Straight, Michael (Whitney) 1916-2004

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STRAIGHT, Michael (Whitney) 1916-2004


See index for CA sketch: Born September 1, 1916, in Southampton, NY; died of pancreatic cancer, January 4, 2004, in Chicago, IL. Economist, editor, publisher, spy, and author. A former editor and publisher of the New Republic, Straight gained notoriety when he admitted that early in his life he had been a low-level agent for the Soviet Union. Initially a student of economics who attended the London School of Economics in the early 1930s and then earned a master's degree at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1937, his left-leaning idealism and elite family background led to his being recruited by the Apostles, a group of Cambridge students who believed in Communism. He returned to the United States to work for the U.S. Department of State as an economist and was also a writer for the Department of Interior. During this time, as he later confessed in his 1983 memoir, After Long Silence, he passed along economic reports to Communist agents; having written speeches for and dined with the Roosevelts, he seemed an ideal mole for the Soviets. But Straight left government work in 1940 to become a correspondent for the New Republic, a liberal magazine that was founded by his parents. He became the periodical's editor the next year. In 1943, Straight joined the U.S. Army Air Force, serving his entire time in the Midwest. He returned home to resume his New Republic work as editor and, from 1946 to 1948, as publisher. By this time, Straight had had a change of heart about his earlier association with the Communist Party, writing against both Communism and McCarthyism in his 1954 book Trial by Television. Straight left the New Republic in 1956, turning to writing and penning the Western novels Carrington (1960) and A Very Small Remnant (1963), as well as Caravaggio: A Play in Two Acts (1971). When he decided to accept a post as deputy chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, to avoid the inevitable background check he confessed his earlier Communist associations. This eventually led to the revelation that Anthony Blunt, an English government official, was spying for the Soviets. Despite this, Blunt, who was by this time a knight and curator of the queen's collection of art, was not revealed to be a traitor to the public until author Anthony Boyle wrote about him in the 1979 work The Climate of Treason. Straight's own confession in After Long Silence was not met with great sympathy by those who felt he had done too little too late to redeem himself. Never facing charges, Straight worked for the NEA until 1977; he also cochaired the legal defense fund at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1969 to 1978, and was president of Amnesty International from 1968 to 1971. And Straight continued to write, publishing another novel, Happy and Hopeless (1979), and the nonfiction works Twigs for an Eagle's Nest: Government and the Arts, 1965-1978 (1979) and Nancy Hangs: An Intimate Portrait (1988).



Twentieth-Century Western Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.


Chicago Tribune, January 5, 2004, section 4, p. 11.

New York Times, January 5, 2004, p. B8.

Times (London, England), January 6, 2004.

Washington Post, January 6, 2004, p. B6.