Datelines – Churchill, Korda and Prewar Intelligence

Finest Hour 123, Summer 2004

Page 15

By Mark Helprin

Perhaps I can add some light to Paul Alkon’s excellent article on Churchill’s relations with the film producer Alexander Korda (FH 119: 36). My father, Morris Helprin, was Korda’s protégé and confidant from the mid-1930s until Korda’s death two decades later. Other than secretaries, Morris was the sole occupant of the Empire State Building office that was “used as a clearing house for intelligence information.” And indeed it was. In this and the successor office on West 57th Street, above the Russian Tea Room, were decoding, autopen and facsimile machines (more than half a century ago) paired with a similar set in London.

When my father was training at Camp X in Canada (see FH 109:12) his office (which was supposedly devoted to the making and marketing of films) informed him of the departure time of a convoy that would take him to North Africa. The lawyer with whom he worked on London Film business was William Donovan, then director of the OSS. Sir William Stephenson (“Intrepid”), who headed British intelligence in the U.S., was a frequent visitor, his headquarters being nearby in a bank vault in Rockefeller Center.

My father was reluctant to speak of these things, even unto his death in 1984, and because little was known about all this at the time, he refused to cooperate with Michael Korda during the writing of Korda’s Charmed Lives in the mid-Seventies. As best I can make out, an informal structure existed in which Churchill, often through Beaverbrook and Bracken, used Korda as a kind of cut-out in communicating with Roosevelt, mainly through Donovan and Robert Sherwood, beginning in the Thirties and intensifying just before the United States entered the war.

My father made so many trips to and from London with documents that went from the White House to Downing Street, or vice versa, that he was absent for half the year. And I suspect that, in regard anyway to the question of American engagement against Hitler, and Churchill’s efforts to bring this about, we don’t know the half of it.

Mr. Helprin, an award-winning novelist and journalist, is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute. He served in the British Merchant Navy, the Israeli infantry, and the Israeli Air Force. A former Guggenheim Fellow, he was awarded the National Jewish Book Award and the Prix de Rome.

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