Michael Whitney Straight

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Michael Whitney Straight (September 1, 1916 – January 4, 2004) was an American magazine publisher, novelist, patron of the arts, a member of the prominent Whitney family, and a confessed spy for the KGB.[1]

Life and work[edit]

Straight was born in New York City, the son of Willard Dickerman Straight, an investment banker, and Dorothy Payne Whitney, a philanthropist. Straight was educated at Lincoln School in New York City and, after his mother's remarriage, in England at his family's Dartington Hall, followed by studies at the London School of Economics.

While a student at Cambridge University in the mid-1930s, Straight became a Communist Party member and a part of an intellectual secret society known as the Cambridge Apostles. Straight worked for the Soviet Union as part of a spy ring whose members included Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and KGB recruiter Anthony Blunt.[2] A document from Soviet archives of a report that Blunt made in 1943 to the KGB states, "As you already know the actual recruits whom I took were Michael Straight".[citation needed]

After returning to the United States in 1937, Straight worked as a speechwriter for President Franklin Roosevelt and was on the payroll of the Department of the Interior. Beginning in 1938, Straight carried on a covert relationship with Iskhak Akhmerov, the KGB spy.[citation needed] In 1940, Straight went to work in the Eastern Division of the U.S. State Department.

He served in the United States Army Air Forces beginning in 1942 as a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot and after te war, took over as publisher of his family-owned The New Republic magazine, where he hired a former US vice president and future presidential candidate, Henry A. Wallace, as the magazine's editor. Straight left the magazine in 1956 and began writing novels.

However, in 1963, in response to an offer of government employment in Washington, DC, he faced a background check and decided voluntarily to inform family friend and presidential special assistant, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. about his communist connections at Cambridge, which led directly to the exposure of Blunt as the recruiter of the Cambridge Five spy ring.

Straight later served as the deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1969 to 1977. In 1988, he published Nancy Hanks: An Intimate Portrait, which told the story of the second chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts with whom he had worked.

In 1983, Straight detailed his communist activities in a memoir entitled After Long Silence. (ISBN 0-393-01729-X)

He also wrote two historical novels, A Very Small Remnant, about the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, and Carrington, about the Fetterman massacre of 1866.

In 1939, he married Belinda Crompton of Wilton, New Hampshire. His second wife was Nina G. Auchincloss Steers, a half-sister of the writer Gore Vidal and a stepsister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. His third wife was Katharine Gould, an art historian and social worker.

Michael Whitney Straight died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Chicago, Illinois, on January 4, 2004, aged 87.[2]

He was survived by five children (with Belinda Crompton Straight): David Straight, Michael Straight Jr., Susan Straight, Diana Straight Krosnick, and Dorothy Straight, as well as by his wife, Katharine Gould, and four grandchildren.


  1. ^ Patrick Anderson (August 8, 2005). "Thinker, Traitor, Editor, Spy". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 7, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b "Michael Straight". The Telegraph. January 7, 2004. Retrieved 2010-03-22. Michael Straight, who has died aged 87, was the former Soviet spy responsible for telling MI5 that Anthony Blunt - whose lover he had briefly been at Cambridge in the 1930s - was a mole. ... 

Further reading[edit]

  • Michael Straight, After Long Silence, New York: Norton, (1983)
  • Nigel West and Oleg Tsarev, The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB Archives (London: HarperCollins, 1998; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999), pgs. 112, 116, 130, 133–134.
  • Allen Weinstein, Perjury: The Hiss–Chambers Case, New York: Random House, (1997)
  • Roland Perry,The Last Of The Cold War Spies: The Life of Michael Straight, Da Capo Press (2005)

External links[edit]

The Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) has the full text of former KGB agent Alexander Vassiliev's Notebooks containing new evidence on Straight's involvement in Soviet espionage.