Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Two Ace of Spies

TWO ACE OF SPIES - James Bond - Henry Pleasants

I have come to meet more than a few interesting characters in the course of my reserach into the assassination of President Kennedy, and a few stand out as exceptionally eccentric or notorious, especially James Bond - the world's most famous spy, and music critic spy Henry Pleasants - who debriefed Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen.

It was the summer of 1976 when I first came across a published reference to the real James Bond in a 1948 Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper article about millionaire philantropist Cummins Catherwood, who I had just learned had served as a secret CIA bursar for covert activities.

Catherwood's CIA connection was exposed by David Ross and Thomas Wise in their groundbreaking book "The Invisible Government," and I was at the Bulletin clipping morgue, reading dozens of newspaper clips that mentioned Catherwood. His CIA activities were readily transparent in the news coverage of his activities, including the support of the anti-Castro Cuban Aid Relief (CAR), providing cover for CIA agent Joseph Smith in the Philllipines, tourist travels behind the Iron Curtain, including the Soviet Union, and the construction of the Vigilant, a yacht that he had built to his personal specifications and as a tax write off - used for scientific and research explorations under the auspicies of the Catherwood Foundation.

In the course of reading the news clips about Catherwood, there was one report of his expedition to some Caribbean out-islands that included a number of scientists, one of whom was identified as "James Bond - whose main interest is birds."

Now that jumped out at me, and I looked at the date of the paper - 1948 - years before Ian Fleming began writing his 007 novels, but the year Philadelphia ornithologist James Bond published his classic work "Birds of the West Indies."

Those familiar with the official and deceptive biographies of Ian Fleming know that the author of the Double-Oh-Seven spy novels appropriated the name for his hero from James Bond - the American author of "The Birds of the West Indies," a copy of which Fleming kept on his breakfast table at Goldeneye, his Jamaican beach house where he wrote all of his 007 stories while on his annual winter vacations. 

So - as opposed to those who claim similiar adventurous exploits, or another person named James Bond, there is only one real James Bond - the American ornithologist and author of the book "Birds of the West Indies."

Readers of Ian Fleming's original fiction know that he appropriated names and characters from real people he knew - as in Dr. No where 007 poses as a bird watcher using the alias Ivor Bryce, Fleming's OSS and NANA associate.

But besides James Bond himself, I was surprised to see Fleming portray a character Milton Krest, who closely resembles Cummins Catherwood, - the rich sportsman whose yacht and expeditions are tax deductable research missions just as Catherwood bankrolled the Vigilant.

While Fleming and his man Krest don't expose the supposedly secret CIA connections to such millionaires and their foundations, the Ruskies knew about it all along, as Kim Philby revealed in his autobiography "My Silent War.``

In his book written from Russia Philiby recalls the CIA's Frank Wisner explaining to him (and his KGB masters) how the "Foundation System" worked - ostensibly philanthropic non-profit organizations were to be used to fund secret CIA covert operations worldwide.

So Ian Fleming based two ostensibly fictional characters on real people from Philadelphia - ornithologist James Bond and philantropic CIA bursar Cummins Catherwood, that made it easier to find another, as when things happen twice they usually happen a third time.

In the course of reading Ian Fleming's New York adventure in which 007 and his CIA sidekick Felix Leiter go to Harlem jazz joints, Leiter is described as being a music critic and writing about jazz and classical music as a cover for his covert CIA shennigans. That got a WOW out of me, as I still had David Wise and Thoms Ross' "The Invisible Government" right there next to me.

And there it was: Henry Pleasants, former OSS interrogator and CIA agent, who debriefed Nazi General Reinhard Gehlen, also wrote classic and jazz music. Besides writing reviews and critiques of classical performances, he wrote a book that declared classical music dead and jazz the future of serious music.

It just so happened that before Henry Pleasants moved to London, he was the chief music critic of the Philadelphia Bulletin, whose clipping morgue I routinely mined, and his wife Virginia played the cello in the Philadelphia Orchestra.

While attending a concert at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, the former home of the orchestra, I asked an old black usher if he remembered Henry Pleasants and got a positive response.

Wearing a uniform, and in a very proper English voice, the usher snapped to attention, almost clicked his heals, saying, "Yes. Mr. Pleasants the writer and critic, and his wife Virginia, are now living in London, sir."

And so it was, a few years later, enroute home from Berlin after the collapse of The Wall in 1990, I just happened to be in London in a pub with a phone directory that listed Henry and Virginia Pleasants, and called them on a whim.

Mrs. Pleasants, very polite, said that Henry was at a music festival in Vienna, but as I was an American from Philadelphia, she said that Henry would be in New York in a few weeks, and she arranged for me to meet him there.

It was in the basement of an old church where Pleasants had scheduled a lecture, a well attended talk on the earliest recordings of opera singers - as they could be heard on old player piano type rolls, and a fascinating class it was. After which, I approched him, introduced myself and asked if I could have an interview. Sure he said, but back at his hotel, a few blocks away a little later. 

There, he poured us each of us a drink of whiskey over ice, and sat down and asked what I wanted.

Well, I said I read many of his Philadelphia Bulletin music reviews, and wrote about a weekly music column myself, but I was really more interested in Gehlen and Ian Fleming, to which he bristled a bit and sat back.

It was no secret that he had debriefed Gehlen, but he said, standing up and walking across the room, opening the door - he said he was expecting someone else. - But it just wasn't a subject that he could talk about. It was all still classified and he just shrugged and said he couldn't talk about it.

What about Fleming?

Well, I showed him the reference to him in "The Invisible Government," and then quoted the lines from Ian Fleming's Harlem adventure.

"That's me all right," he acknowledged with a smile, as I asked him how he knew Fleming, or how Fleming knew him?

Pleasants thought about it for awhile and then he said, almost to himself in wonder, "My wife Virginia played the cello in a chamber group with Ian Fleming's sister, who also played the cello," but otherwise he couldn't explain it.

Then I found another character in one of Fleming's short stories - "The Living Daylights," in which 007 is assigned a sniper's rifle and assigned to kill a Soviet sniper who will attempt to shoot someone escaping East Berlin.

It turns out the Soviet sniper is a women, a beautiful women, who kept her rifle in the cello case, so instead of killing her Bond only wounds her in the hand so she can't fire.

It should also be noted that President Kennedy was in the audience when Leonard Bernstein introduced a teenage cellest Yo Yo Mass to the world at a Washington concert, so the cello comes into play a number of times in this story. 

So Ian Fleming took the name for his secret agent from an American ornithologist, and based two other characters on Philadelphia personages - Cummins Catherwood and Henry Pleasants, and adapted his sister and Virginia Pleasants for the cello playing sniper.

But what did all this have to do with the assassination?

Well there was Michael Straight - an ex-patriate American at Cambridge where he was recruited into a communist spy ring by Guy Burgess, one of the bevy of KGB spies - the others being Kim Philby, Donald MacClean and Sir Anthony Blunt, the surveyor of the Queen's pictures.

When JFK nominted Straight for appointment as the head of the national federation of the Arts, the FBI background investigation led to the Cambridge ties, and Straight confessed. The problem was that while Burgess and MacClean had fled to Moscow, Philby and Blunt were still on the loose.

Straight was a close friend of Fleming, and it was Fleming's primary liason to MI5 who was given the responsiblity of informing Kim Pilby of Straight's confession and his implication.

Of course when J. E. Hoover found out about the Cambridge spy ring he ordered an investigation of every American who attended Cambridge - and that would include American ornithologist James Bond, who was also a member of the Cambridge Pitt Club, Guy Burgess' fraturnity.

The plot thickens.


  1. Hi Bill, I'm a playwright, and opera director, based in London. I'm just getting started on a possible project about Henry Pleasants and wondered if you'd like to chat.

  2. Yes Toria Banks, email me Billkelly3@gmail.com