The FBI has kept tabs on plenty of people over the years, including a host of celebrities with ties to Chicago or the state of Illinois.
These writers, actors and athletes, all now dead, were named in FBI records for a multitude of reasons, even if they weren’t the subject of an investigation, according to records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times that are now part of the newspaper’s “The FBI Files” database.
Ernest Hemingway — raised in Oak Park and known for books including “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms” — attracted the FBI’s attention while living in Cuba in the 1940s.
Hemingway passed along information to the American embassy in Havana, Cuba, which forwarded it to the FBI, records show. But his tips weren’t always trusted.
“His judgment is not of the best,” FBI director J. Edgar Hoover wrote in a 1942 letter.
Richard Wright, the author of “Native Son” and “Black Boy,” joined the Communist Party during the 1930s before breaking with the party later in the decade. He was the subject of a “security type investigation” in the 1940s, FBI records say. Wright, who lived in Chicago for a time, published an article called “I Tried to Be a Communist,” which criticized the party for its handling of racial situations.
Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is mentioned in nearly 1,000 pages of FBI documents. Often referred to by his birth name Cassius Clay, Ali was mentioned concerning the political and religious stances of the Nation of Islam, of which he was a member, documents show.
Ali, who died in 2016, lived in Kenwood on the South Side for years. He “preferred dying outright or going to jail than going into the Army,” according to the files, which also touch on his opposition to the draft.
Ray Bradbury, the author of “Fahrenheit 451” and other classics, was repeatedly named in documents that show the FBI suspected him of having Communist ties. The heavily redacted files show the Waukegan native was critical of the U.S. government, especially over foreign policy concerning Vietnam and Cuba during the 1960s.
The FBI records show the agency had its eyes on Hugh Hefner, the Chicago-born publisher of Playboy magazine who had been charged with obscenity in the 1960s. Hefner said he had no involvement with “obscene matters” and that his magazine was comparable to Esquire.
Langston Hughes, the poet and author of “The Ways of White Folks,” was suspected of having Communist ties in the 1940s. While Hughes, who lived in Chicago for a time, wasn’t formally investigated by the FBI, its records show it had leads relating to him in Chicago, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Also included in the files: letters to the FBI from parents and educators from schools where Hughes was to speak who said they were afraid of exposing their children to communism.
The FBI kept an eye on Rock Hudson, the Winnetka native who became a Hollywood icon known for his roles in “Giant,” “Pillow Talk” and “McMillan and Wife,” because of what it called his “homosexual tendencies.”
Hudson, who died of AIDS in 1985, was gay, according to people who knew him but never spoke publicly about that, according to a New York Times obituary.
At one point, it was thought that Hudson, who was born Roy Harold Scherer, was planning to play an FBI agent in a movie, but agents later confirmed he was instead going to play a New York police officer, according to the records.
Walt Disney, who grew up in Chicago, told federal agents he believed that workers who went on strike from his company in the late 1930s had ties to Communists, and he provided information about people he suspected might be Communists, according to heavily redacted FBI records.
The FBI suspected Orson Welles — the actor and director raised in McHenry County and perhaps best known for “Citizen Kane” and “War of the Worlds” — had ties to Communist organizations, records show.
They show Welles was being watched because of suspicions he was involved in “subversive activities” and accused of being un-American.
Letters to the FBI say Welles was suspected of “cooking up some scheme” relating to Brazil and praising Communist movements in Mexico.
Carl Sandburg, a Galesburg native and onetime Chicago Daily News labor reporter who went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and author, wasn’t formally investigated by the FBI, records show.
But the agency was interested in the writer who described Chicago as, among other things, “hog butcher to the world,” after being told he belonged to a Communist group and might have written an introduction to a book that criticized the U.S. government and sought to “discredit informer-witnesses,” records show.