Michael Whitney Straight (September 1, 1916 – January 4, 2004) was an American magazine publisher, novelist, patron of the arts, a member of the prominent Whitney family, and a confessed spy for the KGB.
Straight was born in New York City, the son of Willard Dickerman Straight (1880–1918), an investment banker who died in Michael's infancy, and Dorothy Payne Whitney (1887–1968), a philanthropist. Straight was educated at Lincoln School in New York City and, after his mother's remarriage to Leonard Knight Elmhirst (1893–1974), in England at his family's Dartington Hall, followed by studies at the London School of Economics. His siblings were racing driver Whitney Straight and Academy Award-winning actress Beatrice Straight.
Straight's maternal grandparents were Flora Payne and William Collins Whitney (1841–1904), the United States Secretary of the Navy during the first Cleveland administration. Flora was the daughter of Senator Henry B. Payne of Ohio and sister of Colonel Oliver Hazard Payne.
While a student at the University of Cambridge in the mid-1930s, Straight became a Communist Party member and a part of an intellectual secret society known as the Cambridge Apostles. Straight worked for the Soviet Union as part of a spy ring whose members included Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby and KGB recruiter Anthony Blunt, who had briefly been Straight's lover. A document from Soviet archives of a report that Blunt made in 1943 to the KGB states, "As you already know the actual recruits whom I took were Michael Straight".
After returning to the United States in 1937, Straight worked as a speechwriter for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was on the payroll of the Department of the Interior. Beginning in 1938, Straight carried on a covert relationship with Iskhak Akhmerov, the KGB spy. In 1940, Straight went to work in the Eastern Division of the United States Department of State.
He served in the United States Army Air Forces beginning in 1942 as a pilot of a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and, after the war, took over as publisher of family-owned The New Republic magazine, where he hired a former US vice president and future presidential candidate, Henry A. Wallace, as the magazine's editor. His writing for the magazine included a glowing review of J. R. R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" when it came out. Straight left the magazine in 1956 and began writing novels.
However, in 1963, in response to an offer of government employment in Washington, D.C., he faced a background check and decided voluntarily to inform family friend and presidential special assistant Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. about his communist connections at Cambridge, which led directly to the exposure of Blunt as the recruiter of the Cambridge Five spy ring.
Straight served as the deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts from 1969 to 1977. In 1988, he published Nancy Hanks: An Intimate Portrait, which told the story of the second chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, with whom he had worked.
He wrote several novels including Carrington (1960), about the Fetterman massacre of 1866, and A Very Small Remnant (1963), about the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, both Westerns that received respectful reviews, as well as Happy and Hopeless (1979), a love story set in the Kennedy administration that he published himself. In 1983, Straight detailed his communist activities in a memoir entitled After Long Silence. (ISBN 0-393-01729-X). His second memoir On Green Spring Farm: The Life and Times of One Family in Fairfax County, Va., 1942 to 1966 was published posthumously by Devon Press.
In September 1939, he married Belinda Crompton (15 August 1920, Port Chester, NY – 5 December 2015, Chevy Chase, MD) of Wilton, New Hampshire who was a child psychiatrist. Together with Belinda, until their divorce in 1969, he had five children:
In 1965, Straight purchased the former Georgetown home of Jackie Kennedy, located at 3017 N Street, for $200,000 (equivalent to $1,578,000 in 2017). Kennedy bought the home when she moved out of the White House and Straight purchased it when Kennedy moved to New York City.
In 1974, Straight married his second wife, Nina G. Auchincloss Steers, the daughter of Nina Gore and Hugh D. Auchincloss. Steers was the half-sister of writer Gore Vidal and, coincidentally, a stepsister of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Nina had previously been married to Newton Steers from 1957–1974 and with him she had three children: Hugh Auchincloss Steers (1963–1995), Ivan Steers, and Burr Steers (born 1965). The wedding was attended by Hugh D. Auchincloss, Janet Auchincloss, Jackie Kennedy, Renata Adler, Beatrice Straight, and Peter Cookson. Straight lived in the Georgetown home from 1964 until 1976 when he sold it to Yolande Bebeze Fox, the former Miss America 1951. Straight and his wife spent $125,000 (equivalent to $620,000 in 2017) renovating the home and decided to move to Bethesda, Maryland in 1976 when he was vice chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
They subsequently divorced and in 1998, he married Katharine Gould, a child psychiatrist and art historian. Straight died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Chicago, Illinois, on January 4, 2004, aged 87. He also had a home on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Michael Straight, who has died aged 87, was the former Soviet spy responsible for telling MI5 that Anthony Blunt — whose lover he had briefly been at Cambridge in the 1930s — was a mole. ...