Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mysterious Life of Soviet Spy Couple Unveiled

Via (h/t to -

For five years, as the world convulsed with war, the unassuming Soviet couple rubbed elbows with the likes of Walt Disney and Orson Welles. They took in a private screening of "The Great Dictator," at the invitation of Charlie Chaplin.

Their son's earliest memories are set in Los Angeles -- the yellow house nestled in flower beds with a view of the Griffith Observatory; the animal crackers bought with the proceeds of a sidewalk lemonade stand; the author Theodore Dreiser drinking so much vodka that he crawled under the table.

Their handlers called them Zefir and Elza, and from Los Angeles they went on to roam undercover through dozens of countries, from Israel to Czechoslovakia, Soviet spies all the way.

Lost for decades in the shadows of Cold War spookery, the tale of Mikhail and Yelizaveta Mukasey has been blasted over state-controlled media this year. Yelizaveta's death this fall, as a 97-year-old widow, gave Russian officials the chance to trumpet the derring-do of the two star agents.


When their superiors suggested that the Mukaseys' children might be trained to follow their parents into espionage, the parents were appalled.

"They categorically said no," Mukasey said. "They said, 'We don't want our children to be far away like we were and to suffer like we did.' "

The couple's taste for show business stretched to the end of their lives. Upon returning to Moscow, Yelizaveta found work as a theater secretary and the two longtime spies installed themselves as fixtures on the arts scene. Mikhail died last year.

Anatoly, who established a career as one of Russia's most prominent cinematographers, said that at the end of their parents' lives, he and his sister pressed them: Why were other spies profiled on television while nobody mentioned the two of them?

"My father said, 'In our profession, son, only those who blow their cover become famous. And we never blew our cover. We never made an error.' "

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