The CIA in Hollywood

Title:                      The CIA in Hollywood

Author:                  Tricia Jenkins

Jenkins, Tricia (2012) (rev. edition 2016). The CIA in Hollywood: How the Agency Shapes Film and Television. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press

LCCN:    2015028460

PN1995.9.S68 J46 2012


  • Introduction — Rogues, assassins, and buffoons : representations of the CIA in film and television — Opening the doors : why and how the CIA works with Hollywood — Necessary and competent : the CIA in the agency and in the company of spies — The chase Brandon years — The legal and ethical implications of the CIA in Hollywood — The last people we want in Hollywood : the retired CIA officer and the Hollywood docudrama — Argo’s Tony Mendez : the first retiree the CIA wants in Hollywood — Relaxing the rules : Zero Dark Thirty, Homeland, and the move toward Nuance — Conclusion.


Date Posted:      October 29, 2015

Reviewed by Hayden Peake[1]

Tricia Jenkins is an assistant professor in the Film, Television, and Digital Media Department at Texas Christian University. She has published two articles on the relationship between Hollywood and the CIA and now returns to that topic in The CIA in Hollywood. The book’s title accurately reflects the theme of the book. Her documentation relies heavily on what journalists and scholars have written about movies and TV dramas that depict the CIA and on interviews of some former intelligence—mainly CIA—officers.

The outcome is a six-chapter book that tracks the CIA’s initial Cold War contacts in Hollywood and follows their evolution into the digital era. The theme of each chapter is how the agency goes about influencing to its advantage the “texts in both the production and preproduction stages of filmmaking,” (p. 11)

Chapter five is of particular interest. It scrutinizes the legal and ethical issues associated with CIA-Hollywood collaboration. Here, Jenkins writes that “the Agency refuses to assist any filmmaker depicting it in an unfavorable light.” (p. 97) While she discounts agency claims that “the CIA frequently stresses that its work in film and television serves to educate the public about the role of intelligence and the mission of the CIA. It also claims to increase the ‘accuracy’ of texts,” she goes on, “By using this rhetoric the CIA evades the fact that its efforts amount to propaganda that is frequently self-aggrandizing.” (p. 104) She argues that CIA cooperation should not depend on the subject matter or whether or not a script is favorable to the CIA. Jenkins acknowledges that others hold different views, and she quotes several authorities who present forceful arguments. (p. 135)

Another chapter of contemporary interest analyzes the contributions of former CIA officers to Hollywood’s products. Here she is most concerned about the factual accuracy of films versus their box-office appeals. She discusses the CIA’s reaction to The Good Shepherd and includes a chart from an article in Studies in Intelligence that compares fiction and fact.[2] In the end, though, her preference for “Oliver Stone history” shines through.

As to documentation, secondary sources predominate, They offer some interesting anecdotes, with many familiar names describing the CIA-Hollywood relationship. But not all of her claims about particular “CIA agents” are accurate. At one point she writes about “the CIA’s 1950s recruitment of [Luigi] Luraschi, the head of domestic and foreign censorship at Paramount Studios” (p. 7) and cites a lengthy article in a scholarly journal to support her point.[3] (emphasis added) But that source does not mention recruitment. And her reference to the Office of Policy Coordination as “a think tank housed at CIA” is inaccurate. The office was the CIA component that conducted covert actions under the direction of the State Department from 1948 to 1951, when it was brought fully under CIA supervision.

In her conclusions, Jenkins returns to her theme that although the CIA seeks to influence Hollywood to create propaganda for moviegoers, scripts that present the CIA negatively should not prevent the Agency from cooperating. She does present alternative views but is not persuaded by them. The CIA in Hollywood is an interesting account of one author’s point of view.

[1] Peake, Hayden B. in The Intelligencer: Journal of U. S. Intelligence Studies (20, 1, Spring/Summer 2013, pp. 110-111). Hayden Peake is the Curator of the CIA’s Historical Intelligence Collection. He has served in the Directorate of Science and Technology and the Directorate of Operations. Most of these reviews appeared in recent unclassified editions ofCIA’s Studies in Intelligence. These and many other reviews and articles may be found on line at

[2] David Robarge, et al., “The Good Shepherd: Intelligence in the Public Media,” Studies in Intelligence (51, 1, 2007, pp. 47-54).

[3] David Eldridge, “‘Dear Owen’: The CIA, Luigi Luraschi and Hollywood, 1953,” Historical Journal ofFilm, Radio and Television (20, 2, 2000, p. 154).

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