Excerpts of the book Forces of Power by William L. Taub
Grosset & Dunlap, 1979 - hardcover
Front cover (photo)
Back cover (photo)
Inside cover flap (photo)
From pages 12 - 14
Many of the people who were to weave themselves in and out of my life over the years were present during the Josephine Baker episode: Flor Trujillo, Howard Hughes, Charles de Gaulle, John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe. In turn, these people were to link me with others who played prominent roles in my adventures: Richard Nixon, Madame Mao Tse-tung, James Hoffa, the Kennedys, Aristotle Onassis.
It was my friendship with Flor Trujillo that would cause me to become involved with Richard Nixon in a pursuit across Europe of the Trujillo family fortune. This early episode in a series of confrontations with Nixon over many years taught me lessons I would find most helpful in later involvements with him.
In 1971 I went another round with Richard Nixon, this time privately at the White House. We discussed the conditions under which Jimmy Hoffa would be pardoned. Less than two years later, when I, along with the rest of the country, heard the news that our President had taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office, I knew it wouldn't be long before I was called to testify before the Watergate prosecution team. I also knew when I did that the axe would fall and Richard Nixon would be impeached. I went before the prosecution team during the preliminary hearings and came away with the feeling they were doing everything possible to prevent the impeachment of the President. Later I was told this was indeed the case, as their primary concern was the stability of the country.
The tape of my conversation with Nixon was one of several that were suppressed because their contents contained undeniable grounds for impeachment. In late November 1971 the President of the United States called me to his private office to conduct his own private business. The transaction under discussion involved billions of dollars.
I introduced Marilyn Monroe to Yves Montand and regretted the tragic results. Montand, in turn, played an important role in the film Z, which cost me a murky entanglement with the Greek junta, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the U.S. State Department. I became the proverbial Man Who Knew Too Much, and my knowledge nearly cost me my life in an assassination attempt on a deserted road in the French Alps.
From the Z story and its sequel came an introduction to Madame Mao Tse-tung and a secret trip to Peking two months before Nixon's official visit in 1972. Madame Mao made reference to a fortune in gold bars worth around one hundred million dollars, which I already knew lay in a vault on Wall Street. After my conversation with Madame Mao that day concerning a treasure that, in her words, was "soon to come home to its rightful owner" via those special diplomatic channels that are immune to all inspection, there was no doubt in my mind about who the courier was going to be.
Howard Hughes, who thought Josephine Baker was too hot to handle, tried a few years later to involve me in a scheme so outrageous it nearly succeeded. He planned to dupe the Vatican into unwittingly participating in clandestine global surveillance for the benefit of himself and the CIA: a new satellite, sanctified by the Pope, and free from all regulation. For once he failed.
James Hoffa assumed people would work miracles for him if he yelled loud enough. I worked one for him in 1963, pitting myself against the power of the Department of Justice and the personal wrath of Attorney General Robert Kennedy. I had seventy-two hours to raise $45 million in surety bonds for him through a man in Switzerland. I was still on the ground at the TWA terminal in New York when it started to snow. I beat the deadline by ten minutes, and in his gratitude Jimmy Hoffa withheld my fee, using it as leverage for future miracles he might want me to perform.
I almost succeeded in 1972, this time involving Jimmy in a visit to Hanoi to arrange for the release of twelve prisoners of war with behind-the-scenes assistance from North Vietnamese peace negotiator Le Duc Tho and Madame Mao herself, as well as a very ambivalent, then suddenly very helpful Richard Nixon. It was Hoffa himself who caused the failure. He wouldn't get on the plane that would take him to Hanoi because he said he "smelled a trap." At the time I thought he was a very paranoid man, but after he vanished I changed my mind about Hoffa and his instincts.
My knowledge of the events leading up to the disappearance of James Hoffa is being revealed here for the first time. I know who killed Hoffa and I know why. My knowledge is based on my close relationship with the man over many years. I knew himhow he thought, how he reacted. I knew his habits, his plans, and who his enemies were.
Ten days before Hoffa's disappearance he insisted I call him from a New York telephone booth. I did, and on that stifling July night his news turned my blood to ice. James Hoffa had plans to have someone "disappear." Those plans backfired and were the cause of his death.
The events of my life feature not me so much as a cast of characters who play their roles in repertory fashion. Status and fortunes change. Bit players become leads. Adversaries become allies. And loyal friends become the loyal opposition.
In my dealings with people in high places, I have watched the secret exchange of vast amounts of money for favors among those whose fortunes are large enough and whose power is far-reaching enough to make them impervious to control by law. I have watched government manipulated from within and without for the purpose of personal aggrandizement and ideological zeal, and have seen the all-pervasive system of hidden connections that makes the world go round. I know the system will never change unless we know the names of the people who adhere to the maxim that he who governs the most makes the least noise.
Many of the characters in my story are now dead. Others have fallen from power. They have all had their say, and now it is time to have mine.
From pages 17 - 19
My friendship with Eisenhower continued after his election to the White House. It was the very nature of our relationship that prompted a call, some years later, from Clifford Folger, chairman of the Republican National Finance Committee. The Republican Convention had just renominated Eisenhower and Nixon, and Folger told me an emergency had developed. Ike had just come out of his ileitis operation and was physically and emotionally depressed. He wanted to withdraw from the race. The mere thought sent spasms of fear through the ranks of the Republican faithful. None of the Washington crowd had been able to bring him out of his mood.
Folger knew I was a kind of bridge between the two worlds Ike enjoyed. He hoped I might be able to find a way to penetrate Eisenhower's dark mood, and I agreed to visit the White House for breakfast. When I met the President, it was quickly apparent he was more than depressed. He was smoldering with resentment. Never a political man, he had always been unhappy with the shoddy expediency of politics. As we talked, his anger burst forth. He felt he had been pressured into seeking reelection and pressured into keeping Nixon on the ticket.
"I don't want to run on the same ticket with that man," he told me. "I should never have let them talk me into it. He's totally self-serving and he's always into something. To him, honesty is just one more mask to wear at the right time."
I listened and let him sputter out his anger, then told him his old card-playing buddy, Chevalier, would soon be in the United States to co-star in the film Gigi with my good friend Hermione Gingold at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. His mood brightened at once, and we were soon into happy recollections of other times and places. But his words about Richard Nixon, uttered in a moment of angry confidence, stayed with me.
Eisenhower did not withdraw and the ticket was reelected. At the inaugural ball I would have my first confrontation with Richard M. Nixon. Mamie Eisenhower had graciously agreed to invite a friend of mine, the well-known New York fashion designer Frank Perullo, to create her gowns for the inaugural balls. Because of personal problems, Perullo was unable to complete the assignment, but I wanted to express my appreciation to Mamie. While in Paris I bought her a beaded evening bag and sent it to her upon returning home.
Eisenhower had offered me the ambassadorship to Luxembourg. Business commitments made it impossible for me to accept, so I suggested the name of an old friend, Carrie Munn. Perle Mesta was just concluding her ambassadorship to Luxembourg, and I felt the post ought to be held by another woman. Eisenhower agreed, and it was arranged that Carrie Munn would attend the inaugural ball as my guest at my table. Carrie was a Palm Beach socialite fashion designer.
While I was at the Shoreham Hotel the Sunday before the inauguration, Bernard Shanley, Eisenhower's appointments secretary, called. President and Mrs. Eisenhower were inviting me to tea that afternoon. It was emphasized that the invitation was private, and I was to come alone.
After I arrived, Mamie stayed only a few minutes and then left me alone with the President. The conversation that followed both moved and disturbed me. Eisenhower, in his time of triumph, seemed to be experiencing another mood of depression. He told me how much he appreciated my friendship and in particular my visit to him when he was feeling so poorly after his ileitis operation. Then he told me what was really troubling him.
"I don't expect to live out the full term of my presidency," he told me. "I'm really concerned about my health."
"Mr. President, I'm sure you'll live many long years," I said.
His face remained somber. "I hope so," he said. "I wouldn't want to leave the presidency in that man's hands." He stared into space for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper. "I'm going to give you a list of names I'd like you to have," he said. "These are people who have been very close to me. If any of them can ever be of assistance to you, I want you to feel free to call upon them."
He handed me the sheet of paper and I glanced at it. There were some thirty names and addresses on it. The list was a virtual guidebook to the most prominent people in the world, nationally and internationally, in banking, industry, commerce, and government. As I folded the list into my pocket, I knew I would treasure it whether or not I ever had reason to call a single one of those names.
"I've got something else for you," he said, and from a nearby table he handed me a carved ivory elephant. "This has been part of my collection for years. I want you to have it."
There were tears in Eisenhower's eyes when I left that afternoon. They were not caused by an attack of sentiment. Rather, he was beset with highly mixed feelings about his coming term, upset by the prospect of prolonged associations he deplored. Dwight Eisenhower preferred to look backward rather than forward.
Form pages 26 - 29
When I arrived at the meeting, I was surprised to find my friend Dr. Bordiu was also there. As I sat down with General Franco's attorney and his son-in-law, they informed me of certain developments that they considered both ominous and urgent. With almost apologetic regrets for the unpleasant realities of their message, they gave me the bad news, in true keeping with the cultured Spanish gentleman's belief that if poor wine must be served, it can at least be presented in the best manner.
"General Franco has just signed a decree forbidding the arrest or extradition of Ramfis Trujillo," Senor Garrigues said. "There has been no crime committed in this country by Ramfis Trujillo. He is, in fact, an honored guest here under the protection of General Franco. The General is most disturbed at the attempts and the methods used to try to have him placed under arrest."
"Mr. Nixon is not the Vice President now, and in Spain he never was," Dr. Bordieu interjected with a little half-smile. "General Franco resents his attitude. But regardless of the personalities involved, the General has not been pro-American since the days of our civil war when so much support for the Loyalists came from your country. The involvement of American agents in the slaying of Generalissimo Trujillo has not made him any more sympathetic to your country or your cause here."
Then Antonio Garrigues leaned forward and touched my hand. I am sorry to have to put it so unpleasantly, my friend, but I have been told it would be best for Mr. Nixon to leave Spain. If he continues in his ways, he may violate certain civil laws he may not be aware of and find himself arrested rather than Ramfis. I hope you will kindly impress this upon him."
Although both these old friends were too civilized to phrase it in Ramfis Trujillo's terms, I was made aware without a word exchanged between us that they also felt, by the very nature of our mutual pursuit, that Richard Nixon was my problem. They also said something else. There would be no money coming from Ramfis Trujillo.
I thanked them for their help and their advice and returned at once to my apartment at the Phoenicia. It took me a while to get hold of Nixon, but the tone of my voice convinced him to come to a meeting immediately. I told him exactly what had been said. The warning had been clear enough, but just in case, I made it clearer.
"You've cooked your goose but good," I told him. "I've been trying to tell you it's a different ball game here. It's Franco's ball park. He owns the ball and both teams, and he makes up the rules and he always wins. You'd better leave Spain right away."
Nixon muttered something, but the color had drained from his face. Suddenly he was a very frightened man.
"Go to Paris," I said. "I'll be there in a few days. The rules will be different there, and we can move against Rhadames."
Nixon rose and walked from the table without a backward glance, without a word of thanks for my warning. I excused the lapse as the oversight of a badly shaken man.
In a few days I left Spain for France. Upon my arrival at the Ritz in Paris, I contacted Jean François, the international banker at the Banque Romande in Geneva, Switzerland, where he was chairman of the board. Because of his position in banking circles, Jean François probably knew more about the flow of the Trujillo monies than anyone, including the Trujillos. He had been appointed to assist in the pursuit of the monies held by Rhadames.
France was a different country with a different set of personal and political allegiances. The situation was more hopeful than in Spain, and strategic plans were made for the arrest of Rhadames. Jean François was held in high esteem by President de Gaulle, and I was a personal friend of the General as well. Nonetheless, facilitating moves through the French courts for the arrest encompassed bitter legal problems because our counsel was taking every precaution to prevent obstacles put in our way by lesser authorities with ties to the battery of lawyers Rhadames had employed.
With the tacit assistance of the Ministry of Justice, Rhadames Trujillo was finally arrested and extradited to Switzerland. In Geneva he tried several legal maneuvers to obtain his freedom. These were merely a smokescreen, for the promise of financial reward and the power of the Trujillo money were his real weapons. However, Jean François was an eminently qualified Swiss banker who also functioned in the Geneva courts, and he was determined to triumph over Rhadames.
Rhadames was unsuccessful in his attempts to free himself and finally agreed to a settlement of several million dollars in exchange for his release. The pursuit was finally over. While the technical, legal, and financial details were being thrashed out in Paris and Geneva, I had a final meeting with Richard Nixon over the settlement. In Spain he had been an obstruction. In France his efforts had been virtually nonexistent. But by then I realized I should be grateful for his low profile.
As far as I knew, Nixon hadn't spent his own money for a dinner, a taxi, or a chocolate bar. He hadn't made a telephone call that wasn't charged to someone else. He had made no real contribution to the victory. In fact, he had almost undermined it in Spain. Nevertheless, he received for his efforts a check for $1,625,000. When he began to complain about his expenses, I told him I thought he should take the money and run. He took it and went his way and I went mine.
He never did find time to express any appreciation for what I or anyone else had done to bring about the settlement. He returned to Mudge, Rose a hero. They were well satisfied with the accomplishment of their new partner. As for me, I had learned a lesson about Richard Nixon.
There would be other lessons learned, other questions answered. They would concern the killers of Rafael Trujillo. Years later I was to have separate encounters with two of the men from Miami who had carried out the assassination of Trujillo, and they both claimed to have done the job for the Central Intelligence Agency.
The first encounter was very disturbing. As my visitor calmly described how he had been paid by the CIA to murder her father, Flor Trujillo sat on a couch across from him, her face rigid with horror and contempt. The second encounter, which was by long-distance telephone, was more of the hair-raising variety. The man who threatened me at the other end of the wire was discovered a few months later curled inside an oil drum floating off the coast of Florida. His name was Johnny Roselli.
In 1962, however, the killers of Rafael Trujillo had no identity. I certainly would not have connected the assassination with an agency of my government. In fact, I would have dismissed such a theory as a spy-thriller invention. That was many years ago. Today I am a much more cynical man.
From pages 61 - 63
Meanwhile, Bob Kennedy's demands for more and more personal information continued. There seemed no end to the harassment and protest was pointless. I had no desire to single-handedly take on the Justice Department. In addition, President Kennedy's refusal to invite the Libyans to a meeting had caused American-Libyan relations to deteriorate to the point where representation of Libya was simply not worth the attacks and persecution I was suffering. Regretfully I informed the Libyan government I was resigning as a representative of their country. Bobby Kennedy had received his first pound of flesh.
Still the Hoffa fee remained unpaid. Other affairs kept me very busy and I went to southern France on an extended business trip. In late fall I returned to New York to find the newspapers full of the impending trial of Jimmy Hoffa and a host of co-defendants in Chattanooga on the charge of jury tampering. Robert Kennedy had put the full power of the Justice Department into preparation for the trial, determined to do what he'd failed to do through the bonding. This time he would get Hoffa.
Early in November 1963 Professor Vittorio Valletta, chairman of the board of Fiat of Turin, Italy, visited America. He was asked to lunch at the White House with President Kennedy. Since it was to be a social occasion, and since I was an old friend of Professor Valletta as well as of others who were to attend, I was also invited. During that lunch I had the opportunity to ask President Kennedy why his brother had subjected me to such personal harassment.
"Bobby hates to lose," Jack Kennedy said. "I was told all about the problems you had and I'm sorry about that, but I never interfere with Bobby's concerns." Jack Kennedy brushed that topic aside because he wanted to talk about Marilyn Monroe. He asked me why I thought she had killed herself. I told him about the conversation we had had shortly before she died and how she had never recovered from the rejection by Montand.
Marilyn Monroe had been dead for more than fifteen months. Yet he seemed to be still disturbed by the death of this woman who had been only one of his many amusements. John Kennedy liked to play. I think he may have felt some remorse about having been intimately involved with Marilyn while remaining totally oblivious of her suffering.
Then Kennedy informed me he was about to go off on a barnstorming tour in Texas. "You're lucky," he said. "You don't make your living in politics." He leaned back and surveyed me. "Where did you get that great color?" he said.
"My tan? Southern France. But I thought that had worn off weeks ago."
"No, it's still there," he said and we went in to lunch. Four days later I was taken ill in New York while attending a meeting. As I was being driven home, I felt so bad I was taken to a hospital where I learned the reason for my "great tan." I had yellow jaundice and infectious hepatitis. Soon after my hospitalization I heard the news that John Kennedy had been assassinated. That night my own illness affected me less than the shocking event that had taken place in Texas. Later, as from my hospital bed I watched the funeral of the thirty-fifth President of the United States on television, I recalled our conversation of a few days before. Every word took on new importance now that he was gone. One comment in particular kept going through my mind like an elegy: You're lucky. You don't make your living in politics.
A STAR IN
Monumental wealth can sometimes spawn monumental delusions. In 1966 Howard Hughes reached out for power with a grandiose plan few people would have imagined let alone tried to bring about.
But Howard Hughes was not an ordinary man with ordinary dreams. Nor did he do anything by whim. He enjoyed success too much to let it rest on chance. He applied the same meticulous attention to detail in all his acquisitions, whether they were airlines, actresses, or the gambling casino empires he later used as havens for his reclusive lifestyle. His inaccessibility was not a matter of whim either. It was a means of operating secretly, beyond the reach of government, as well as a shelter from the contamination he feared all around him.
In all things Hughes watched, calculated, planned his moves. Consequently, it was not by chance that he involved me in perhaps the strangest, grandest, and least known of all his schemes.
I first met Howard Hughes during World War II. At that time I served under Harry Hopkins, Franklin Roosevelt's White House consultant, on the conversion of civilian plants into war production. The Hughes plants were building aircraft and parts, and as we searched for more factories suitable for wartime conversion, my work put me into almost daily contact with Hughes. At one point I was spending so much time away from New York that I gave Hughes a key to my apartment for his use during his frequent trips to the city. Arriving late and unexpectedly one night, I entered the apartment to find Hughes and a young actress in bed and belatedly realized the problems that accompany giving out extra keys.
After the war I saw Howard Hughes only infrequently. It had been many years since I had seen him at all when I got the call and was driven to his Bel Air home in California. The results of that meeting would reveal that the same forces and the same names continued to intertwine in a shadowy circle dance.
Richard Nixon was one such name. Although I was not aware of it then, he and Hughes went back a long way. Nixon's 1972 reelection campaign was not the first time he'd received $100,000 in secret from Howard Hughes. As early as 1956 Hughes had secretly furnished Nixon with $100,000 to fight Harold Stassen's dump-Nixon campaign. That same year Hughes lent Nixon's brother, Donald, $205,000 for a hamburger restaurant chain. Also, many Watergate investigators believed, but were unable to prove, that banker Charles (Bebe) Rebozo, Nixon's closest confidant, was using his Florida bank to launder cash receipts from Hughes-owned gambling casinos.
The CIA was another of the names that surfaced. The Central Intelligence Agency had close ties to the Hughes empire, as events have shown it to have with other powerful corporations. One-time Hughes aide Robert Maheu, testifying in 1974, reported Hughes had come to the conclusion long ago that any problems he might have with governmental agencies would be minimized if he were to become a "front" for the CIA. That belief proved correct for more than a quarter of a century. Hughes and the CIA established a cozy working arrangement in the late 1940s, when his companies produced specialized material for the CIA. The alliance continued up to the very recent Glomar Explorer operation the CIA conducted under the umbrella of a Hughes sea-mining project.
Other corporations and individuals have leaped into self-serving alliances with the CIA, with favors paid all around. Watergate will not be remembered as a chronicle of specific misdeeds but as the modern Pandora's box that, once opened, revealed a stunning network of connections, interconnections, ties, obligations, favors, liaisons, and unholy alliances.
A confluence of events set the stage for my meeting with Hughes at his Bel Air home. The first of these events proved to be a prelude to the illegal use of corporate power that would one day be revealed in all its sordidness. It began with a phone call from Joseph Kennedy while I was in California. The bonding incident had not affected our business or personal relationship. At the time I represented several foreign film stars and was associated in many endeavors with J. Howard McGrath, who was now counsel to Loew's, Inc., and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Joseph Kennedy asked me to return to New York to meet with Antonio Sala, the attorney for Minerva Films of Rome. Although the largest Film producer in Italy, Minerva was badly in need of new capital. Aware of Joseph Kennedy's long interest in the motion picture industry, Minerva Films had come to him for help.
Kennedy wanted a detailed analysis of Minerva's creative assets and financial scope, and he felt I was best suited to look into the matter. I returned to New York where it was arranged that I would go to Rome with Antonio Sala to explore the possibility of an alliance between Minerva and an American film company. At that time American motion picture executives had little knowledge of foreign films, one of the negative factors that needed evaluation.
The visit to Rome was to last only a week; it lengthened into months. While there I renewed my acquaintance with a number of friends at the Vatican. One was Cardinal Ottaviani, whom I'd first met some ten years earlier through Professor Valletta of Fiat. On that occasion Cardinal Ottaviani had talked to me about an orphanage for boys sponsored by him and Pope Pius XII, and I had contributed a year's supply of free motion pictures to the orphanage.
It was not generally known, even in the film industry, that the Vatican operated some three thousand commercial movie theaters in many parts of the world through ACEC-SAS, the Catholic League of Exhibitors of the Roman Catholic Church. For ten years I had been representing the Vatican in negotiations for films suitable for exhibition in these theaters.
When the work on the Minerva project came to an end, I returned to America with a full report for Joseph Kennedy. No new capital from American film sources was ever committed, and in time Minerva Films went bankrupt. Soon after my return to this country, I got a phone call from the State Department. Three representatives of the Soviet Motion Picture organization, SOVEX, had arrived in America to open United StatesSoviet motion picture trade. Because of my extensive work with European film production, I was asked to meet with the Soviet representatives.
In Washington I met with three Russian motion picture producers and an official from the Soviet Embassy. After preliminary discussions, the Russians came to New York for further meetings on one particular film SOVEX was offering, Sleeping Beauty, the first complete color film of a ballet. It starred the great Russian dancer Maya Plisetskaya. I knew the film was ideal for two areas of exhibition: American television, where it would be a real first, and the Vatican chain of theaters. It would be a precedent-breaking step forward in Soviet-Vatican cultural exchange.
Although the SOVEX representatives were talking to others during their visit, they quickly recognized the benefits of my proposals in behalf of the Vatican. Culture is never without political overtones in the Soviet Union. We had a preliminary meeting of minds, and there followed a series of phone calls between my New York apartment and Rome. Since there were many who frowned upon any cooperation with the Soviets, it was important that plans for the film be kept extremely confidential. All projected dates, financial arrangements, exhibition terms, and other practical considerations were discussed with only one individual in the Vatican circle. Finally, when all the important details had been thrashed out via transatlantic phone, a formal agreement was reached between SOVEX and me, in my capacity as acting representative of the Vatican chain of exhibitors.
On January 26, 1966, I arrivedsecretly, I thoughtin Rome to begin technical discussions for furnishing the film through the Vatican theater chain. The first thing I learned was that it was no secret I was in Rome. Then I found out the terms that had been discussed by telephone with only one man, a gentleman of absolute integrity, were known to others. It turned out that other confidential information was far from confidential. I was bewildered. How had personal telephone discussions come to be almost public knowledge? How had my plans become known in advance? I discussed this strange turn of events with the man who had been a party to all the preliminary discussions for the Vatican, and he could offer no explanation.
There was an answer I had initially refused to consider: My telephone in New York had been tapped. It was a stunning realization but no other conclusion was possible. I thought perhaps the reason had to do with my working closely with the SOVEX representatives. As the agreement had been signed by me and the Vatican but not yet by the SOVEX people, I decided to go to Moscow to complete the signing. On January 30 I flew from Rome to Moscow. There, at the SOVEX offices, I received my next big surprise: The contract for Sleeping Beauty had been withdrawn.
In reply to my protests, I was simply told that "other interested parties" had been chosen. I waved the agreement we had reached and received only shrugs. Higher authorities had canceled the deal. There was no recourse. SOVEX was an official agency of the Soviet government, and suing the Russian government would be a meaningless legal exercise. It became clear I had received all the answers I would get, and I returned to Rome, and a few days later, to New York.
Still mystified and angry, I was determined to get to the bottom of the affair. Suddenly things fell into place. I discussed the matter with J. Howard McGrath. As a former Attorney General, he was in an excellent position to know what might be done. He agreed wholeheartedly that a rawly illegal deed of such magnitude should not be permitted to go unchallenged. The implications of this invasion of my constitutional right to privacy posed a threat to every telephone user in America.
It was decided I should file a formal complaint of illegal wiretapping with the Public Service Commission of the State of New York. Since the phone calls had been transatlantic, a complaint was also filed with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington.
Partly because of my wiretapping complaint, the merger between ITT and ABC, which had already been approved, was reopened at the petition of the Justice Department's antitrust division. On September 19, 1966, the Federal Communications Commission held a hearing on my specific complaint as it pertained to the commission's overall review of the ITT-ABC merger approval.
The hearing proved to be more illuminating than anyone could have suspected. It detailed the interlocking maneuvers of ABC, Bell Telephone, and ITT in violation of individual and constitutional rights. The hearing was the first public indication of another symbiotic relationship, that between the CIA and ITT. That strange partnership, revealed more fully in the disclosures of the ITT-CIA role in the downfall of the Allende government in Chile, was not an isolated, overnight working arrangement.
That ABC was nervous about the hearing was obvious from the presence of Leonard Goldenson, chairman of the network, and some fifteen other officers and counsel. The importance ITT attached to the proceedings was made clear by the representation of ITT officials. Leading the group was the president of ITT, Harold Geneen, a gentleman who prefers to stay out of the public eye.
The hearings resulted in a withdrawal of the ABC-ITT merger approval. It was an indirect victory perhaps, but a victory nonetheless.
After the Soviet cancellation of the Sleeping Beauty agreement, the Vatican decided to publicize its chain of commercial theaters and my work in acquiring films for it. The official announcement received wide publicity in motion picture industry trade journals, as did reports of my trips to California to acquire films. On one such trip I planned to go to the opening of the new and opulent Las Vegas casino, Caesar's Palace. The Teamsters' pension fund had provided funds for the construction of the gambling showplace and the Teamsters held a $40 million mortgage on the casino. The opening was to be a big affair, and J. Howard McGrath, who was unable to attend, asked me to go in his place.
Unfortunately, I never got to Las Vegas on that trip. Late on the night of my arrival in California, I became ill. The physician at the Century-Plaza Hotel informed me that I had had a heart attack.
After an extended stay in a hospital, I returned to the Century-Plaza for convalescence. While I was there, lrving Kahn came to see me. Kahn informed me that he was associated with a company called TelePrompter, and that TelePrompter and Howard Hughes shared certain business interests. TelePrompter, he said, had a large contract with the Archdiocese of Brooklyn for closed-circuit educational materials and other instructional programs. Once in my hotel room, he seemed to lose the urgency he had conveyed on the phone while setting up the appointment. I could not, in fact, discover the exact reason for his visit. He explored in rather general terms my feelings about Vatican interest in closed-circuit educational materials, and he asked questions about my relationships within Vatican circles. The meeting seemed rather pointless.
Soon after, however, I received a visit from two more gentlemen who said they were personal representatives of Howard Hughes. Their discussion was somewhat less general. Howard Hughes was interested in a plan to pioneer a communications system based on microwave linkage that would avoid normal communication methods and thus the supervision of the Federal Communications Commission. This microwave system was to be beamed through a satellite put in orbit expressly for this purpose. They asked if I thought the Vatican would be interested in becoming part of this breakthrough in communications.
My response was vague. I had no idea how the Vatican would view such a proposal, and moreover, I was not ready, physically or mentally, to tackle the idea. They left with the usual comments about contacting me again and I tabled the matter in my mind. Not long after, I received medical clearance to return to New York and my own physician.
After a period of convalescence in New York, I returned to California. I was staying at the Bel Air Hotel when Robert Maheu, still Howard Hughes's right-hand man and privy to everything Hughes thought and did, came to see me and invite me to a private meeting with Hughes. As much out of curiosity as anything else, I agreed.
The Hughes passion for secrecy had already reached semi-recluse proportions. I was driven in a limousine with window curtains tightly drawn to a location in Bel Air not very far from the hotel. Then I was taken inside a large house so sparsely furnished it seemed as if the occupant were in the process of moving out. Two or three men were discreetly placed in the hallways and I glimpsed a woman who may have been Jean Peters. I was shown into a vast and minimally furnished living room where Hughes greeted me with a quick smile. He was considerably thinner than when I'd last seen him years before. He wore a loose sport shirt and had a thin, somewhat scraggly goatee. His voice had developed a raspy quality.
"It's been a long time, Bill," he said. "But I've been reading about you. How are you feeling?"
"Better," I answered.
"Good," he said. "Seeing as how we're practically neighbors here, I thought it best to get together personally with you." No more intermediaries, I thought silently. "Besides, what I want to talk about with you has to be in strict confidence. It's about the satellite proposal."
He leaned forward urgently. "This is something for the Vatican, Bill. You know what this could do for them."
"No, I don't, really," I replied.
"It'd be a real coup," Hughes said. "The Church using the newest means of communication to bring its message to the world. Why, the possibilities are endless. A satellite launched from Vatican soil, a new star in the sky."
"What's the position of the FCC on this kind of thing?" I asked.
Hughes flashed an expression of horror. "The FCC won't have a damn thing to do with it. I haven't spoken to anyone in Washington about it. This is strictly confidential."
"Just who will own the satellite? How will this all work?"
"It'll be launched from Vatican soil. My technical experts will operate it, of course. The Vatican can use it for anything they like. Any kind of message linkup anywhere in the world will be possible. They could avoid all censorship problems everywhere."
"But technical control would be in your hands," I pressed.
"It'd have to be. They don't have the experts for that. We'd work out some kind of joint ownership. I haven't gotten into the practical details yet. What I need now is their agreement to proceed. That's why I wanted to see you. You're obviously in a position of trust. They have you acquiring films for their chain of theaters. That means they have confidence in your judgment and evaluation of communications media. I want you to carry the ball on this personally, directly to the Pope. It's too big for lower-level discussion."
Hughes had been both enthusiastic about the idea and vague on details. I decided I wanted more time to consider the matter. On the face of it, the idea held a certain excitement. It could open up vast new possibilities for good.
"Let me think a little about this," I said.
Hughes nodded. "The more you think about it, the more excited you'll get over it," he promised. "Just tell the Vatican that I'm prepared to do whatever has to be done."
I was familiar enough with the Howard Hughes way of saying things to know he was telling me that money was no object. He was convinced that given enough money, he could buy and sell anything and anyone. Yet the idea was intriguing and I turned it over in my mind as I was driven back to the hotel in the curtained limousine. Paul VI now sat in St. Peter's chair, and he had begun his reign as an innovative and aggressive Pope. His visit to India, and contemplated visit to America, were only two indications that he looked toward a more modern role for the Church in the world. The satellite idea, I thought, might appeal to such a man, and I decided to consider the proposal very carefully.
When Robert Maheu called me a few days later for my decision, I was still wrestling with the idea. I told him I needed more details on the concrete matters of control, ownership, and responsibility. Maheu got back to me the next day with vague, unsatisfactory answers. He refused to be pinned down on anything beyond the generalities Hughes had given me. I decided the project needed further thinking. While working on other matters, I had an opportunity to make some very discreet inquiries and was bothered to learn that the Hughes satellite was not as confidential as I'd been led to believe. There were intimations that Hughes had discussed his satellite project with others.
Wary, yet intrigued by the idea, I decided to go to Rome on my own and discuss the proposal with a highly respected authority in the Vatican. It was decided that the general idea would be submitted for a preliminary reaction. All the details I could muster, which were not many, were included in the presentation. The answer came back quickly. The Vatican was not interested. The project, it was felt, had political overtones.
Later I was filled in on the reasons for the rejection. The Vatican, it seemed, wanted nothing to do with a project in which Howard Hughes would be involved. Furthermore, the Vatican was very aware that the Hughes enterprise had many CIA associations. That was an element I had not given enough attention to, probably because I had not thoroughly recovered from my illness and was not functioning at top efficiency.
But I returned from my trip to Rome determined to investigate the satellite project further before getting back to Hughes. Less discreet this time, I found out that the secret project Hughes had held back for the right co-sponsor had not been held back at all. He had, through his emissaries, approached a number of governments with the project and had been turned down by all. However, the true dimensions of what he had wanted me to accomplish for him only struck me when I tried to see him.
Howard Hughes was no longer in the almost unfurnished house in Bel Air. He had been taken, in the middle of the night, to a railroad car waiting just outside Los Angeles, and from there by train to the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. CIA agents had spirited him from the house and into absolute seclusion in Boston. One more name popped up in this incident: Johnny Roselli had been one of those who had transported Hughes from the house to the railroad car. The CIA, Howard Hughes, Johnny Rosellian official agency of the United States, private corporate interests, and the underworld. The same people surfaced again and again, like the tentacles of an octopus.
I kept hearing Howard Hughes's words about his satellite. The Vatican can use it for any thing they like. Any kind of message linkup anywhere in the world . . . avoid all censorship problems. It was clear in hindsight that those possibilities would have been equally available to his CIA associates. The satellite orbited under the flag of the Vatican would have been an ideal front for the ClA's communication experts. It was a grim thought. Had I been more thoroughly taken in, or had the Vatican been less wise, it could have happened. Howard Hughes and the CIA would have had the most respectable disguise for their activities that could be devised.
But it hadn't happened and I was grateful for that. A short while after my attempt to see Hughes, I returned to New York. I had been back only a few days when a call came from Rose Mary Woods. Richard Nixon had been trying to reach me on the West Coast and wanted me to come to his New York offices for a visit. She intimated it was on a matter of considerable importance. Though as far as I knew, nothing I was doing was of interest to Richard Nixon, I went to see him as a matter of courtesy. Another surprise awaited me there.
"I called you down to hear what reaction you got during your trip to Rome," Nixon began in his usual peremptory way.
"Reaction to what?"
"The satellite," he said. Surprised that he even knew about the trip, I felt annoyance at the temerity of the question.
"The matter was private, I'm afraid. Certainly, it doesn't concern you," I said.
"It very much concerns me. I'm counsel on the satellite project for Howard," Nixon returned. I stared at him.
"No one said anything to me about that."
"It's not general information," he said. "You can believe me," he added.
One more tentacle of the octopus. Nixon's long secret history of association with Hughes, plus Hughes's circuitous methods, made his claim quite believable. But I had no proper authorization to discuss the matter with him and absolutely no desire to do so.
"Now I want to know what happened in Rome," Richard Nixon asked again.
"I'll only talk to Hughes about it," I answered.
"That's nonsense. I've every right to know," Nixon said.
"Sorry, only Hughes."
"You're being unreasonable. As counsel on this project, it's necessary that I know."
"I'm sorry. I won't talk about it. The trip was a private one. I'll discuss it only with Hughes."
"Completely improper," Nixon snapped and lectured me on the importance of his position in the project. I felt for a moment that the clock had been turned back to the days of the Trujillo pursuit when he had insisted on playing Mr. Vice President.
"Sorry," I said, cutting him off and getting to my feet.
He was furious when I walked out of his office. And I was more grateful than ever that the venture hadn't succeeded.
A day later Robert Maheu called. He too wanted to know about the trip to Rome, and asked for a written report to "give to the boss." Once again I refused. When Howard Hughes had wanted to enlist my assistance in his grand plan, he had made himself available. When he had wanted to make me a party to his schemes, he had arranged to see me. He would have to do so again if he wanted answers.
He never did. Perhaps he sensed that his grand design had been turned down. Perhaps he realized that others had seen through it. Or perhaps he had already turned his attention to other plans. Whatever the reason, I never met again with Howard Hughes.
I later heard that he tried to interest still other countries in the satellite project, but as far as I know, Howard Hughes's satellite never orbited. Like the man without a country, he wandered from place to place and was refused at each. Howard Hughes found that the keys to the kingdom are not always for sale.
From pages 89 - 102
Through a friend, Peter Smillie, then vice president of the Technical Tape Corporation, I had been introduced to a man named Ernest Keiser. The introduction took place when I visited Peter Smillie in Nassau in the Bahamas. Keiser, over six feet and slender, had the never-quite-relaxed mien of a Prussian officer out of uniform for the day. I was told he was a gem and old coin merchant, but his real interest when I met him was the development of the island of Belize in the British Honduras. He wanted to transform the island into another Freeport, Bahamas, replete with hotels, resorts, gambling casinosin short, an oasis for pleasure.
The plan had been worked out in some detail, and it offered many interesting possibilities. Keiser needed financing, of course, and wanted help finding investors. As I was to see Flor Trujillo when she came to Miami on other business, I arranged to bring him to meet her. I advised Flor that the idea was sound and worth her consideration. Keiser estimated the development of Belize would require approximately $5 million. Later, when Flor and I were alone, we discussed other Trujillo matters in Geneva and the possibility of interesting the Spanish banker Francisco Paesa in the Belize project. Paesa, who lived in Geneva, was young, separated from his wife, and looking for new ventures. It was decided that since I had to go to Geneva on Trujillo affairs, I would discuss the matter with Paesa. Paesa was very interested and he agreed to come to a meeting of all concerned in Miami.
While in Athens on another matter, I received a call from Achilles Vlachopoulos. He was tired of working for Olympic Airlines and aspired to be a full-time singer and entertainer. He desperately wanted to break into show business in America. Before agreeing to help him, I telephoned Onassis, who urged me to do whatever I could for Vlachopoulos. It was arranged the young man would come to the United States where I would put him in touch with the proper people at MGM and other studios, smooth his way with the American Guild of Variety Artists and Immigration, and generally try to aid his career. Unfortunately, Achilles Vlachopoulos's career did not go anywhere. The magic just wasn't there, but he did try hard and he became a frequent visitor to my place in Miami. He was a pleasant young man, and I didn't hesitate to introduce him to my friends and associates.
When I returned to Florida, Ernest Keiser introduced me to a "friend and aide," a young man named Brian Wise. London-born, Wise was something of a cross between David Niven and James Bondsmooth, assured, a surface person.
Instinctively I distrusted him, but I had not yet learned how important it is to pay attention to instinct. I told myself the world was full of surface people. In any case, as Keiser's assistant, he took part in most of our conferences and negotiations.
When Francisco Paesa arrived for the Miami meeting, the plans for developing the island were discussed in great detail. Everyone agreed it was worth undertaking, and Paesa was confident his bank in Geneva could finance a large part of the necessary capital. With a commitment from Flor Trujillo, the mathematics seemed to work out, although there were many financial arrangements still to be completed. After the meeting Paesa, Flor, and I were treated to an air tour of Belize conducted by Brian Wise. On the chartered plane everything seemed to be coming together and I looked forward to working out the details of the plan. However, I was interrupted by Achilles Vlachopoulos.
He appeared one day in a state of agitation. His career as a vocalist had been going nowhere, a fact I was aware of through other sources. Now he was in some kind of trouble the old story of new friends and bad company. Some of these new friends were apparently involved in narcotics traffic and had been apprehended. The Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department had already questioned Vlachopoulos, and he had learned they wanted to bring him in for more questioning.
He almost tearfully assured me he was innocent. Conditioned by living in the Greek semi-police state, he was terribly frightened at the prospect of being taken into custody by federal agents. He wanted to leave the country as fast as possible. I argued flight would hardly make him look innocent, but he was adamant and there was little I could do to persuade him to stay. It all happened rather suddenly, and his haste seemed unnecessary. Yet he promised he would return as soon as it became clear he wasn't involved.
After this interruption, I resumed the task of putting together a detailed financial arrangement for the Belize plans. At last, after countless transatlantic telephone calls and cables, plus numerous trips to Geneva and Paris, the time came for concluding the arrangements. It was then that Ernest Keiser seemed to hang back. He said or did nothing definite, yet I became aware of a slowdown in his moves. He was still enthusiastic, but he seemed unwilling to advance his portion of the finances.
It was an entirely unexpected turn and Keiser's explanations were unsatisfactory. He was, among other things, to advance money for certain cash deposits and letters of credit. This money was suddenly unavailable to him, and I became annoyed and concerned. All the plans had been brought to the point of conclusion. It was hardly the time to delay or entertain second thoughts. With everyone else waiting, I decided to advance part of the cash myself and use my own sources to obtain the necessary credit. I had scheduled appointments in Geneva that were too important to cancel and that affected other significant relationships.
I left for Geneva with the clear understanding Keiser would join me there with the funds he was to furnish. I also left with the distinct feeling something was wrong someplace.
In Geneva I met with Jean François of the Banque Romande. His bank required an advance security deposit of $25,000, then delivered to me personally a letter of credit for $2.5 million. François, a personal friend of mine, had been the financial genius in settling the Trujillo money matters in Switzerland. I telephoned Ernest Keiser and told him he had to meet me in Geneva the following Friday with the funds he was to supply. He agreed but there was something in his manner that still bothered me.
Vlachopoulos had been quite friendly with Keiser in Miami, and it occurred to me I might get some information about Keiser's change in attitude from him. I put in a call to Vlachopoulos in Athens and was told his phone had been disconnected. It was another unexpected turn that added to my gnawing apprehension. One day later, when I received a cable from Keiser asking me to return to Miami, I knew there was something definitely wrong.
I telephoned Miami and told Keiser to appear in Geneva as agreed or the entire deal was off. I said I was going to Athens and would be back in Geneva on Thursday. Keiser promised he would be there and asked me to reserve two rooms at the Hotel Richemond for him and Brian Wise.
It was a positive sign at last and I made the reservations. Then I prepared to go to Athens, where there were a number of people I wanted to see in addition to satisfying my curiosity about Vlachopoulos. I made some calls, arranged the appointments, and reserved a hotel room for twenty-four hours. When the plane landed, I went straight to my hotel and, after verifying my appointments, tried to reach Vlachopoulos once more. His telephone was still disconnected. Since I was concerned about him and had time to spare, I decided to call on him at the address he'd once given me.
Within the hour I had found his apartment and was knocking on his door. I could hear someone inside. Finally I heard steps approaching. The door opened and Vlachopoulos was standing before me, a look of abject terror in his eyes. "I don't want to talk to you," he said, actually trying to close the door on me.
"Why, for God's sake," I implored. "Why did you have your telephone disconnected?"
"I wanted it so. Now please go away. You're the last person I want to be seen with."
"You've got to tell me what's wrong and I'm not leaving until you do," I said.
"They've been bounding me."
"Who?" I said, thinking of his troubles with the narcotics agents when he left the United States.
"The KYP," he said. "They know I helped you when you were trying to get Theodorakis out of prison. Please go away," he whimpered.
"You had to go into hiding because of that? I don't believe you."
Then he became defensive, almost belligerent. "You'd better believe me. Just believe me."
"I do, Achilles. I'm sorry this happened to you."
I did feel terribly concerned for him. He was obviously highly nervous, a very different young man from the one I had known in Miami. His attitude vacillated between hostility and warmth. It was as if he were checking a desire to open up to me. Strangest of all, he seemed very embarrassed. I didn't press him further. I decided it would be best if I left, and I did, more troubled than I had been in a long time.
The next morning I woke early for my last appointment in Athens. I was about to check out of the hotel when the telephone rang in my room. It was Vlachopoulos, his voice quavering with nervousness.
"Are you going back to Geneva now?" he said, and not waiting for my answer, "You should be careful. Be very careful."
"Careful about what?"
"Just be careful," he repeated and the telephone went dead. I stared at the receiver, then put it down. It had been a strange call, yet entirely in keeping with Vlachopoulos's behavior on the previous day. But this time he had done something in spite of his fear. He had risked calling me to warn me of something, then refused to tell me of what, or whom.
I thought about what kind of danger I could be in, and the only thing I could come up with was Vlachopoulos's reference to the Greek secret police. Either that, or his message was merely the product of an overwrought mind. Certainly he was not himself. In any case, the abruptly ended call did not add to my peace of mind. The trip was not going well at all. First there were Keiser's delaying tactics, and now Vlachopoulos's bizarre behavior.
I pushed all this into a corner of my mind where it continued to simmer through the remainder of the morning as I finished the last of my scheduled meetings. Finally, briefcase in hand, I reached the airport and boarded the big Swissair jet that would fly me to Geneva.
The plane touched down into the cold gray dusk, and I was one of the first passengers off it and into Swiss customs. Through a huge pair of double glass doors I saw someone waving to me. It was Brian Wise. I looked for Ernest Keiser but he wasn't to be seen. Another man stood beside Wise. He was tall, about thirty, with a shock of red-blond hair. I had never seen him before.
The customs people finished with me quickly and I pushed through the glass doors.
"Hello, Bill." Wise greeted me with a broad smile, full of his usual transparent charm. "This is Randy Morrison." Morrison, in spite of the red-blond hair, had Latin features, dark eyes, and a light-olive skin.
"Where's Ernest?" I demanded.
"He was delayed. He'll be along later," Wise said. "I've got a car outside."
I pushed down my annoyance at Keiser for not being there and followed Brian Wise from the terminal.
"I understand you've come to conclude Ernest's package for Belize," Randy Morrison said, and I nodded. I wasn't in the mood for small talk. We crossed a street to where a small car waited. Randy Morrison leaned forward and opened the front door.
"We've got everything at my room at the Devon," Wise said.
"The Devon?" I said. "I reserved rooms for Ernest and you at the Richemond." Wise and Morrison exchanged quick glances and suddenly the very air seemed to change. I don't know where the warning came from, but I felt real danger. Automatically I took a step backward.
"I'll take a cab," I said. "You bring everything to my room at the Richemond."
"Get in the car. You're going with us," Morrison said, his voice suddenly harsh. I was about to protest when my arm was seized from behind in a half-twist and I was propelled into the front seat of the car as Brian Wise slid behind the wheel. Morrison slammed the door shut and leaped into the rear seat as we roared away from the curb.
"What the hell is this?" I asked.
"There are some things that we have to talk about," Wise snapped.
"Such as Ernest not being here?" I said. "He isn't in Geneva, is he? He didn't come with the twenty-nine thousand, did he?" I was referring to the $25,000 I had advanced, plus another $4,000 Keiser was to bring for assorted fees.
Wise didn't answer and I was certain I had zeroed in on the core of it. Unable to meet his part of the bargain, Ernest Keiser had apparently grown desperate. Somebody thought a touch of intimidation would make me agree to wait for the answer or effect some compromise. Somebody thought wrong, I told myself.
"You're wasting your time," I told Wise. He still said nothing as we sped around sharp curves. I sat back, fed up with the whole project. If Keiser was this crude, I wanted no part of him. Dusk was thickening into darkness as the car raced away from the Richemond. I remained silent. Perhaps their plan was merely to drive me around for a few hours to see whether I could be frightened into agreeing to whatever it was they wanted. When the car slowed, I saw we were approaching the French border at Gex. We came to a halt and the border guards examined our passports.
I considered bolting and accusing Wise and his friend of abduction, then changed my mind because of what was in my briefcase. Besides the letter of credit for $2.5 million, a very private transaction, it contained a sheaf of documents relating to the finances of Flor Trujillo and her father, as well as papers on sensitive matters involving the Swiss banking establishment. I knew the ways of the French police. They would hold on to such material for ages, probe and investigate a thousand paths and byways. The papers in my briefcase would have embarrassed a number of valuable and highly placed associates.
Sitting quietly was the best course, I decided. It was still my feeling that Wise and his friend Morrison were playing a bluffing game for Keiser, a crude piece of business. When the border guards finished their check, the car roared on to the French Alps. It was night. The road curved almost as soon as it left the border and Brian Wise turned sharply onto a side road thickly grown with trees and brush on both sides. This side road climbed higher into the mountains and was known locally as the Chemin de la Lechere, one of the local roadways that do not appear on ordinary maps. The Swiss police, I was to learn, refer to it by another name. They call it Murderer's Row.
Now Wise began to throw questions at me and Morrison joined in. They were far from what I expected. Neither man made any reference to Ernest Keiser, to the money he was to bring, or to the Belize transaction.
"You've been working for the leftists, haven't you?" Wise said.
"What leftists? What are you talking about?"
"You know," he snapped. "You had the picture brought to America. You got the financing for it."
"For Z? Yes, but so what? That was a business venture, not politics."
"Shit." Morrison laughed. "You're deep into it."
"I'm not into anything," I protested. "What is all of this?"
"You're into it, all right," Morrison repeated. "They sent you to get Theodorakis out."
"That was for the album and the film," I said.
"Sure," Wise said. "And you're close to Onassis, too. You like to work both sides of the street, don't you? Only this time you made a mistake."
"You're funneling Trujillo money into it, too," Brian Wise said and I stared at him in disbelief.
"I'm not funneling money into anything. I don't understand any of this." It was true. There had been not one word about reiser or the $29,000 due me or any of the things I had come to Geneva for. "Where's Keiser?" I asked.
"Forget Keiser. What else do you know?"
"Know about what?"
"Don't play games with us," Morrison threatened. "You know who got Theodorakis out. Who else did you tell?"
"Look, this has gone far enough. I don't know what this is all about, but I'm getting out. I came here to conclude the Belize deal and that's all."
"Forget Belize," Wise said and suddenly I realized Belize had been nothing but an elaborate camouflage from the beginning, a meticulously constructed scheme to bring me to Geneva at the right time. But for what?
"What do you want with me?" I said. Neither man answered. Then Wise slowed the car. The headlights picked up the line of a curve we slowly rounded, and then the road became little more than a path through the rough terrain in the snow-capped French Alps. Tree branches brushed the car from both sides.
"Where are we going?" I demanded. Still no answer.
"What's all this? You know, if you're trying to frighten me, forget it. I don't frighten easily."
I said it more for my benefit than theirs, for the truth was I could feel my fear was about to immobilize me. I turned to glance back at Morrison and my breath escaped in a sharp gasp. He had pulled a rubber mask over his face.
"For God's sake, what are you doing?"
"We're going to kill you," Wise said.
I turned to stare at the handsome face beside me and wondered whether I had heard right. The words had been uttered coldly, calmly, as if they had been uttered many times before. Close to panic now, I realized they had not been said to frighten me.
The car slowed nearly to a stop and I was aware of movements in the back seat. I didn't turn to look. Perhaps I should have. I doubt it would have made any difference. My hand stole to the door handle and I waited for my chance. Suddenly Wise put on the brakes, and what happened next was a blur of automatic reactions as I yanked the door open and leaped from the car. It was too late. I felt the cord snap around my neck from behind. My hands reached up and clawed at the garrote as I choked and fought for breath. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Brian Wise's hand rise and then something hard and heavy smashed into the left side of my face.
I couldn't see. My breath came in a rasp. I tried to fight off losing consciousness, but the garrote tightened and another blow to my head sent me reeling and everything swirled into a void. Wise and Morrison threw me from the car and I rolled down the roadside into the underbrush.
I came to rest against the base of an alpine tree. For all their expertise, Wise and Morrison had botched their job. I had no idea how long I lay there before I felt the first glimmering of life. Perhaps it was the wetness of the falling snow that brought me to my senses, or maybe it was an awareness of pain, but slowly I began to realize I was not dead. For some reason the killers had been in too much of a hurry.
In spite of the searing pain in my left eye and a throat so sore and swollen I could barely breathe or swallow, I felt I was the luckiest man alive. Albeit barely. My face was swollen out of shape and I couldn't see and I was bruised all over from the rocks I had rolled over and the tree I had crashed into, but I was alive, bloody from head to toe.
I forced my good eye to open and biinked away the blurriness. It was pitch dark and I couldn't see anything but the snow, which was now falling heavily. I was grateful, for it cooled my burning face. For a long time I lay still, slowly gathering the strength to move, slipping from dreamlike state into consciousness and back to dreaming again until I had great trouble distinguishing between them. I felt detached, as if I were watching a movie run in slow motion, a badly edited film that made no sense at all, for none of the frames fit together.
The snow was now blanketing me and I knew I had to move. I pulled myself half upright and blacked out instantly from a pounding wave of pain. I was wedged against a tree trunk, and raising myself up again, I used the tree for support as I began to inch myself upward.
The edge of the road above was not that far away but it seemed unattainable. I pulled myself along the snow-covered mountainside, grabbing hold of rocks and brush to propel myself forward, stopping every few inches to catch my breath. My neck seemed on fire where the garrote had cut into it and my left eye hurt with terrible intensity. When I Finally reached the road, I crawled to the center and lay face down, afraid I would go unnoticed if I remained on the side of the road. The headlights of an approaching car would have to find me, and I would have to depend on the dangerous mountain curves to slow the car down in time.
I passed out again and woke once more, still alone in the snowy dark. The road had been well chosen. It was a deserted stretch and I don't know how many hours passed before a carful of forestiers came along and took me to the local police station. From there I was rushed to a hospital, the Catholic St. Julienen-Genevoise in France, where I was given emergency treatment to prevent the loss of my left eye. A few days later I was moved to the Swiss Cantonal Hospital in Geneva.
In between, the police came to question me. The briefcase I had jeopardized my life to keep out of their hands was now in their possession. However, they were more concerned with the murder attempt. I told them what had happened, naming Wise and Morrison. I also had a call placed to my lawyer in Paris, Claire Jourdan, and she came at once. The French police ascertained a number of things quickly. They traced the alpine road where I had been taken and found the tire marks and the spot where I had rolled down the incline. They also found the garrote Morrison had thrown from the car. The car itself was found abandoned, but inside was a document that bore the name of Brian Wise. The car had been rented in Geneva, and the agency there identified Wise as the man who had rented it. A police alarm was issued for him and Morrison.
During those first days following the murder attempt I was awake only for short periods, and each questioning session fatigued me terribly. As I slept and half dozed, little vignettes kept flaring up and fading away. The feel of the garrote around my neck. The terrible look of Morrison in the face mask he put on to conceal his identity should another car have passed by. But most of all I pondered the total unexpectedness of it all, for it still made no sense whatsoever to me. I slept, dreamed, thought, slept again, each time waking to murmur a grateful prayer I was alive.
When the police questioned me about motives, I was unable to give any. Brian Wise was an associate of Ernest Keiser, I told them, yet I couldn't implicate Keiser through anything Wise or Morrison had said. They had never mentioned the monies owed by Keiser or even confirmed he was in Switzerland. When contacted by the police at his home in the Bahamas, Keiser denied any knowledge of what had happened, of course. He said he had no idea what would make his associate Brian Wise do such a thing.
But the police were intrigued by a fact they uncovered in the course of their investigation. Keiser had asked me to reserve two rooms, one for himself and one for Brian Wise. He had, however, made three reservations for the flight from Geneva back to Miami. Obviously, Wise and Morrison had arrived with a third person. As there was no extradition agreement between France and the Bahamas, the police had no way of forcing Keiser to appear for questioning, and he declined to appear voluntarily.
Wise and Morrison fled France and dropped from sight. The investigation pointed to Ernest Keiser's involvement, although the specifics were far from clear. The episode was wrapped in mystery.
Added to all the obfuscation about the kidnap-murder attempt was a strange sequence of events that defied explanation. Or perhaps a sequence of nonevents would be a more appropriate term, for they were notable only because they didn't occur.
When I was first brought to the hospital in France, the doctors seriously doubted I would survive. My left eye was virtually severed from its tendons and I was in severe post-trauma shock. Because I was an American citizen, the American Embassy in Berne was notified. I had been moved back to Switzerland because I was registered in Geneva and the Cantonal Hospital had more extensive facilities for treatment of the eye injury.
During those days as I lay fighting for life I had trouble distinguishing my dreams from reality. I dreamed often of my father, Samuel Taub. When I had regained consciousness on the night of the garroting, I had looked up toward the road, despairing I would ever make the climb, and saw my father standing on the roadside with his handout to me. Although it was snowing hard and my vision was greatly blurred, I saw him as clearly as if he were alive and greeting me at his door. It was my dead father's very real presence at the top of my climb that gave me the will to make it.
My father was paralyzed from the neck down for the last ten years of his life, the result of a fall. At first his doctors didn't think he would live and had told me to summon the family. I had a desperate hope that a neurosurgeon might save him, and thought of President Roosevelt at once. I had had many meetings with him and a good relationship with the family. I called Missy LeHand, his secretary, and she put me through to Eleanor, who arranged for a neurosurgeon to be rushed to my father's hospital. His name was Dr. Temple Fay, an eminent neurosurgeon and doctor for President Roosevelt, and he saved my father's life. Later, when I called the hospital inquiring about his bill, which I hadn't received, I was told there would be no charge, "at the request of President Roosevelt."
One day, as I lay dreaming about my father and the Roosevelts, I opened my unbandaged eye and focused on a blurred figure standing by my bed. It was Jimmy Roosevelt. I had known Jimmy for many years, and we had had recent business discussions. He was staying in Geneva and had given me his telephone number there. The hospital had found the number in my jacket and had called him. Later Jimmy Roosevelt was to say two different things. One, that the American Embassy in Berne had called to ask him to look in on an injured American citizen, which he did. And two, that he didn't really know me, but had come only because of the embassy call.
Not one other soul came from any official American agency after that. Although the hospital was conscientious and efficient, the eye injury was a concern for specialists. There were fine surgeons skilled in treating injuries like mine at the nearby American Military Hospital. Their skills would have been of inestimable helpperhaps they could have prevented the extensive work that later had to be done back in America.
But no one came from the American hospital. No one came in any official capacity. It was as if my government were waiting to see whether I would live or die. After all, I had had a coronary. Perhaps the murder attempt would prove successful after all, if a little delayed.
The absence of visitors could not be blamed on the obscurity of the event. The kidnap-murder attempt was a story of headline proportions throughout Europe. France-Soir, Le Figaro, and Le Monde in France; La Suisse, Le Genoise, and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung in Switzerland all ran banner headlines about it, with pictures taken by the police of the area and of my battered self. Radio Luxembourg, perhaps the most powerful European communications medium, featured the story. Many of the newspapers referred in their lead captions to the attempted murder of an "associate of President Nixon." Reporters came in hordes to the hospital and later to the hotel where I was convalescing, but I was not available to the press. No visit was ever made by any official representative of the American government.
The other strange nonevent was not one word of the attempt ever reached the American press. The major wire services, which normally pick up even the most minor stories and send them around the world, somehow did not wire this headline event to the United States.
Possibly the story was sent but never printed by an American newspaper, though I think that implausible. I was amazed to discover upon my return to the United States that as far as the home press was concerned, the murder attempt had never happened.
I was in London with Hermione Gingold. She was playing in a West End production, and we were having a roaring good time as always, but my conscience bothered me every time I read a newspaper. Finally I flew to Paris to pay my respects to Aristotle Onassis, who was dying.
I walked down the halls of the American Hospital, not sure of where he was, looking into rooms until I found him. His door was wide open and the room was dark. A door leading into an adjoining room was also open, but both rooms were empty except for the comatose man lying on the bed. No wife, no daughter, no family whatsoever was in sight. No private nurse, not even a security guard was with him, and Onassis looked as if he were already dead. His face was yellow and sunken and his body was shriveled up. He looked so small and helpless that anyone so inclined could have put him in a bag and carried him off.
The scene was a replica of the last days of Onassis's brother-in-law, Dr. Patronikolas, who lay gravely ill for some time in a New York hospital. When no wife or family members came from Athens, I paid some of his mounting medical bills myself, and then arranged through the Banque Romande in Geneva for power of attorney to enable me to pay the rest. Then Patronikolas was flown to Athens, where he died in late 1972. The bad blood between him and Onassis had never been resolved.
At the time of Patronikolas's abandonment I had said to myself, How could this possibly be, that a man could die all alone? That day in the American Hospital it all came back to me, the shock and wonderment and lack of understanding. If ever there was a family that played out its tragedies in the ancient Greek style, it was this family, and all too often I had been caught in the thick of the strife.
And if there was one figure around whom the many recurring elements of my life revolved, it was Aristotle Onassis. Oil, Nixon, the CIA, Saudi Arabia, the Kennedys, Eisenhower, Howard Hughes, Josephine Baker, William Rogers, Achilles Vlachopoulos, Zall were bound together in my association with this intensely difficult, larger-than-life man who now lay alone in his bed like a pile of neglected bones. It was only his wealth that remained vital; his physical self had already become insignificant.
My association with Aristotle Onassis went back to the 1950s, when he was having big legal problems with the U.S. Department of Justice. The source of these problems remained a secret until 1978. Had I known before, the mysteries that bedeviled me all those years would have been clarified. Everything makes sense now that I know the deep involvement of that now-familiar combination: the giant oil multinationals, the CIA, whose agents performed for the multinationals as if they were on their payroll, and Richard M. Nixon. The plans to ruin Onassis were carried out in the name of national security. Call it a dry run for Watergate.
In 1954 Aristotle Onassis was already a millionaire many times over. He had just signed an agreement with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia that would enable him to ship 10 percent of the oil flowing out of the kingdom. The king, however, died shortly after the contract was signed, and the giant oil companies in America were outraged that their hegemony had been threatened by a man whom they feared they could not control.
Then a mysterious and alarming chain of events began that nearly did Onassis in. He was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice under Attorney General Herbert Brownell. The indictment was prepared by Warren Burger, head of the Justice Department's Civil Division. Onassis was accused of violating the Merchant Ship Sales Act, which forbade the sale of American surplus ships to foreigners. His legal problems were soon compounded by what seemed to be a plot to destroy his character. He was called anti-American, that pervasive fifties charge, as well as a Nazi sympathizer and a Communist sympathizer who intended to ship all that Arabian oil to the Russians. The character assassination went on all over the world, and Onassis was unable to find out who was behind it.
Then private information concerning his business affairs began leaking everywhere. Onassis had the utmost confidence in his top executives. Many were family members or close lifelong associates. Suddenly their confidential transactions were being made public. It didn't take him long to conclude the telephones in his offices in America, Europe, and Saudi Arabia were tapped. Several of his executives also told him they thought they were being followed.
Matters got even worse. The Saudis, under the new king, reneged on their agreement. Onassis's whaling fleet was attacked by Peruvian planes, and all over the world his tankers lay empty, the result of a concerted boycott by the oil companies. Once his agreement with Saudi Arabia had been revoked, the pressure subsided, but the Onassis empire was still reeling from the full-scale war directed by parties unknown and therefore impervious to counterattack.
Shortly before Eisenhower's second inauguration, and at Onassis's request, I discussed the savage attacks on him privately with Eisenhower, telling the President they seemed to emanate from within the U.S. government. In his usual perfunctory way Eisenhower reached for the telephone and called Attorney General Herbert Brownell. He asked Brownell what the situation was with the Onassis indictment. I don't know what Brownell told him, but it was short and sweet. Eisenhower hung up the telephone and said, "I don't know what's going on, but Brownell is going to talk to William Rogers and get back to me.
I thanked him and left. Several days later, on a Sunday, I had lunch with Onassis, Johnny Meyer, and Darryl Zanuck in New York at the King Cole Room in the St. Regis Hotel.
"It's all set," Onassis said to me cryptically. I knew what he was referring to. "Call me at the Pierre tonight at eight."
When I called him that evening he told me his troubles with the Justice Department would soon be over, though he had no more insight into why the persecution had ended than why it had begun. He believed one very hefty contribution to the Republican party had been part of the solution at that time.
My association with Onassis in the following years was always difficult because I resisted his pressure to work for him as an employee. I preferred to remain his representative on certain business affairs, particularly those involving Saudi Arabia, where I could be useful to him. He offered many incentives, even throwing in Maria Callas at a time when I was trying to get a commitment from her for a musical production. Callas had been as unreachable as the moon. Suddenly she was practically in my lap, a paragon of sweetness and cooperation. However, when I still refused to go to work for Onassis, her cooperation dissolved. Aristotle Onassis was a firm believer in mixing business and pleasure. Marriage was also a matter of commerce.
My association with him was further complicated by my deep friendship with Professor Gerasimas Patronikolas, who was also the great favorite of Onassis's son, Alexander. Patronikolas was warm and giving. Onassis could be unbelievably remote, even cruel, toward his family. He was estranged from his son. When Alexander died in the airplane crash, Onassis belatedly realized how much he had lost. However, the enlightenment that came with grief did not result in a renewal of ties with his brother-in-law. In fact, the enmity increased. As in a Greek family tragedy, the daughter was just like the father, and consequently there was something of a bond between them.
In 1973 a new business relationship, again with Saudi Arabia, this time under King Faisal, rekindled our friendship. Shortly before his final illness I told Onassis that I had paid for many of Patronikolas's medical expenses myself and had received no reimbursement. After his death I expected Christina to honor his pledge, as she was well aware of her father's promise. I gave her all the necessary documents, which she looked over without a word, cold as an icicle. I have yet to see any repaymentand don't expect it.
This year, 1978, the complete story of the plot to destroy Aristotle Onassis surfaced. It sounds sadly familiar. All the usual names are there: Howard Hughes, William Rogers, every big American oil company, John Roselli, the CIA, the FBI, the Justice Department, the State Department, and Richard Nixon. The game plan: to maintain the American corporate stranglehold on Arabian oil under the cover of national security. Richard Nixon was Vice President, and the orders came directly from his office. Onassis was to be smeared, bugged, indicted, physically threatened, and destroyed in the name of free enterprise and the safety of the free world.
Nixon succeeded in having Onassis's contract with Saudi Arabia broken. The plan was carried out by agencies of the United States government without the knowledge or approval of anyone but Nixon and his underlings, and paid for by the United States taxpayers, all for the benefit of the giant oil companies and Richard Nixon.
William Rogers succeeded Herbert Brownell as Eisenhower's Attorney General, surfaced again as Nixon's Secretary of State, and is now the representative of the Shah of Iran. John Roselli went on to plan the aborted assassination of Castro and the effective assassination of Trujillo. He was brought into CIA employ by Robert Maheu, who soon rose to prominence in Howard Hughes's Sanctum Sanctorum. The American oil companies continued to pour money into Nixon's campaign coffers as freely as they siphoned oil out of Arabia.
The CIA went on to involve the multinationals in other assassinations, other coups. Warren Burger was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by Nixon. Aristotle Onassis went on to even greater wealth and a marriage of commerce to Jacqueline Kennedy, catapulting himself into the very lap of the gods. Still, he died a very bitter, lonely, disillusioned man. Richard Nixon went on to the Oval Office, where he assembled a similar but much larger cast with a much more ambitious intent, and he came very close indeed to success. How close he came is the part that sometimes keeps me awake at night.
A book about a person still caught up in the thick of living is difficult to end. Recent events, flowing as they do out of the names and places described in my story, are hard to put in perspective: my life remains open-ended, unresolved, subject to surprises and change of heart.
The greatest change for me has already taken place. My decision to tell about the things that have happened to me up to the present has meant that for the rest of my life I can no longer be what I have always preferred to be: an anonymous man.
There are many important people in my life whose names appear only in passing or not at all in this book. I cannot write about myself and not acknowledge the relationships that have so greatly enriched my life.
My enduring friendship with Hermione Gingold is one such relationship. Our friendship goes back to World War II and has been a deep joy to me for more than thirty years. It was Prince Philip who introduced us. There are others, some living and some dead, whom I must name: Rossano and Lydia Brazzi, Ilona Massey, Miriam Hopkins, Gina Lollobrigida, Juliette Greco, Sheik Abdullah al Khalifa and members of the Saudi Arabian royal family, the Honorable Judge Thomas Weaver, Percy Sutton, Rose Morgan, Dr. Patronikolas, Cardinal Ottaviani, Jerry Bradshaw, Judge Herbert Evans, Nicholas Tweel, Anne Sabella, Oscar Ornstein of Rio de Janeiro, Catherine Reviand, who assisted me in writing this book, and a special tribute to my trusted lawyer and friend, Claire Jourdan, Paris.
Also, my appreciation to Harold Roth, president of Grosset & Dunlap, for his patience and assistance during preparation of my story.