Russia-Japanese War. 1912, the Spy Museums in D.C. would get the cherry trees. And both the United States and Japan are on the same side during the First World War, but then, after that, the relationship begins to go downhill, doesn't it?
Seth Abramovitch: From what I learned doing the story, I think it started to go downhill when they stopped accepting Japanese immigrants into the U.S., and that kind of put a chill through the relations. But then, there was something in 1932 called the Stimson Doctrine, which - as I understand it, the U.S. refused to recognize any hostile takeover of territories. And in the year before, Japan had taken over Manchuria in a hostile fashion in 1931, and so they - the U.S., refused to, you know, to accept that Manchuria was part of Japan. It would be the same as now - we refuse to accept if Russia were to take over Ukraine. It refused to accept that. So it angered them greatly, and I think that's what started to inflame tensions leading up to World War II. As I understand it - you probably know more about that period.
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, I mean, I think it's quite an interesting period, but I just - I wanted to focus on Frederick Rutland's story, but I think we've drawn out some of the main waystations along the way - Manchuria, the immigration ban and some of the resentment the Japanese feel about the way that Japanese Americans were being treated. So we've got that context. We've got Los Angeles. We've got the golden age of Hollywood. We've got Japanese, American, British relations. But there's another reason why he's there. It's because, at this point, a lot of the nascent military industrial complex is around that area. So being in Los Angeles as opposed to Washington or New York, those - the specific things that he can find out there. He also seems uniquely well-placed to gather some of this information because his background both as an aviator and as a sailor and on the West Coast and Los Angeles. That's basically what's going on - right? - at Long Beach, San Pedro, a lot of other places. Tell us a little bit more about that - about him turning up, how he ingratiates himself into the scene there and how he begins to gather the intelligence and the information that he passes back to the Japanese.
Seth Abramovitch: Right. So as you said, he was obviously very well-equipped to assess, you know, aeronautics and what kind of war planes were being built for the war. And this was the center of it, in southern California. Aviation companies were shutting down and just producing war planes. And so he did two things when he got here. One was he joined a club downtown, and he opened a kind of stock exchange kind of company in the financial district, downtown Los Angeles. And then he also took out office space directly across the street from the Douglas Aircraft Company, another producer of war planes at the time. And now it's in Santa Monica. So if you don't know LA geography at all, Santa Monica is right by the Pacific Ocean. It's as far west as you can go. And then downtown is where the only tall buildings really are in the city about 10 miles away. So he created bases on both of the hubs of LA basically, and it was very strategic.
Seth Abramovitch: Downtown at these stockbroker's clubs, he would be very generous and pick up people's tabs and generally be very well-liked. But meanwhile, he was listening intently at what people were saying and doing, and it was a hub of gossip at the time and power and that kind of things. And then back on Santa Monica, he was - he had a front-row seat to the latest advances in American aviation, wartime aviation - so very smartly setting up camp in LA almost as soon as he gets here.
Andrew Hammond: And tell us a little bit more about some of the ways in which he ingratiated himself. So he set up a club for retired British officers. I believe he's very much involved in that expat scene, where there's a bunch of Colonel Mustard-types with their, you know...
Seth Abramovitch: (Laughter).
Andrew Hammond: ...Uniforms and talking about their war stories and stuff. But he also seems to come across as almost, like, pseudo-royalty out there. You know, he's got the British accent. He's a war hero. He's got all the things that make certain Americans go, oh, that's very sophisticated. Yeah. Tell us a little bit more about how he worked the area, how he worked the city because he ingratiated himself with Hollywood, with business, with industry, with war production. So tell us a little bit more about him cutting a figure on the Los Angeles scene.
Seth Abramovitch: Well, as you said, he was the epitome of a dignified, well-bred Englishman, even though that was created. He came from very modest roots. But it's what he exuded, and, of course, in Hollywood, it's more about how you seem than what you actually are. That kind of - that was the quintessential association with wealth back then, was that old, British, fuddy-duddy money. And today it might be the Kardashians. But then, when you thought about money, you thought about that. So he gravitated to that, and he actually made friends with a fellow named Alan Mowbray.
Seth Abramovitch: Now, Alan Mowbray truly was that. And he made a career in Hollywood playing butlers and aristocrats and that kind of thing. And he was quite busy and did quite well. Mowbray was also in the British United Services, and he created The British United Services Club, and that's the one I referred to as having Colonel Mustard-types (laughter). And apparently that still exists in LA. And then there's also the Masquers Club, which was founded by British actors, and that still exists in LA. He ingratiated himself, Rutland, into these clubs, where he fit in quite well, and that's where he started making the connections that made him a very popular figure in society circles in LA.
Seth Abramovitch: And he wasn't shy. He was not a cloak-and-dagger spy. He was out there. He'd invite the LA Times to his home, where he'd have parties. And he was - he liked being in the society columns. He was enjoying his life in LA. He really fit in.
Andrew Hammond: And I believe he always picked up the check, which is always going to make you popular, right (laughter)?
Seth Abramovitch: Yes. That was in the FBI files on him. That was something that the fellow members of this club noted, that he would pick up the check. And he was described by the FBI as squared jaw, poised, highly intelligent, good personality, modest, gives appearance of affluence and breeding. Everything you could want.
Andrew Hammond: Everything you could want from a leading man, huh (laughter)?
Seth Abramovitch: Yes (laughter).
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter) And during this period as well, tell us about some more of the links to La-La Land, to Hollywood? So he's - Boris Karloff is involved in this story. Charlie Chaplin, Yoko Ono's father - bring in some of these figures that we think about when we think of the golden age of Hollywood.
Seth Abramovitch: Yes, that was part of the fun of this story - was the names you recognize popping up in unexpected ways. Yoko Ono's name comes up pretty early because her father was a banker who emigrated from Japan and landed in San Francisco. And the reason he's attached to it is because he would get - Rutland would get payments from the Japanese government. They were issued by Yoko Ono's father.
Andrew Hammond: Was he aware of the purpose? Was he in on the espionage, or was he just an unwitting person who was cutting the checks?
Seth Abramovitch: I couldn't say how deep Yoko Ono's father's knowledge of (laughter) what was going on, but it was obviously prewar. So there was no - I don't think it was outright espionage at this point. But he was signing the checks, and this was in 1933, which is the same year Yoko was born. Baby Yoko came into this story - very unlikely turn of events. The Boris Karloff is interesting because when I was - before, I was talking about how he set up shop at Douglas and to keep an eye on what was going on in the airplane production world. But he - there's a possibility that he installed an Irishman, former IRA member who was living in Hollywood. He had met him through Boris Karloff. And this Irishman put Boris on his resume as a reference. And he was very insistent, Rutland, that he got a job in the airplane manufacturing plant as a janitor, even though he lived 30 miles away from it. It didn't really make sense geographically or logistically why he would have them work. And then shortly after he started working there, the Germans got their hands on some airplane blueprints that they shouldn't have. So there is a possibility that unwittingly, his relationship with Boris Karloff led to him installing this Irish spy to spy on airplane development. And then the third thing was - and this one gets a little deeper and more complicated - was Charlie Chaplin.
Andrew Hammond: And he was also a Japanophile, right?
Seth Abramovitch: Yes. A deep Japanophile and very appreciative of all things Japanese and surrounded himself with Japanese things, including his body man. He did everything for him from being a security guard to prepare his meals to give him massages. And his name was Toraichi Kono.
Andrew Hammond: I think I need one of them.
Seth Abramovitch: (Laughter). It sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Andrew Hammond: (Laughter).
Seth Abramovitch: Yeah, he sounded pretty cool, Kono. And he brought Kono, actually, in '32 to Japan with him. This is just another interesting side story, but that was the same trip where the prime minister was assassinated - of Japan - in what - trying to be a coup to incite war with Japan. And it just so happens they knew Chaplin was there. And they thought, oh, if they also kill Chaplin, that'll anger the United States. And it was quite the whole assassination attempt. And Chaplin would've been killed, but he decided at the last minute to go to a sumo wrestling match with the prime minister's son. And so his life was spared. But Kono was at his side this entire time. But later - and this is up for some dispute from historians I talked to to the story - but it seemed as though Kono, after being fired by Chaplin because he had fallen in love with his new paramour, Paulette Godard, who did not like Kono or get along with him. So Kono hit the road, in his attempts to find more work, had a fatal run in with someone he had met on the set of a Chaplin film, and that led to him getting embroiled in the same spy ring as Rutland. It's a complicated story. I don't know how deep you want to go into it, but it's still very interesting. And it does implicate Rutland because Rutland is in the notes - the FBI notes - as having attended secretive meetings with Kono. This is all leading up to Pearl Harbor.
Andrew Hammond: So we don't need to get into each one of them, but give us an understanding of the reach - the tentacles of this spy ring. So, you know, we hear of the Rosenberg spy ring and so forth. So how many people were there? How broad was it? What do we know? What don't we know?
Seth Abramovitch: From my research in this story, you know, I don't think - we're talking maybe dozens of people. It's not a huge number, but they were able to do a lot of damage - and I think partially because the U.S. at the time was concerned about these things leaking into the press and inflaming relations between Japan and the U.S. They were looking to not lead into a war. So, for example, when Kono was arrested along with another spy, he did not - they did not go to jail. They were not charged with espionage for that very reason. They didn't want to inflame things. And then the other spy who was arrested - he ended up being able to go back to Japan, actually, before Pearl Harbor. But his espionage work in Hawaii helped the Japanese pinpoint the most damaging moment to hit Pearl Harbor for the most casualties. Certainly, the U.S.'s reluctance to go after these potential spies did not serve them well in the long run. That's what I could tell.
Andrew Hammond: Is there a leader? Or is it difficult to discern how it was structured? Or was it just variety of different Japanese agents that happened to be there that weren't necessarily coordinating with each other? I'm just trying to get a sense of the structure and the leadership and the direction what they were up to.
Seth Abramovitch: From for example, the Kono story, get a little deeper into it. He was in San Francisco at the World's Fair, and he ran into this guy, Al Blake, who was a vaudevillian actor who had been in a Chaplin film called "Shoulder Arms" from 1918. And he recognized him. They were actually at a kind of an artistic kind of peekaboo show (laughter). They were basically seeing naked women, but it was called art, and they ran into each other. And - but they found out that they both lived near each other in Hollywood, in apartments in Hollywood, and became friends. And then - so this is all six months before Pearl Harbor, the Pearl Harbor attack. And Kono said to Blake one day, hey, I have a friend in the Hollywood Hills I'd like you to meet. And he called them Mr. Yamato, but his name was actually Itaru Tachibana. And I believe Itaru was the LA hub, the leader of the ring in LA. And so Tachibana presented him with this opportunity to - he asked him if he knew anyone in the U.S. Navy, and would he like to go to Hawaii? And Blake played along. And he said, oh, yes, I know someone named Jimmy Campbell. And he serves on the USS Pennsylvania. And that's a battleship docked at Pearl Harbor - and played dumb, realizing he had stumbled into a pair of spies. And then he went directly to the U.S. government, and told them, and they set up a fake rendezvous. And they found a guy to play this Jimmy Campbell. And it was based on that raid that they were able to arrest Kono and Tachibana. And Tachibana was the one who was ultimately sent back to Japan. And he was the one who knew all the Pearl Harbor ins and outs. So I think from my limited understanding of this period, Tachibana was the leader. As far as Kono, the butler to Chaplin, he was put into one of the internment camps for seven years. All Japanese people were rounded up in Southern California and put into this internment camp, and he was one of them. And he would do projection nights. He used to run the movie nights at Chaplin's house, and he would do it in the internment camp. So that's about as much as I can tell you about that. And they were arrested in June 1941 at the Olympic Hotel in the Little Tokyo area of LA. But they were not immediately jailed, as I mentioned, because they did not want to make a scandal out of it.
Andrew Hammond: How did Frederick Rutland get rolled up? Tell us a little bit more about that. How did the net close around him? So Alan Mowbray and Eddie Cochran? Yeah, tell us a little bit more about that.
Seth Abramovitch: I mentioned before Alan Mowbray, who was a British actor, and he also founded - of the various clubs he founded, the most influential is actually SAG, Screen Actors Guild. He was one of the founding people that - of course, that's the main actors guild in the United States now. So it's quite influential. But he was on to Mowbray. He could tell that this guy was probably up to no good, so he informed the FBI about his comings and goings. And so my story opens at the actors club that I was talking about before, and they're at a party. And he brings a guy who says is his friend, who's a screenwriter who's doing research. But he's, in fact, an undercover agent gathering information on Rutland. And that bit of reconnaissance led to him being tapped and his phone's being tapped. They operated out of a building, an art deco building in Santa Monica that still stands and now houses a popular restaurant called Cassia. But this was 1930-whatever or 1940 already. And he was getting tapped. And he was definitely in their sights. And then finally, they had enough evidence between - when they arrested those guys at the Olympic Hotel, they had a bunch of notes taken where they said that they had meetings with Rutland. And they had enough wiretapping evidence to move in on him. So if this is the movie, you think, aha, he's ensnared, and this is the end for Frederick Rutland. They've got him where they want him. But there is a big twist. Should I continue?
Andrew Hammond: Yeah, yeah. Give us the twist.
Seth Abramovitch: Oh, they're about to move in on him when, suddenly, the FBI agents are sent a telegram from someone named Captain Ellis Zacharias, who was the Office of Naval Intelligence chief for Southern California. And the telegram says, wait. Don't arrest Rutland. For the past year, he's been a double agent. And unless there's some new information you have, hold off. So we find out that he's been somehow working with the U.S., as well as Japan. And they are flabbergasted because this is the first they're hearing of this.
Andrew Hammond: Help us with the telegram from Zacharias because as I understand it, there's thousands of pages of evidence showing that Rutland was engaged in espionage on behalf of Japan. But there's no evidence other than this telegram took place to say that he was a double agent - that he was like...
Seth Abramovitch: The FBI has, you know, thousand-page - you know, multi-thousand-page dossiers. And British intelligence have kept - really, since WWI - - their own dossier on him, mounting into the 5,000 pages, but no one can seem to find any information about what he did for the good guys. It was definitely - everyone was taken by surprise and - including me - I did not see this coming in the narrative - my own narrative. But apparently, I think, Rutland just - he lived for the intrigue and the drama and the movieness (ph) of it all. So I think - he wasn't one who really thought about patriotism. He fell through those cracks, and it was more about - where was the action and how can I see the most of it?
Seth Abramovitch: So he - I don't know if he really saw himself as a spy for either side - really just benefiting from all this intrigue. I mean, he was paid quite a bit of money by the Japanese to live quite lavishly in Beverly Hills and put his kids up in the best private schools. And he had a driver and a butler. I mean, he was out for himself, ultimately, which I guess is maybe what drives a lot of espionage. I don't know.
Andrew Hammond: Here at the Spy Museum, we look at a number of different motivations that people have to spy and things like coercion - you've been blackmailed into doing it, or things like ideology - you know, I'm a committed communist - and it doesn't seem like he was either of those, you know? I don't see Frederick Rutland as saying, you know, I'm a firm believer in ultramilitarism for Japan. That doesn't seem to be his motivation. It seems to be money and ego and money for the ego, maybe, and maybe just self-destructiveness or living life on the edge. But it seems to be more on that side of it, and I think it's half a million dollars in current money that he gets in the first year that he commits the espionage. I mean, that's a lot of money, right?
Seth Abramovitch: Yeah, and he had - he made a lot of money. He lived very well. But even that I wouldn't put at the top of the list of the things that I - that drove him. I think he loved just action and high drama and power and intrigue. And I just - he was drawn to that like a moth to the flame. And then from that, he realized he was quite talented at making - turning that into a living and living quite well off of it. And at the very bottom of the list, it would be any kind of allegiance to any flag because he's quick to turn on - or to offer to turn on Japan when push comes to shove at the very end of the whole story. So yeah, I don't think he was doing it for any kind of nationalism or political viewpoint. I think, if anything, he was apolitical.
Andrew Hammond: Really, really fascinating figure. So just summing it all up, what damage did he do? What do we know that he actually had done? So you mentioned P-38, so maybe you could discuss that case. But are there other ways we know - like, in the FBI and MI5 files or anywhere else, do we know specifically what effects his espionage had? Because you mention in the article that it had a critical impact on the run-up to Pearl Harbor, so just tell the listeners a little bit more about what this man actually had done. What was the effects of his espionage?
Seth Abramovitch: Well, you mentioned the P-38, so that would be the twin piston fighter - engine fighter that was found in the German manual very early after he installed this Irishman at the Lockheed factory. So the P-38 - can I say for certain that he was responsible for that leaking? No, but the evidence certainly seems to point that way.
Seth Abramovitch: And then the other thing was the Pearl Harbor attack. He was definitely in cahoots with the Japanese spy ring. And we know that letting one of them go and return to Japan was a great aid in plotting the Pearl Harbor attack, as I said before, for maximum damage. Can you say he directly helped? No, but he certainly did not hinder it, and he was part of a ring that was promoting all sorts of advantages for the Japanese. And he's a very influential man and very smart and certainly understands naval and aerotechnology when it comes to war. I'm sure he had had his own thoughts on that kind of thing. So I do feel his efforts did - helped lead to Pearl Harbor or enhance it in some ways and make it more devastating to the U.S.
Andrew Hammond: And here at the Spy Museum, we are very well versed in the difficulties of pinning down every part of a story that involves espionage or intelligence. And in this case, some of the British files still aren't open. It's always difficult to say A, therefore B, when it comes to this stuff, but I think it's quite interesting to hear your take on the damage that he'd done. Why did they let that one spy go back to Japan in the run-up to Pearl Harbor? Was that to try to just stop hostilities from breaking out, or was it an error or - like, what's going on there? It doesn't seem sensical with 20/20 hindsight.
Seth Abramovitch: It's strange, right? All I know is that him and Kono, the Chaplin butler, were jailed for 20 days. And at that point, they were released. The way it was explained to me by historians - what I wrote - was State Department officials decided not to prosecute for espionage, as a big spy trial would have dominated headlines and inflame tensions. So for whatever reason, Kono - because maybe he was a more working class kind of guy, he was - he ended up in the internment camp. But Tachibana, who I think was the ringleader - perhaps he was more valuable to the Japanese government, and so there might have been some backdoor negotiation to have him returned. This was the summer of 1941. Leading up to Pearl Harbor, he brought his knowledge of Pearl Harbor back to Japan and helped plan it.
Seth Abramovitch: And it was Pearl Harbor, of course, that changed everything for Rutland as well. He was skating by. He was returning to England on September 30, 1941. MI5 was certainly interested in his behavior in the U.S. But I guess, because it was for the U.S., it didn't directly affect him, and they couldn't really do anything legally with him. But he definitely faced several marathon interrogations with MI5. And he just said that he did nothing wrong. And then - OK, so then Pearl Harbor happens, and they are able to - under Defence Regulation 18B - to imprison him. That was the changing moment for his skipping through life, whistling through the graveyard. He was just - suddenly found himself imprisoned in a very dark, dank Brixton prison with a lot of fascist sympathizers and other Nazi spies. And he was there for two long years.
Andrew Hammond: Wow. Do we know if Rutland had any particular animus towards the United States, or was that never part of it?
Seth Abramovitch: It certainly did not seem that way. He - you know, he certainly loved Hollywood. And in fact, when he was sort of interrogated, he was quick to change allegiances. And towards the end, when they had sort of arrested him, he had been working in Mexicali, Mexico, which is near the border, setting up some kind of intelligence operation out of a bottling plant for the Japanese. And that's where they picked him up. And he was quick to say that they should let him go and go back to the bottling plant, and he'll work as a counter - double-agent spy and feed all their - Japanese's secrets to the U.S. and to England, but they were not going to fall for that one.
Seth Abramovitch: But yeah, I know - I don't think he really had any animus towards the U.S. at all. He just was doing what served his best interests.
Andrew Hammond: And take us up to his death - because it comes not long afterwards, right?
Seth Abramovitch: Yeah. So he gets out of prison in December '43, and he's had - his whole family is still in the U.S. He's there alone. And he's had several children now - one with his first wife and then, you know, two more with his second wife. But they're all far away.
Andrew Hammond: And he can't visit the States anymore?
Seth Abramovitch: No. I think he's lost all hope, and he's certainly been found out. And things will never be the same for him again. So this is 1949 - six or five years later. In January 1949, he inhaled gas and killed himself. He took his own life.
Andrew Hammond: Where was this that he...
Seth Abramovitch: I think it was in his house - his apartment in London. But I'm not sure the exact location, but he did leave behind a suicide note, which I did include in my story, which was in the form of a letter to his eldest son. He tells him, (reading) my life has been an adventurous one - always full of excitement. I have always told myself that so long as life was worth living, I would live it to the full. And when it no longer held any real interest, it would be time to go.
Seth Abramovitch: So there you have it. His game was up, and he would sooner just die than live a life of boredom or ignominy or however you pronounce that. And that was it. It was quite a dramatic end. But, again, in terms of a movie, it gives you quite a satisfying place to fade to black.
Andrew Hammond: For sure. And some of his - you mentioned his wives and kids in the States. Did they - are they still around? Did you contact them? Have you had any response to your story?
Seth Abramovitch: Right. So he had four children. The first was with the wife that he had had the scandal with. I believe he ended up marrying that woman who he had the affair with. And so they had two children, named Freddie and Barbara. And then he divorced her and married a second woman, Dorothy, who was English as well. And they both relocated to LA together, and then in LA - with those first - children from the first wife - and then they had two more children, David and Annabelle. So the four children are Freddie, Barbara, David and Annabelle.
Seth Abramovitch: And I did go to some length to try to locate a grandchild or someone because they should be somewhere around here. I didn't - I got to dead ends, but, you know, I used ancestry.com and all kinds of - those kinds of research things to try to find them. I was hoping the story itself would bring people out of the woodwork to say, hey, that's my grandpa (laughter). But so far, no one has come forward. But those are his descendants, and they never left the United States, so they're probably somewhere around here.
Andrew Hammond: And how did you come across this story, Seth? When did you first catch wind of it?
Seth Abramovitch: I first heard of it - Ron Drabkin, who I mentioned earlier, is writing the full book on this story. He emailed me, and it was a little - I was a little, like - what? What is this about? It just - it seemed like a lot, but he had some of the documents from - the FBI documents. And there was enough there in his initial email to intrigue me. And I should credit him properly. A lot of this was unearthed by him. He has a fascination with this particular story, and he's done a lot of detective work into it.
Seth Abramovitch: But he was eager to have me write it and do my own spin on it, and I did find some nice - track down some interesting historians myself, including the person who wrote the biography of Kono - the Chaplin butler - I somehow tracked down in Japan, and we had a very interesting Zoom conversation. I think it was like 3 o'clock in the morning - his time - but it definitely led me down some really interesting rabbit holes, and it was a treat to learn about. That entire era is - there are so many interesting stories that have yet to be told. And it was fun to, sort of, fall down the hole into this one, and I really enjoyed it. It has a special place in my heart, in terms of stories I've written.
Andrew Hammond: And how long have you been at The Hollywood Reporter?
Seth Abramovitch: I just had my 10th anniversary, actually, so a good chunk.
Andrew Hammond: Do you get many of these types of stories? Like, the connections between Hollywood and espionage intelligence? I mean, here at the Spy Museum, we go into this quite a bit because most people's knowledge of espionage comes from watching movies, so we try to deal with both the fiction and the nonfiction side. So yeah, I'm just wondering - do you come across this type of stuff often, or is that a rarity, or every now and again it comes?
Seth Abramovitch: Well, I am drawn to Hollywood history and - in all its forms, in all the decades - because, ultimately, I'm after a great story. And certainly, World War II has no shortage of them. So espionage specifically, no, but it's always - just the word kind of whets the appetite. But I am always looking for a compelling tale and ways to, sort of, crack it open even deeper. And I've done other stories set in World War II. One was about a very promising Polish actor - a very handsome guy. And he had - his name was Witold Zacharewicz, and he had been discovered by Hollywood and had been given an acting contract and was on his way to Hollywood when the war broke out. And his was a very tragic love story. Sadly, it ends in Auschwitz. And while he was not Jewish, he was working with his mother to save Jews and was turned in, and he was killed in Auschwitz.
Seth Abramovitch: But while he served in the war, people recognized him all over the countrysides, and he was a star. You know, he had been in several very popular Polish films. So that one - I tracked down his granddaughter. And he had one child who survived the war - a boy. And so I tried to find him, and that led me - he had just passed away, but that led me to the granddaughter, who's the last living relative, and she had all these personal photos of her grandmother and Witold, and she gave me the story on that. So another example of an amazing World War II story with Hollywood implications. So I'm always on the lookout for a good story.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks ever so much for your time and telling us the story of Agent Shinkawa. It's been really, really fascinating.
Andrew Hammond: Thanks for listening to this episode of "SpyCast." Go to our webpage, where you can find links to further resources, detailed show notes and full transcripts. We have over 500 episodes in our back catalog for you to explore. Please follow the show on Twitter, @intlspycast and share your favorite quotes and insights or start a conversation. If you have any additional feedback, please email us at email@example.com. I'm your host, Dr. Andrew Hammond, and you can connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter - @spyhistorian. This show is brought to you from the home of the world's preeminent collection of intelligence and espionage-related artifacts, the International Spy Museum. The "SpyCast" team includes Mike Mincey and Memphis Vaughn III. See you for next week's show.