Who Spied On Lee Miller?

Lots of people lined up to peek through the keyhole for a glimpse of Lee Miller, whose meteoric career arced from Vogue fashion model to Surrealist muse to intrepid war photographer. The voyeurs included Condé Nast, Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, and  Life photographer David Scherman, who snapped this shot of Lee sneaking a bath in Hitler’s apartment after the fall of Berlin in 1945. She later explained blithely, “I had his address in my pocket for years.”

Now it turns out that James Bond was peeking, too. Britain’s MI5 spy organization kept tabs on Miller during and after World War II because she was “regarded as an intellectual communist and theoretical political student” who was “eccentric and indulges in queer foods and queer clothes etc. She is violently anti-Nazi.”

Interest in this blog’s Lee Miller posts and images soared to over 1,000 page views yesterday when the story broke in the AP and AFP:

LONDON (AFP) — Britain’s security services spied on a world-renowned US photographer and a Swedish actress, fearing they were communists, secret files released on Tuesday showed.

MI5 and police Special Branch raked over the private lives of Vogue photographer Lee Miller and actress Mai Zetterling, who starred opposite Peter Sellers in “Only Two Can Play” (1962), and the 1990 film “The Witches”.

The pair were both tailed in the 1940s and 1950s and had their friends watched, while Miller’s post was intercepted.

A colleague said Miller was a “strong communist”, according to one anonymous note released by the National Archives.

A 1941 Special Branch report said Miller was “regarded as an intellectual communist and theoretical political student” and was “eccentric and indulges in queer foods and queer clothes etc. She is violently anti-Nazi.”

The general opinion of Miller was that “her communism is more a mental outlook than anything and I have obtained no information that she is associated with any particular subversive organisation,” the note said.

She aroused suspicion because her second husband Roland Penrose was deemed to be a communist sympathiser.

Besides her fashion photography, Miller was a US Army-accredited war journalist, who pictured prisoners of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps.

She befriended prominent artists like Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Henry Moore.

“What is not sufficiently realised is that her career was absolutely unique in British history,” said professor Chris Andrew, the official historian of MI5.

“There had never been anybody like her before, there’s no reason to think there will be anyone like her again. She was extremely talented, she was extremely beautiful.”

Miller died in southern England in 1977 aged 70. Read more

This entry was posted in surrealism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Who Spied On Lee Miller?

  1. alex says:

    queer food? now I want a cookbook of queer food. if it’s good enough for lee miller, it’s good enough for me. do you have recipes I can try?

  2. Mark Willis says:

    A Surrealist Cookbook – now that’s a publishing concept! I’ve played off and on for years with a poetry project that I call Surrealist Economics. Maybe I should add recipes to it.

Comments are closed.